Mixing and transforming (continued)
Now, in the article earlier mentioned, Waldron makes two powerful logical objections to the labour-mixing argument. The first is that it exploits what is merely a metaphor as though it were literally true. Labour is an activity, not a substance. It cannot actually be mixed with anything. When you genuinely mix two things, there are the two things and the activity of mixing them. Here, with the labour and the object laboured on, there is just one thing, the object, and an activity, labouring. Or else, if you do treat this as a second substance, then you still want an activity, the mixing; and so have to count the labour again, as activity as well as substance. The analogy will not work. Second, and overlooking this first objection, the derivation of entitlement from the metaphor presupposes a right to something - what you already own and mix in - that in the case of labour is no longer, after the mixing, even there: 'the labour, qua labour, no longer exists.' There can be no further right to what no longer exists, nor any entitlement consequently derivable from such right.25
Strong as they are, these logical objections deflect attention from something as important; more important, indeed, to the moral dimension of the question. It is easier to grasp if we pretend that Waldron's objections do not hold; that labour actually is a substance and still extant after being mixed. What better pretence than to replace it by a substance? This will help us also to forget labour's specific qualities as labour and to concentrate on (what is supposed to matter here) its being, merely, property.
I own a quantity of powder which I allow to be scattered over a lovely, unowned beach. This is powder-, not labour-mixing. 'Allow to be scattered' means just that: accidentally I let the wind do it, as I amble about and the powder trickles from a hole in my bag. It gets mixed with the beach, as good as inextricably. For though by luck I may locate some grains of it, I cannot possibly find them all. I claim the beach. Others are beginning to voice competing claims.
I shall not ask how potent, morally, my claim to the beach would be. I shall suggest, instead, you try to think of a weaker one. The suggestion is not just rhetorical. Really, what claim to the beach could be weaker? It may be urged that the example does not genuinely meet Waldron's second objection. Mixed the powder may be, but in effect it no longer exists. But this depends on what you think it was. If it was face powder, it no longer usefully exists as that. But if it was the remains of my recently-cremated donkey, it still exists as remains, and in a medium suitable to them. Or suppose that someone makes a large, nutritious cake, then abandons it to all comers. A group of such, which includes myself, is discussing putative shares, when I say, because it is true, that one of my eggs has been mixed into the cake - and this is, therefore, mine. My egg no longer exists as an egg, but its nourishing substances, my property under a description I favour, do still exist; only mixed. Again, what claim to the cake could be weaker than mine to all of it?
It follows from what was said about L's trapped leg that I would be entitled to the beach, or the cake, if there were no other moral claims on it. However: several people need this beach, for recuperative or self-developmental purposes; one person has travelled weeks to reach it; another would put it to great social benefit; others just think they have a right, with me, to some (use) of it. Or: we come upon the cake hungry; a child amongst us has her birthday today; everyone feels entitled to equal consideration in dividing the cake; and so on. Not only are claims like these clearly stronger, morally, than mine; even that someone just wanted some beach, or cake - not standardly considered an especially powerful type of claim - would be, I contend, morally stronger. For, think what my claim amounts to: a right to all of something on account of a bare physical conjunction. To find a weaker claim you need other such morally arbitrary connections: 'I had a dream about a beach like this'; 'It is visible from my hill'; 'I said "cake" first'; 'My mother used to bake such cakes.' Of course, one could choose to commend or adopt one of these as a principle of acquisition. But to suggest they carry 'natural' moral weight is absurd. So it is, if subtracting from the labour-mixing argument the specificities of labour, as some of Locke's own formulations seem to do, you rest things purely on the fact of mixture.
I do not need to be told, incidentally, that these are particularly helpful examples for me. I chose them for that reason. Were it all mine, you see, the use I would actually make of the beach, qua resting place for my donkey, would be to stand there awhile, fondly remembering him; and of the cake, qua bearer of my egg's nutrients, would be nutritional; and otherwise, in both cases, none. So, I can be offered precisely this use of the beach and this, the egg's, nutritional equivalent in cake - plus whatever I might also be due on the sort of grounds informing other people's claims. One could certainly have different examples: in which what gets mixed in is of greater value to its owner, and invites a (pretty comprehensive) title for this individual to the whole 'mixture'. We already do have, of this ilk, L's trapped leg. But, then, it is L's need of his leg, or its irreplaceable value; generally, it is the specific quality of what is the person's in the mixture, that carries moral weight, when (as here) it does. It is not its mere physical conjunction with other things.
Exactly the same difficulty vitiates the suggestion by Hillel Steiner that Locke's metaphor can in fact be given effective, non-metaphorical sense, by taking it to be energy that gets mixed with things in labouring. A process genuinely akin to mixture does occur; and ownership of a quantity of expended energy forms the basis of the labourer's title to what is laboured on.26
I pass over briefly the point - developed, again, from Waldron - that this is not really an interpretation of labour-mixing, but an alternative proposal. Not all, sometimes perhaps none, of the energy expended in labour goes into the object laboured on. If you pursue a hare,27 the energy you expend is not, or is hardly at all, in the hare. Moreover, quite apart from labour, energy is transferred by people to matter around them willy-nilly, as they come into contact with it, as their bodies give off heat, etc. Energy-mixing, could you monitor it, would yield another set of entitlements, overlapping only partially with any held to derive from labour.
Once more, though, ignore such logical objections and consider what strength of claim energy-mixing, just as such, could plausibly generate. We abstract, remember, from any moral purchase to be had from possible associations here with effort and its virtues. Your claim to own a tree because you had sat against it, warming it, or had so placed your radiator to do this, would not be at all compelling. Compare it with 'I spat (sic) somewhere on this beach - (or) I cut my hair here, letting it fall in the sand - so making the beach mine.' Try to think of weaker, more arbitrary claims.
Labour is not a substance and cannot be mixed. Even if it were and could be, the bare mixing of what one owns with unowned matter yields, at best, an extremely feeble moral claim to such matter, weaker than virtually any standard alternative. Reasons of interpretative charity suggest we should pick up another strand in Locke's argument.
 See note 1 here.
 The suggestion was communicated to, and is discussed by, Waldron - at pp. 183, 187-8.
 See Locke, Two Treatises, II, sec. 30.
(Part 7 is here.)