Critical comparison between Rawls and Nozicks theories of Justice

The relationship which should exist between the state and an individual has always been a subject of contention as far as political philosophy is concerned. John Rawls is among the philosophers who are known to have done a considerable amount of work in this subject. His work titled A Theory of Justice seeks to establish the best manner in which an individual and the state should exist. Robert Nozick is also a renowned scholar on this subject. His work Anarchy, State, and Utopia, focused on whether there was a possibility of formulating distributive justice, and not necessarily focusing on a particular distributive justice. Each of these authors developed justice principles and their implications for governments role. Rawls appears to have based his work on the Social Contract Theory context, which is logical as well as egalitarian. He arrives at a conclusion which is reasonable and appealing. Despite his good work, his work still exhibited some grey areas which he did not seem to have taken into close consideration. His work did not seem to conclusively address the issue of the fundamental tension that exists between equality and liberty. This is the fact that prompted Nozick to highlight this neglected aspect.

Rawls initiated his work with the Kantian statement which stated that every individual has an inviolability whose foundation is on justice and cannot be overridden even by the whole society welfare. He however continues ahead and expresses the fact that he may be having a contradicting opinion to that premise. Rawls first agrees that there is some tension in the relationship between the whole society and an individual. In the context of his theory, he emphasizes on justice principles as the only means of reconciling the interests of these two parties. The society is described as being a cooperative venture that is aimed at offering mutual advantage. The society is characterized with conflicts and common interests. Every human is interested in himself and as such conflicts seem to be an inevitable aspect of life. It is also true that when human beings cooperate, they are more likely to realize better lives than would have been the case when they did their things individually. When the fruits of cooperation among the individuals in a society are realized, it is human nature to want to get the better part of it. There is always a stiff competition between the members of a given society. There is also the need to work together within the society to achieve common good. These two aspects seem to be in competition.

Rawls feels that some principles are needed to govern the manner of dividing such advantages based on the possible social arrangements which exist. These principles which are formulated to govern the distribution of goods within the society are what he referred to as the Principles of Justice. Good principles are supposed to emphasize on equality as well as fairness. The people within the society are expected to agree to such kinds of principles, and this can only happen when they are deemed to be just. Rawls feels that they should be in such a way that every individual accepts them. The acceptance should not be based on the current situations of the individual members instead, the acceptance should be universal even if their current conditions were to change from one extreme to the other. The class, social status, asset distribution and abilities should not take a centre stage in the formulation of such principles as they are bound to change. This means that the social contract should not take into consideration, some of the factors that portray inequality. The agreement among the individuals in the society is done in a manner such that no individual focuses on his own advantage within the society. It is thus based on equality. Rawls feels that any individual who is free, self interested and rational is expected to prefer these principles when they are in a similar situation. These are the basis of his principles.

His first principle was that every individual within a society is supposed to have the equal right to extensive liberty which is compatible with the liberty for other individuals within the same society. Rawls appears to be synchronous with other theories of social contract. Rawls believes that the individuals are supposed to respect other peoples basic liberties provided their liberties are not compromised. His second principle stated that the inequalities which exist socially and economically have to be modified so they can be advantageous to everyone and that they should be linked to positions which anyone can rise to. This second principles seems to be having two main components, the first being that wealth inequalities should be to the benefit of the whole society, the second part is that every individual in the society should have equal opportunity within the society. Rawls feels that natural fortune should not act to the advantage or the disadvantage of an individual. Nobody deserves to be allocated a better starting platform within the society.

Rawls feels that these principles uphold justice. He states that the social values like liberty, opportunities and wealth should be distributed in an equal manner. When such values are to be distributed unequally, then it should be to the advantage of every individual within the society. Rawl does not strongly criticize equality. He only feels that people, who are going to give up their liberties for this inequality, should benefit from it. The benefit they get from inequality should be greater compared to the case when equality is increased. These two principles are plausible since individuals can give up some of their basic liberties to benefit from the social as well as the economic gains which result. There is the possibility that some individuals in the society can violate his first principle basing their reason on the second principle. He avoids that possibility of inconsistency by emphasizing on his first principle as having greater social good. Nozick feels that these principles formulated by Rawls do not take individual freedom into consideration.

