Similarities Between Nozick And John Rawls

The issue of distributive justice is relevant in our society due to current thoughts on economic inequality in politics. The political philosophers John Rawls and Robert Nozick have differing views when it comes to the topic of distributive justice. This analyze the positions of John Rawls and Robert Nozick, finding that Nozick’s view of distribution is preferable to Rawls’ difference principle because people deserve to keep what they earn and their earnings should not be taken away from them because that would be a violation of their personal liberties. John Rawls wrote the book, A Theory of Justice.

Rawls defines society as a group of people who create and cooperate with set rules; the rules are burdens in society whereas cooperating in society is a benefit. A person is better off living in a society than being alone. Rawls says that everyone has an equally shared interest in society but there is also a conflict of interest in society because everybody wants the benefits and nobody wants the burdens. Social institutions, benefits and burdens, and conflict of distribution of those benefits and burdens are factors that arise from cooperating in society.

Rawls says justice is the first benefit of social institutions. A social institution is a social organization that citizens take part in within a society that includes things such as family structure, local government, non-profit organizations, etc. Social institutions can affect the way benefits and burdens are distributed among society depending on the structure of the institution. Rawls says laws and institutions, no matter how well organized or effective, must be just and if they are not, they must be eliminated from society.

Rawls says that a well-ordered society is one where everyone accepts the principles of justice. According to Rawls, a society needs principles of justice because there will always be conflict over the distribution of benefits and burdens. We need these principles to determine how things are distributed in society. Rawls says we must follow the original position to recognize the principles of justice. Rawls’ original position is a thought experiment created to determine the principles of justice.

He says, imagine that you are behind a veil of ignorance where you do not know your sex, race, social or economic status, etc. Now, try to determine the principles of justice without knowing any information about a society or yourself. There is a veil of ignorance to prevent any personal biases that could occur because you are likely to agree to certain principles if you knew your position in society. Rawls’ first principle of justice is the equality principle, which says that all members in a society should equally share the rights and duties or the benefits and burdens.

An example of a burden is jury duty and examples of benefits are voting rights, civil rights, etc. Rawls’ second principle of justice is the difference principle, which says that social and economic inequalities and distributions are just as long as they are to the advantage of the least well off in society. Rawls says we only want inequalities in a society if those inequalities result in a better off society. Robert Nozick is a libertarian philosopher, who has opposing views of Rawls’.

Nozick’s book Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Anarchy, State, and Utopia is an objection to Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. Nozick believes in the minimal state, which suggests that the government only has one role in society and that is to protect people by offering police protection, court systems, and military protection from external forces. He will say that anything more than that is a violation of your freedom. For example, Nozick believes that taxation to benefit the less well of in society is a violation of people rights.

He understands that police officers need to be paid and it is justifiable for taxes to go towards that but he says systems such as welfare are a violation of people’s rights. Nozick does not agree with using the term ‘distributive justice’. Nozick says that the term ‘distributive’ is to neutral for what the term implies, the term ‘distribution’ refers to a method used to give out things in a society. He says this term is not correct because there is nobody who controls the resources that are distributed in society and there is no such thing as a central distribution system.

Nozick says that there is not a governmental hand deciding who receives the benefits and the burdens in a society, benefits and burden primarily come from interactions of individuals at an individual level. Nozick says that instead of calling it a ‘distribution’, we refer to the term as holdings. Nozick describes holdings as a voluntary exchange method that people in society participate in. For example, say that you are hungry and want to buy a burger. You trade your money with the restaurant in exchange for a burger.

That exchange of money for a burger is a voluntary exchange between everyone involved in the transaction. Nozick believes in the entitlement theory, which says that a person is entitled to their holdings as long as they were obtained justly. For example, a person is born into certain holdings because their parents gave those things to them. Nozick will not say that everyone “deserves” their holdings but you are entitled to keep your holdings, whether you deserve them or not because they are your holdings. Nozick has three principles of justice that come from the entitlement theory.

