Ross G. Perry

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Evan Simpson




This thesis is an analysis of the concept of labour in John Locke's political theory as seen in the Two Treatises of Government. Locke uses the concept of labour in relation to his discussion on property. He does not explicitly define labour, but he does discuss labour primarily in relation to land, beasts and the fruits of the earth, and he emphasises the labour theory of value. Because of this, much of the secondary literature has assumed that Locke understood labour as productive labour only. If the context in which Locke introduces labour is examined, it is not clear that his understanding of labour is limited in this way.

Locke introduces labour in the context of individuals rights and duties to survive. He discusses the various duties individuals have towards each other and especially the duties parents have towards their children. Such duties require labour and the labour associated with them is central to Locke's political theory. Feminist theorists have pointed out that it is often assumed that the labour associated with certain duties, such as parenting, is not politically relevant labour. This means that the individuals responsible for such labour are at a distinct disadvantage, since they must perform labour that is not recognized as important or politically relevant.

To label Locke's concept of labour "productive" is to neglect the importance of duties in his theory. The Law of Nature is fundamental, civil society, or any other society, cannot obliterate the duties which arise from it. The labour necessary for performing these duties is broader than productive labour only.

McMaster University Library

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