Lockean Provisos and State of Nature Theories

Ethics 95 (4):828-836 (1985)
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State of nature theories have a long history and play a lively role in contemporary work. Theories of this kind share certain nontrivial commitments. Among these are commitments to inclusion of a Lockean proviso among the principles of justice and to an assumption of invariance of political principles across changes of circumstances. In this article I want to look at those two commitments and bring to light what I believe are some important difficulties they engender. For nonpattern state of nature theories, the justness of a society is marked by the conformance of the society to procedural principles. Distributions of resources and the like have no particular import for questions of justice. Whatever may later result, so long as it came about in accordance with the rules determined by the principles of justice, is itself just. The Lockean proviso is one of the principles of justice governing property and other rights of nonpattern theories of justice. The proviso hangs as a "shadow" over the results of the operation of the other (usual) principles of justice. It is intended to remedy a complaint which arises when the positions of those no longer at liberty to use some resource are worsened (1) by no longer being able to use freely what they previously were free to use and (2) in such a way that they fall below a "baseline." Following Locke, a traditional formulation of the proviso is to allow acquisition just so long as there is "enough and as good" left over for others. Section I concerns the relation of the Lockean proviso to pattern and nonpattern principles of justice, demonstrating that a Lockean proviso turns a nonpattern into a pattern theory of justice. Section II is about the relation of the Lockean proviso to the ideas revealed by an examination of a state of nature, suggesting reasons to reject ideal theories of justice.
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