Political philosopher’s such as Plato, Locke, Hegel and Marx all discuss the role and place of property in their theories. Each philosopher will be examined regarding their views on a property while being compared to one another. In addition, one will be able to examine that Locke has the strongest argument regarding his views on the protection of property and how it is essential to one’s life.
Plato on Property:
According to Strauss (1987), Plato has helped make the field of political philosophy what it is today (p.10). Aside from being an avid mentor to Aristotle, Plato argued that there should not be private property and that it should be owned collectively for the guardian class (Strauss 1987: p.10) In addition, in the Republic Plato stated that the guardian class should not be able to own property due to the fact that they should be distracted from ruling and running the state (Law 2014: p.2). According to Breen (2011), he felt that the guardian class would not be able to handle being rulers and would turn “into cruel masters rather than allies” (p.7).
In addition, Plato argued that the private property should be rejected; but not for everyone. For the guardian class, Plato suggested that being able to possess “gold or silver” would cause their community to be divided instead of being unified (Breen 2011: p.8). Therefore, Plato felt that property should be held jointly in order to unify a community.
Furthermore, Plato was able to use his theory of farmers and workers to demonstrate his views on property. Plato suggested that the land was being held in a communal manner which showed that farmers had a way of helping one another. Thus, the guardian class was able to rule and lead, while the farmers and workers were able to support the other classes. According to Breen (2011), because the farmers and workers were essential to the function of their lives that “social and political position not only poses no barrier to their retention of private property” but they were able to help and support the economic portion of the community function properly (p. 8).
Criticism of Plato
There are many critics of Plato’s theories regarding a property. For example, property causes tension between the guardian class, the farmers and workers based up Plato’s arguments that the farmers and workers are to support the guardian class. Therefore, if a person has no property to work for or contribute to then they may not do good within a community. According to Vohs, Mead, and Goode (2006), “money has been said to change people’s motivation (mainly for the better) and their behavior toward others (mainly for the worse)” (p.1). Another criticism of Plato’s theory is that of a utopia and dystopia society. This is because one philosopher’s view of a utopia could be another’s view of a dystopia. There is no form of a perfect ideal society in the world that we live in today.
Hegel on Property
Hegel was a philosopher who possessed strong beliefs on the proper place of property. According to Hegel in the Philosophy of Right, “there are three indications that mark Hegel’s individualist conception of property: his rejection of Kant’s reduction of real to personal rights, his identification of possession and property, and the relegation of recognition to the sphere of contract” (Renato 1995: p.336). Thus, Hegel argued that “property as an abstract right can only be conceived as an ius in rem” (Renato 1995: p. 337).
Hegel stated that, “property pertains to the person as recognized by others, it can never be an intrinsic quality of the individual prior to his recognition by others. While possession relates to the individual, property relates to society; since possession becomes property through the other’s recognition of it as such, property is social attribute (Renato 1995: p. 337-338). Thus, Hegel retrieves the notion of a property as an abstract right to compare it with the a social significance it acquires in civil society (Renato 1995: p. 341).
According to Duncan (2017), Hegel defends private property and property rights based on what Alan Patten calls the “developmental thesis,” which suggested that “having at least a minimal amount of private property is essential to the development and maintenance of capacities and self-understandings that make up free personality” (p. 263).
Criticism on Hegel
According to Duncan (2017), there are two features of a modern economy that are important. First is the specialization and division of labor. The second feature gives “Hegel a way to address the worry that his emphasis on subjective freedom must commit him to a strongly libertarian position where property is sacrosanct” (p. 264). Critics have suggested that due to Hegel’s two features of a modern economy one might worry how it applies to confiscate “any of our property violating subjective freedom, but it is crucial to remember that for Hegel our services are a form of property” (Duncan 2017: p. 264). This allows for a lot of room for disagreement, “in even couching property claims in terms of money both parties are at least using a common standard” (Duncan 2017: p. 264). Therefore, there could be a conflict between people about who owns what property.
John Locke on Property
John Locke is one of the most influential political philosophers to this day. He had a profound effect on the Constitution of the United States. Locke viewed the rights of property as an entitlement beyond the prevalent system. Locke’s influence on a property can be outlined below which is demonstrated in the Second Treatise of Government:
• Divinely ordained nature of property and the laborer;
• Self-ownership emanating from such rights to property by application of labor;
• Limits on the property and related statues;
• Need to protect property and the ultimate necessity of governance.
According to Tuckness (2012), Locke “argued that people have rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and property that have a foundation independent of the laws of any particular society” (p.1). Syse (2004), stated that Locke believed that “Life, Liberty, and Estate” were natural rights that all men should have if they had the means to keep it (p.5). Men were “naturally free and equal as part of the justification for understanding legitimate political government as the result of a social contract where people in the state of nature conditionally transfer some of their rights to the government” (Tuckness 2012: p. 1). Locke believed this was because man had the right to life, liberty, and property.
Criticism of Locke
One area of criticism on Locke’s theory of property is that he felt property was a right that was given to man by God. Critics have argued that Locke was using God to gain a basis for approval from others. Essentially, it depends on whether a person is religious to whether they believe that God intended land to be owned by a man. However, it leaves on to question if one does not believe in God, does Locke’s view of the natural right to property not hold?
According to Locke and Macpherson (1689), “God made the world to Adam, and to Noah, and his sons, it is very clear, that God, as King David says has given the earth to the children of men; given it to mankind in common” (p. 18). Critics have argued that Locke and Macpherson’s interpretation is not true because the term “to mankind in common” could potentially mean that property should be divided whether a man has the means to own the property or not.
