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  • Cited by 3
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    This article has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Varelius, Jukka 2015. Is the Non-rivalrousness of Intellectual Objects a Problem for the Moral Justification of Economic Rights to Intellectual Property?. Science and Engineering Ethics, Vol. 21, Issue. 4, p. 895.

    Cwik, Bryan 2014. Labor as the Basis for Intellectual Property Rights. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Vol. 17, Issue. 4, p. 681.

    Varelius, Jukka 2014. Is the Expiration of Intellectual Property Rights a Problem for Non-consequentialist Theories of Intellectual Property?. Res Publica, Vol. 20, Issue. 4, p. 345.



  • Adam Mossoff (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 17 July 2012

The labor theory of value is fundamental to John Locke’s justification for property rights, but Edwin Hettinger argues in a famous article, “Justifying Intellectual Property,” that it fails to justify intellectual property rights. Hettinger believes that the labor theory of value cannot justify a right to the full economic value in an invention or book, because the creator’s physical labor contributes only proportionally to this socially-created market value. Robert Nozick, G. A. Cohen, and other philosophers similarly dismiss the labor theory of value as illogical or incoherent. But these philosophers redefine Locke’s concepts of labor and value into physical and economic terms, which is more akin to Karl Marx’s labor theory of economic value. The principle of interpretative charity demands reconsideration of Locke’s labor theory of value in its own terms and within the full context of his natural law ethical theory, especially in considering how Locke himself justifies intellectual property rights. This article thus analyzes oft-neglected portions of the text of the Second Treatise and integrates Locke’s property theory within the context of his natural law ethical theory, as presented in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and in other works. In this context, Locke’s concept of labor means production, which has intellectual as well as physical characteristics, and his concept of value means that which is useful in the flourishing life of a rational being, which is a conception of the good that is more robust than merely physical status or economic wealth. This not only disabuses modern scholars of the absurdities they impose on Locke, it also explains why Locke says that inventions exemplify his labor-based property theory and why he argues for property rights in writings (copyrights), arguments that seem to have been lost on his critics in intellectual property theory and beyond.

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Lloyd Weinreb , “Custom, Law and Public Policy: The INS Case as an Example of Intellectual Property,” Virginia Law Review 78, no. 1 (1992): 144

Andrew Williams , “Cohen on Locke, Land and Labour,” Political Studies 40, no. 1 (1992): 51

Herman T. Tavani , “Locke, Intellectual Property Rights, and the Information Commons,” Ethics and Information Technology 7, no. 2 (2005): 8797

Wendy J. Gordon , “A Property Right in Self-Expression: Equality and Individualism in the Natural Law of Intellectual Property, Yale Law Journal 102 (1993): 1540, footnote 37

Jane Ginsburg , “Creation and Commercial Value: Copyright Protection of Works of Information,” Columbia Law Review 90 (1990): 1875–81

Daniel Russell , “Locke on Land and Labor,” Philosophical Studies 117 (2004): 318

J. W. Harris , “Who Owns My Body?Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 16, no. 1 (1996): 6869

Tibor R. Machan , “Self-Ownership and the Lockean Proviso,” Philosophy and the Social Sciences 39, no. 1 (2009): 9398

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Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
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