John Locke on the rights to life, liberty, and property of ourselves and others (1689)

John Locke (1632-1704) argued that the law of nature obliged all human beings not to harm “the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another”:

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions… (and) when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.

About this Quotation:

This passage from Locke is one of the foundation stones of the classical liberal notion of private property as a natural right which all individuals have. What is often overlooked by critics is the importance Locke places on the corresponding duty of the individual to respect the equal rights of others, and to thus refrain from “tak(ing) away, or impair(ing) the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another”. Less convincingly, he argues that we are all “the property” and “the servants” of his god who are duty bound not “to quit (our) station wilfully” as this would be an act of disobedience to our “sovereign master”. However, once one goes beyond this feudal and monarchical view of the relationship between men and god, between men themselves there can be no “subordination” of one to another, no using another person as one’s own servant or property, and “no superiority or jurisdiction of one over another.” These were the liberal sentiments which lay behind the idea of a limited, constitutional government which was accountable to the people.