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  • Subject area(s): Philosophy
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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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Brooke Howell

Philosophy 147

Paper #1

2 March 2018

Hardin’s paper, The Tragedy of the Commons, focuses on the idea that actors are self interested and will opt for what benefits the individual instead of what benefits the group. He believes that it is not possible to maintain a high quality of life while also having an increasing population. Actors short term interests are at odds with the long term group interest and the common good. Hardin provides an example of this with cattle herders. Two farmers share a common farm, and as rational thinkers both keep adding cows to the farm in order to maximize profit. The common eventually becomes depleted and nobody can then benefit. As a solution Hardin believes that the problem of self interest must be dealt with. Behavior changes could be made to encourage people to work together. Behavior could be managed through policy. Hardin also believes tragedy in the commons can be prevented by dealing with the commonality problem. Emphasis can be placed on privatization of resources, free market capitalism, and limited government.

Locke believes that people do have a right to use common land. If Locke was looking at the tragic commons that Hardin describes, he would see it as people obtaining property immorally. He would see people exerting their work into a common therefore making it their own. But, he would view the exploitation occurring as a result as people being selfish. People are not using as much as good, instead they are spoiling. Although Locke believes that God gave the world to everyone in common so therefore all have the right to use it, he believes one should only use a resource as long as there is also enough for others to use and benefit. To support this Locke says “As much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his labor fix a property in: Whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others.  Nothing was made by God for man to spoil or destroy.” (Locke, 132) Locke believes that government should only exists to protect natural rights such asliberty, property security and resistance to oppression. It is possible that Locke would support a system where common land was regulated. It could be monitored to make sure that people do not use more resources than they need, and as a result, tragedy would not occur.

Marx would see the use of commons essentially as good, but the way people exploit commons as not. In Marx’s eyes it is important that commons are shared. A problem only arises because actors are self interested. Marx would not encourage privatization as a solution to the tragedy problem, because he believes private property causes inequality. Marx supports the idea that private land is a direct result of injustice. When talking about the privatization of common land, Marx states “In actual history it is notorious that conquest enslavement, murder, briefly, force play the great part?” (p. 142.) Private land allows workers to be exploited through wage labor.  Instead of privatizing the commons to prevent exploitation, he would want to limit self interested behavior. He would want government intervention and management of the commons. It would be encouraged that government decides how commons were used in order to prevent overuse. This could be done by incentives, taxation, and policing.

When looking at the commons Paine would most likely enjoy the sight of people using the land. Since at one point land was given to everyone in common, everyone has a right to it. His issue would be the fact that land is no longer given to everyone in common. Since the wealthy own a majority of land, it leaves limited land to the rest of society and this is why common resources are becoming depleted. Private property creates inequality forcing people to exploit the land that is available to them.  Paine does not understand how people can enjoy their wealth when so many are suffering. He would probably not understand how so many could enjoy their private land while the commons are being destroyed. Since Paine views the idea of private property as a form of theft, he believes wealth should be taxed and distributed, and that people should be compensated for the loss of their land. Since he has such a negative view on private property he would most likely not be in favor of privatization to prevent tragedy. Instead, he would want the earth to return to its natural state, where land belonged to everyone. Understanding that it isn't completely feasible, if someone does have private land, they should compensate the rest of society because the public can no longer benefit from the land.   

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