Nozick Vs Rawls Essay

1702 words - 7 pages



Why does Nozick deny that justice requires attention to patterns of distribution?

Explain and analyse Nozick’s theory and compare this account with John Rawls’ theory of distributive justice. Explain which theory you find most convincing, and why.

"That a handful of human beings should weigh everybody in balance, and give more to one and less to another at their sole pleasure and judgment, would not be borne unless from persons believed to be more than men, and backed by supernatural terrors."  John Stuart Mill

Equality means lowest common denominator. No one wants that. That is truly awful. Mark Willey

In this paper I will explain why Robert ...view middle of the document...

Before we compare the theories, let’s consider the similarities between the two. At first glance both are similar to utilitarianism because they are aimed at achieving the best outcome possible. However, neither is identical to a utilitarian approach and neither should be classified with it. And secondly, both theories contain, or at least claim to contain, Kantian principles most notably, the categorical imperative1 (see pg. 339).However, Budde (2007) criticises Rawls for falsely claiming his theory is a Kantian Interpretation2 (see page 342-351) even though the concept of universalisabity is arguably present. Let’s now consider the theories.

It is widely accepted that Nozick’s theory is based on previous work by John Locke and he presents this in his work Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974) in which he calls for the establishment of a minimal state and more. Nozick argues that individuals have a right to their property, hence, ‘your own body, labour and fruits of your labour,’3 (see pg.660). Thus, he is against the concept of redistribution4 (that governments perform with taxation). Nozick argues that it is ‘forced labour’ to tax people because it means they are working for something that’s ultimately going to belong to someone else, and thus it makes that someone a part-owner in the individual. Subsequently, the government’s only role is to enforce contracts and protect persons from force, theft or fraud. On that point, I agree with Nozick that the redistribution of wealth is unjust. I believe some people have worked hard to receive what they earn and to tax them is unjust. Especially in countries like Australia with a progressive tax system. Although it can be argued that it is a mechanism used by governments to lower social inequality, I still believe it is unjust. This does not align with the Kantian notion that people should not be just ‘a means to others ends,’5. Following on, Nozick’s model for distribution is historical rather than patterning which Rawls follows. Nozick’s infamous Wilt Chamberlain example6 (see pg.659-660) defines his opposed position to patterned distribution. Furthermore, Nozick writes, “The principle of enlightenment we have sketched is not patterned7. Nozick also identified these three principles of justice:
A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in acquisition is entitled to that holding
A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in transfer, from someone else entitled to the holding, is entitled to the holding
No one is entitled to any holding except by (repeated) applications of 1 and 2.
A distribution is just if it has arisen in accordance with these three sets of rules8.Otherwise, we start treating others as a ‘means to others ends’.

There are a number of flaws associated with Nozick’s theory. The first flaw dates back to Locke; ‘you must leave something for others to use (enough and...

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