The first principle of justice is justice in acquisition, which explains the just appropriations of unheld things. If you acquire goods without force, fraud, or theft than your holdings have been acquired justly. For example, say your friend gives you her cup of coffee that she just paid for because she knows you need it. This cup of coffee is now your holding that you acquired without the use of force, fraud, or theft. Therefore, that cup of coffee was acquired justly. Nozicks’ second principle of justice is justice in transfer, which is the voluntary exchange of holdings.

You may transfer holdings as you wish as long as the transfer is without the use of force, fraud, or theft. If you voluntarily transfer your justly acquired holdings to someone else, than that person’s new holding is justly held. Back to the example of the burger, you voluntary made the exchange of money for a burger without the use of force, fraud, or theft therefore that burger was acquired justly and the transfer of money for the burger was a just transfer. If justice in acquisition and justice in transfer are both just then we do not need to go onto the third principle because that is considered a just society.

If one or both is not just then we must look at the third principle of justice, rectification, which says that some injustices must be rectified in order to create a just distribution. For example, if a person steals a burrito from another persons, then the person who stole the burrito has violated the principle of justice in acquisition, so a rectification is necessary to fix the distribution. When it comes to the idea of a patterned conception of justice, I agree with Nozick that in a free market the original distribution will always be changing therefore patterns will always be changing so pattern systems cannot exist.

Nozick says a patterned concept of justice in holdings says that holdings are just when they meet conditions, not based on how the holding was acquired, but instead based on who holds it. Nozick argues that pattern systems cannot exist because the free market is always changing so patterns will always be interrupted. Nozick believes that personal liberties upset patterns because whatever you hold, you hold it justly and nobody can take those holdings away from you. Nozick believes in the historical principle and asks questions about how the person acquired their holdings.

Nozick uses the example of the basketball player, Wilt Chamberlin, to break down why patterned systems cannot exist. Wilt gets money from people in a society, who wants to watch him play basketball. Walt says that he will play only if everyone pays twenty-five cents extra per ticket. Everyone voluntarily agrees to pay the extra charge because they want to see him play. Walt now has all this money and the original distribution has changed. A voluntary exchange occurred between the people in society who chose to pay the extra charge and Walt’s bank account.

Rawls’ would argue that the example of Wilt Chamberlin is not correct because it does not show how taking some of Wilt’s money would benefit the least well off in society. In this example, the second distribution does not fit the original pattern anymore. Nozick says in free markets things like this happen and we are unable to maintain patterns. In order to get back to the original distribution, we would need to take away some of Walt’s money. Rawl’s would argue that for the purpose of justice we take some of Wilt’s money away and give it to the least well off in society.

Nozick will say to take away Walt’s holdings would be a violation of his personal liberty. Rawls believes that pattern systems in society exist. He says that the difference principle is a patterned concept, where the inequality of distribution is only just if it benefits the least well off in society. Rawls says he does have a problem with the welfare state and the unequal distributions in society and he says that benefiting the least well off in society will make for a better society. Nozick says that you cannot take away someone’s holdings if those holdings were acquired justly.

Rawls understands the idea of liberty but he argues that inequality among distribution makes for an unjust society. Rawls objects to Nozick by saying it is wrong for some people to be born into a life of poverty while others never have to lift a finger. Nozick says it is wrong for someone to take holdings that are entitled to someone else, no matter how obtained, if obtained justly those holdings belong to that person. Nozick says that taking away someone’s money to give to someone who is not as well off would be unjust especially if that money was acquired justly.

There are many reasons why someone would be less well off than others in society. Some people’s reasons are out of their control but some people are just plain lazy. It would not be just to take someone’s money that worked hard in life to be successful and give it to someone who chose not to work hard. Rawls’ argument is not correct and therefore Nozick’s argument is correct because we cannot have a system determining how the money that we earned is distributed in society because we should be able to do what we want with the money that we earned.