Another criticism of Locke’s theory on a property is that Locke believes that people who have the means to own property are the ones who should have it. The idea of who gets to determine who has the means to determine who can own property is something that needs to be examined as well.
Marx on Property
The philosopher Marx lived between 1818-1883 (Cropsey 1987: p.1). Marx views on Capitalism helped shape Russia into what it is today. Thus, capitalism played a major role in Marx theory on the role of property. In order to view Marx theory of the role of a property it is important to have a concept of this view of how Capitalism is troublesome. Through the concept of the exploitation of surplus Marx viewed the value by the capitalist class in a national and international trade to extend exploitation. Marx argued that advanced countries trade with developing and poor countries to exploit extra valued produced in those countries.
Marx suggested that the capitalist system provided an advantage to the people who were already rich and a disadvantage to the already poor segments of society. He suggested that this would allow the rich to get richer and the poor would only get poorer. Therefore, capitalism leads to greed and inequality. Marx argued that people had the natural rights to own property; but that private property alienated workers so private property should be dissolved (Chitty 2013: p.1).
Criticism of Marx
According to Paolucci (2015), Marx “criticizes assume all forms of property to be of the same universal nature, and thus posits capitalist property relations as natural and eternal” (p. 67). Paolucci (2015) stated that this is “especially egregious when personal possessions (my shoes, your car) and ownership of the means of production (land, factories, stocks) are seen as commensurable forms of ‘property'” (p. 68). In turn, this makes “radical critiques of capital appear to be the same as criticism of personal goods, and thus any similar criticism appears to be an unrealistic struggle against reasonable prerequisites of organizing a society” (Paolucci 2015: p. 67-68).
Another criticism of Marx is that “if there is no wage-labour there can be no capital, the ideological stumbling point is that once capitalist property relations are seen as natural products, then the abolition of wage-labour appears to court the destruction of society as a whole – without capital, there can be no society” (Paolucci 2015: p. 69). This carries to a social criticism, in that “once capitalism is seen at a universal level, then any problems associated with its real history can only be understood as the result of human error, bad policies, malfeasance, frailty, vainglory, and so on – anything, but that such problems might extend from the logic of the system itself” (Paolucci 2015: p. 69).
Comparing and Contrasting the Philosophers Views on Property
While Plato, Locke, Hegel, and Marx all have different theories on property it is just as important to note the similarities between the four philosophers. The first notable comparison between Plato, Locke, Hegel, and Marx are the amount of time that each one spent on their theories on the role and place that property played within a society.
Plato, Locke, Hegel, and Marx can be divided among one another into two divisions. The first group would be called the ‘Opposing Property’ group. Both Plato and Marx would fit into this category because they opposed property ownership. The second group would be called the ‘Supporting Property’ group. Both Locke and Hegel would fit into this category because they both supported the ownership of private property.
There are similarities in Plato and Marx theories. First, they both opposed private property ownership. They felt that it would lead to people owning property having more rights; therefore, they would take advantage of others within a society. For example, Plato argued that if the guardian class owned property the community would suffer. According to Breen (2011), Plato thought that property should be held collectively as it would benefit the entire community. If everyone owned property it would essentially cause a class struggle and cause workers to become alienated. Therefore, Plato and Marx both argued that in order to keep from having a class division between a community by allowing property owners and the guardian class to take advantage of the lower classes then the property must be help collectively. On the other hand, Plato and Marx differed in terms that Marx felt that property should not be owned for production purposes, because it could cause workers to be exploited.
On the other hand, Locke and Hegel shared similarities in that they belonged to the second group which supported private property ownership. A way for a person to express their individual freedom was for them to own property, according to Hegel. Thus, Locke argued that a man should have private property if he had a means to own the property. On the other hand, Locke and Hegel shared a major difference between their theories on private property. For example, they both had different views on how people could own property. Thus, Hegel thought that any man could claim property if other people accepted it; whereas, Locke argued that a man should only be allowed to have property if he has the means of owning the property.
Which Philosopher Has the Strongest Argument Towards Property
Based on the information and facts presented in this essay one can see that Locke has the strongest argument regarding the proper place of private property. Between Plato, Hegel, Marx, and Locke, Locke’s argument that anyone has a right to own property if he or she had the means to do so is seen as the strongest argument towards the proper place of property. According to Tuckness (2012) men were “naturally free and equal as part of the justification for understanding legitimate political government (;)…….” therefore, man had the right to life, liberty and property (p.1).
Although there is criticism that Locke’s view on a property could lead to conflict between individuals who have the means to have property and the ones who do not, his argument is still the strongest. Unfortunately, not everyone has the means to have property; but the ones who do not would work harder in order to get to those means of being able to possess property in the future.
The major reason why Plato, Hegel, and Marx are not the strongest theories on a property is because they cause more issues within a community rather than unifying it. For example, Hegel argued that if a person claimed a property then it was theirs. However, what if everyone did not agree that the person who claimed the property should own it, it would essentially cause more conflict than good. Both Plato and Marx examine their thoughts on a property by expressing that property should be held in a communal manner which again could cause more conflict than resolution within a community.
It is imperative to examine philosophers such as Plato, Hegel, Locke, and Marx in reference to the proper place of property within a community. Between the four philosophers mentioned Locke’s theory on a property was better for everyone and would cause less conflict between members of a society.