Hunger, Need, and the Boundaries of Lockean Property

Dialogue 58 (3):527-552 (2019)
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Locke’s property rights are now usually understood to be both fundamental and strictly negative. Fundamental because they are thought to be basic constraints on what we may do, unconstrained by anything deeper. Negative because they are thought to only protect a property holder against the claims of others. Here, I argue that this widespread interpretation is mistaken. For Locke, property rights are constrained by the deeper ‘fundamental law of nature,’ which involves positive obligations to those in need and confines the right to excess property within circumstances where it is not needed to preserve human life.
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