Picking at the Locke of Economic Reductionism

  • Piers H. G. Stephens


In this chapter some historical, political and epistemological themes in relation to property rights are examined, with particular reference to the predominant social construction of the natural environment as being solely an economic resource. I will argue that the political thought of John Locke is of focal importance in understanding the historic roots of environmental crisis, supporting this by reference to a reading of Lockean theory which emphasizes the Baconian influence on his views of property and nature. My interpretation points to the primary role of the objectification of nature as determinate and ‘other’, a set of items over which power can and should be wielded, and this objectification is in turn traced to the epistemological primacy of the subject-object divide in Baconian and Lockean thought. This divide resulted in a conception of property bifurcated between the free possessing subject (human owner) and the determinate possessed object (nature). However, I reject the claims of deep ecologists for the obliteration of the subject-object divide, suggesting instead a dethroning of this construction from its epistemological primacy, a metaphysically relational conception of ‘having’, and a scepticism towards the ontological replacement of natural items by exchange value (money).


Environmental Ethic Political Thought Divine Command Environmental Future Productionist Paradigm 
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© Piers H. G. Stephens 1999

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  • Piers H. G. Stephens

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