Sunday, November 5, 2017

Nozick’s entitlement theory of Justice - Summary

The philosopher Robert Nozick presents a libertarian statement of the theory of justice that he calls the entitlement theory in the book Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974).  Nozick's principles of justice are historical principles that take into account the process by which a distribution came about rather than the nonhistorical or end-state principles (such as those in utilitarianism and Rawls’s theory) that evaluate a distribution with regard to certain structural features at a given time.  In addition, Nozick's principles of justice are not patterned, inasmuch as patterned principles evaluate a distribution according to the presence or absence of that feature.  Nozick contends that any particular pattern of distribution can be maintained only by continuously interfering in people’s lives and hence violating the right to liberty.  This is the point of the argument about Wilt Chamberlain.

The entitlement theory states that "a distribution is just if everyone is entitled to the holdings they possess."  An expression of the non-patterned entitlement theory in patterned form is, “From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen.”  People are entitled to their holdings if the holdings were obtained by one of the following three principles:

1.  The principle of just transfer.
2.  The principle of just original acquisition.
3.  The principle of rectification.

The original acquisition of a holding is just as long as it does not violate anyone else’s rights.  (Note the discussion in the text of the Lockean Proviso.)  Transfers are just as long as they result from  purely voluntary exchanges, provided that all preceding transfers were just reaching back to a just original acquisition.  However, a principle of rectification is necessary to correct injustices in transfers and original acquisitions.

Justice and free markets according to Nozick

The market system is just because it protects individual rights better than any other economic system.  The point of justice, for Nozick, is to protect rights, not to promote human well-being or to achieve equality, and a largely unregulated free market system, with only the absolute minimum of government intervention, protects rights best.  However, Nozick fails to support his major assumption that liberty, understood as the unhindered exercise of property rights, is a paramount value.  In addition,  not all restrictions of liberty are due to interference by the state; individuals are sometimes restricted by the choices of others.  The conditions for just original acquisitions and just transfers are often absent, and most distributions have been affected at some point in time by forced takings which have never been rectified in accord with the principle of rectification.

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