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Aristotle Locke Aristotle and Locke on Property,Research Proposal

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Aristotle Locke

Aristotle and Locke on Property, Labor and the Capitalist System

The correlation between economic principles and philosophical preponderance is considerable. Both are significantly preoccupied with discourse and disagreement ultimately concerning how people live. This is to say that economic structures and philosophical treatise alike are weighted by questions relating to how individual relate to one another, how individual function within the context of an organized society and how individuals generally conduct themselves. And of course, both discussions are weathered by no small degree of moral consideration, which was frequently present in the minds and writing of history's great thinkers. Thus, in the consideration of the works of seminal Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC) and those of British empiricist John Locke (1632 -- 1704), we find a continuity in certain themes relating to the inherency of property ownership and, in this, a materialism predicating the permeation of capitalism. Simultaneously though, we find that the thinkers are distinct in their understanding of labor as a condition of capitalism, with Aristotle, writing roughly two millennia prior, proving to be the more critical of capitalism.

A fundamental principle underlying the economic system assessed by both men is the nature of property and acquisition. Both understood economies to be largely based on a set of natural principles which dictated that activities would take place to accommodate this process of gaining material wealth. Where this amounts to such crucial assets as private or commercial land, industrial resource or other such capital, Aristotle and Locke would share common ground in the belief that the attainment of such material items was an absolutely essential and inevitable outcome of social interaction and civic development. To the point, "Aristotle judged natural the human need for some art of acquisition for households and cities; moreover, he recognized that this provisioning process could take a number of different forms and that those different forms were of great consequence." (Murray, 70)

Aristotle believed that there was an inevitability by which men would come to adopt their various roles in society, occupying different professions and crafts to be assumed a certain compensatory value. In order to better understand this value, we may consider the ideas of John Locke, who offered such foundational capitalist ideals as those relating supply and demand in a scheme by which pricing is established. Locke placed a high degree of value on the understanding of man's impulses as necessarily feeding into this system, with the human experience precipitating the need or want for certain commodities and the expressed desire to exchange a fair sum for these commodities. The aspect of demand stimulates a system within which property, protection of property and advancement of comfort, goals, desires and viability through the expansion of property ownership all become necessary human ends. Indeed, to the value or to the inevitability which Locke perceived in capitalism, one of the foundational principles of his belief system rested on conception of the individual or the self as a functional and independent social and economic unit.

To his perspective, "though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his." (Murray, 136) Locke here voices an idea that would come to serve as one of the guiding principles of capitalism. Namely, he would argue that in the self, one possessed the entitlement to achieve compensation for the value which he entered into social, economic and political structures. The self was capable of achieving great things and also was entitled to reap that which he might sow of his own merits, Locke would argue. Here is the precipitous notion by which the competitive nature of free-market capitalism would come to be so staunchly defended as a core aspect of human nature. Where Aristotle conceives of acquisition and property ownership as aspects of human nature, Locke believes this to the extent that individual entitlements are here seen to vary according to individual abilities.

While this appears as a rational system on the surface, particularly to those of us raised within the cultural context created by free-market capitalism, it is nonetheless one which is subject to massive inequality and, as a result, frequently to human suffering. Though this is not a condition which Locke endorses, he does take the perspective that every man has equal entitlement to work toward greater ends, seeming in some regard to overlook the reality that certain preexisting socioeconomic inequities may persist to tilt this playing field unfairly.

Interestingly, Aristotle seems to anticipate some of the inherent inequities in the nature of capitalism, predicating many of the arguments to be posed by Marxists and other progressives thereafter. To this point, "Aristotle has at least three reasons for criticizing the capital form: (1) profits can only be a consequence of unfair exchanges: capitalists are cheats; (2) true wealth is limited, but moneymaking knows no limit; (3) using money to make money violates the natural purpose of money, which is to be a medium of exchange." (Murray, 70) This last point also demonstrates a consonance with Locke, who would argue in his own body of work that money was a device not to be abused or given too much merit within the context of an economy, given its vulnerability to supply distortion.

But the more important aspect of Aristotle's point is also the primary distinction between the two thinkers. Indeed, Locke functions well as one of capitalism's most effective intellectual champions, providing a plausible framework that even has the tendency to manifest capitalism as an inherently humanistic economic system, allowing as it is said to do the natural potential of its participants to gain its just reward. But as to those labor classes which are also so significantly impacted by capitalism and required as part of the machinery which would ultimately fuel its global proliferation, Aristotle predicted well in advance that these parts of the population could suffer immensely in its hands. The argument that would emerge as essential to the socialist revolutions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries would take to this point, recognizing that by its very nature, capitalism sought to enrich one man at the expense of another. In a competition for property, for resource and for commodity, those that did succeed in acquisition would naturally do so with the byproduct of denying others access to those very same properties, resources and commodities.

To Aristotle, the cost of capitalism was the denied opportunity for many men to realize that most natural aspect of economic interaction in the need to gain property. He viewed this as a system inherently vulnerable to exploitation given the freedoms which it allowed those with the power and will to excel. Locke, of course, viewed this arrangement differently, perceiving labor as its own opportunity. Though different classes were impacted differently by the conditions of capitalism -- which we may interpret to mean that different classes are deemed to be worth different wages or property acquisition opportunities -- Locke still viewed this system as being controlled by the natural science of economic principle. This was an offshoot of Locke's conception of the social contract as an innately agreed upon arrangement between citizens at myriad levels of power and nobility to obey civil parameters to the benefit of survival and support within the civilization. This would apply to his economic rationale as well. Here, "Locke's philosophy of the person justifies the social form of pivotal importance for capitalism, wage labor; 'a freeman makes himself a servant to another, by selling him, for a certain time, the service he undertakes to do, in exchange for wages he is to receive."… [END OF PREVIEW]

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