Nozick begins his work by basing some of his thoughts on those that had already been put forward by Kant. He however feels that some of these thoughts needed modifications to fit in the political philosophy context. Nozick argues that an individual should never be used as the means of acquiring certain good unless he is willing. An individual has the right of choosing what he wants in his life. Nozick wonders why the rights of a single individual cannot be violated for the benefit of the whole society. He answers the question by stating the society is made up by individuals, each of whom has his own life. When the rights of an individual are violated in the interest of the good of the society, then this can be deemed as taking him as a means which is not acceptable. Rawls felt that a rational individual would prefer his second principle. This meant that if an individual in his own will chose to be used as a means then that would no longer be considered a violation.

Nozick expressed the opinion that no central distribution, group, or individual should be charged with controlling all resources within the society. It should occur in a joint manner. The distribution should take place in such a manner that individuals within the society get the goods they need from the others while satisfying the needs of the others too. Rawls disputes whether justice can be traced in such kinds of transactions. Nozick came up with the Principle of Holding to justify his claim. Nozick feels that a person is entitled to a holding if he acquires it justly. The second component in his claim is that if an individual gains holding after a transfer that is just, then the person is entitled to such kind of holding. The third component of his claim is that no other individual should be entitled to the holding if they do not fulfill the first or the second parts of his claim. This implies that any distribution can only be just if, every individual in the system is entitled to it. His principles can acquire a historic dimension, which is the main difference between him and Rawls.

Nozick feels that Rawls bases his justice principle on distribution that does not take the historic aspect into consideration. This can be equated to redistribution that is not even concerned about the original owner. This ignorance is what makes the equality as well as fairness which Rawls was advocating for. Nozick does not consider this distribution just. He does not find a good reason why an individual who did not have a good should be given at the expense of those who had been with the good at an earlier stage. Nozicks line of reasoning is plausible in the sense that a prisoner who is sentenced for a jail term is there because of a reason. Rationally, the person is supposed to be there. If we consider the perspective that had been formulated by Rawls, then the individual ought to be set free to achieve equality and the historical aspect of his detention should not be taken into consideration. This renders the argument of Rawls less plausible, unless he incorporates an historical perspective into distribution.

Nozick acknowledges that Rawls argued that inequality should be to the benefit of every individual. Also he agrees that Rawls prioritized his first principle. He concludes that if an individual did not have a liberty that could be violated, then he would not submit to the society. If we were to uphold the principles of Rawls, an individual who has trained and gain expertise in a certain field or sport and is able to attract a large number of enthusiasts to his performance if the individual charges the people he would be deemed to be violating peoples right to have wealth. He is required to pay back his gain to the society since that was natural talent. If the person had worked very hard to acquire that talent, then it should not be classified as being natural. Often it is very difficult to differentiate hard work from talent. Distribution should thus be according to the value and service offered and not necessarily based on morality. Nozick bases his distribution on Rawls first principle, which ensures that liberty is not violated.

Rawls did a commendable job in his works on the relationship between and individual and the state. He is credited with laying the foundation as far as this concept is concerned. His theory was mainly based on the Social Contract Theory. Nozick criticized portions of his work because some inconsistencies which had emerged.  Though, Nozick came up with his own theory on the subject, the theory was largely seen to be consistent with the one which had been formulated by Rawls. Nozick excluded the second principle that had been proposed by Rawls claiming that it was antagonistic to the first one. While this claim had some truth in it, Rawls had given it a thought and gave greater importance to his first principle. Liberty as well as choice was the main aspects of his theory.

Nozick felt that an individual needed to have the opportunity to choose what he wants as is the case in a market. A person is bound to choose what serves him best. Distribution in this context entailed an individual getting greater good by virtue of the possibility of serving the needs of other people. Distribution which is based on Rawls first theory only is deemed to have inviolable liberty. The relationship between an individual and the state still remain a much contested issue in the society. This subject still enjoys a great deal of studies and researches.


Post a Comment