Volume 53, Issue 3, September 2013
Locke (and Hobbes) on “Property” in the State of Nature
Anyone reading the second of Two Treatises of Government after Leviathan must notice how much more civil Locke’s state of nature is in comparison to Hobbes’s. Many readers may also notice how much space the Second Treatise gives the subject of property. While Hobbes has only a few scattered sentences on property, Locke has the famous chapter five, which constitutes about a tenth of the whole Second Treatise (§§25–51). Private property in the state of nature seems to be what protects Locke’s Second Treatise from the absolutist conclusion of Hobbes’s Leviathan. The Second Treatise’s account of private property achieves that without even a minimal theory of property. What Locke offers instead in chapter five is a proof that property of a quite limited sort is possible in the state of nature. He does not—and need not—claim that this possibility was ever realized (as one must do in order to have even a minimal theory of property). Insofar as Locke offers a theory of property, it is the same as what Hobbes offers.