Philosophy Now 107:20-21 (2015)

Alejandra Mancilla
University of Oslo
John Locke’s justification of property rights starts with the idea that mixing one’s labor with previously unowned (natural) physical objects entitles one to ownership of the resulting product. American philosopher Robert Nozick presents this idea in Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974), but notes that things are not as straightforward as they might seem. On the contrary, Nozick writes, there are instances where by mixing one’s labor with something in nature, one loses one’s labor without making any gain: “If I own a can of tomato juice and spill it in the sea so that its molecules (made radioactive, so I can check this) mingle evenly throughout the sea, do I thereby come to own the sea, or have I foolishly dissipated my tomato juice?” The answer is obviously the latter, he argues; and he suggests that what Locke really had in mind was that what one ought to own is not the full resulting product of one’s labor, but rather the value added to the original product before the laboring took place. In this article, I claim that one of the most common arguments supporting patents over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) rests on the same misunderstanding. I present three possible defenses that might be given to support it, and show how they fail.
Keywords Locke  Nozick  property rights  GMOs
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Reprint years 2015
ISBN(s) 0961-5970
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