Philosophy – Nozick’s Entiltlement Theory According to Nozick there are three sets of rules of justice, defining: 1. how things not previously possessed by anyone may be acquired; 2. how possession may be transferred from one person to another; and 3. what must be done to rectify injustices arising from violations of (1) and (2). A distribution is just if it has arisen in accordance with these three sets of rules. See pp. 151-2.
Nozick does not try to specify in detail the rules under the above three headings (‘I shall not attempt that task here’, p. 153). However, he does give some further information on rules of acquisition; see p. 174ff. He follows John Locke who as Nozick interprets him held that a person has a right (1) to own what he makes, and (2) to appropriate anything not already owned, provided he leaves ‘enough and as good’ for others – i.e. provided his appropriation leaves them no worse off.
(Nozick calls this the ‘Lockean proviso’.) It is not clear how Nozick would defend (1) against his own criticisms of Locke (p. 174-5). As for (2), he points out that the proviso cannot reasonably be taken to mean that there can be no worsening of others’ opportunities to appropriate; it must mean that in other respects they are no worse off. Nozick raises the question ‘No worse than they would be how?’ What is the baseline? In Rawls’s theory the representative worst-off person must be no worse off than he would be under any other possible arrangement. Nozick rejects this, but does not define another baseline: ‘This question of fixing a baseline needs more detailed investigation that we are able to give it here’; p.
177. However, ‘whether or not Locke’s particular theory of appropriation can be spelled out so as to handle various difficulties, I assume that any adequate theory of Justice in acquisition will contain a proviso similar to the weaker of the ones we have attributed to Locke’; p. 178. Nozick says that the proviso is violated if a person appropriates all of something necessary to life – or purchases it, or combines with the other owners of it, or finds himself the sole owner when other supplies are lost (e.g. when all the other water holes dry up). Nozick refers to the possibility of losing entitlement to something that was originally yours because of developments since, such as the drying up of other waterholes, as the ‘historical shadow’ of the Lockean proviso; p.
180. Comparison with Rawls’s Theory Nozick classifies theories of justice as (1) either end-result or historical, and (2) either patterned or unpatterned. The entitlement theory is historical and unpatterned. It does not demand that the distribution resulting from just acquisitions, transfers and rectifications be patterned, i.e. correlated with anything else (such as moral merit, need, usefulness to society); people may be entitled to things got by chance or gift.
Any distribution, irrespective of any pattern it may or may not have, is just provided it has the appropriate history, provided it did in fact come about in accordance with the rules of acquisition, transfer and rectification. Rawls’s theory on the other hand, is an end-result theory. Choice of principles behind a ‘veil of ignorance’, must be based on calculations about what people are likely to end up with under the various possible sets of principles – there is no other way of choosing (is there?); p. 202. Therefore if any historical entitlement theory is correct, Rawls’s approach is wrong. Notice that this imposes on Rawls in the job of showing that no possible version of an historical entitlement theory could be correct. He might reply that he intends to stick to his own theory until someone actually produces a correct entitlement theory; Nozick has not, because his theory is merely a sketch with many important details not worked out. Nozick points out (p.
207 ff) an analogy between his own entitlement theory and the process by which in Rawls’s theory the rules of justice are arrived at. Rawls specifies an initial situation and a process of deliberation, and say that whatever rules results from this are the rules of justice; similarly Nozick specifies a process, and says that whatever distribution results is just. ‘Each theory specifies starting points and processes of transformation, and each accepts whatever comes out’. But Rawls’s process for generating principles cannot generate process principles, but only end-result principles. Nozick says that this is ironic. It presents a dilemma: if processes are ‘so great’, it is a defect that the process cannot lead to process principles of justice; if processes are not so great, then why should we accept the outcome of Rawls’s process? (This is a weak argument.
Rawls can claim that his process is ‘great’ without having to hold that all processes, just because they are processes, are great.) There are many pages of criticism of details of Rawls’s argument which we cannot follow here (or even there, sometimes!). Patterns and Liberty Others besides Rawls have put forward ‘pattern’ theories. Nozick advances an objection against all of them: part of ownership is the liberty to give things to other people. If justice consists in the pattern in which goods are distributed, then giving – which changes the pattern – will be unjust. Thus pattern theories do not merely correct the mal-distribution which allegedly happens under an entitlement theory; they also alter the concept of possession.
‘The view that holding must be patterned perhaps will seem less plausible when it is seen to have the consequence that people may not choose to do acts that upset the patterning, even with things they legitimately hold’. (See p. 219-20). Note Nozick’s concept of ownership: a right to do whatever you choose with what is your own. No Central Distributor ‘Pattern’ theories sometimes picture some person or institution faced with the problem of fairly distributing the sum total of good things: they should be distributed in a pattern corresponding to merit, need, etc.
But, Nozick maintains, things are never collected into a sum total to be allocated by a central distributing authority. p. 149 The term distributive justice is not a neutral one. Hearing the term distribution most people presume that some thing or mechanism uses some principle or criterion to give out a supply of things.. There is no central distributor, no person or group entitled to control all the resources, jointly deciding how they are to be doled out.
‘If things fell from heaven like manna, and no one had any special entitlement to any portion of it..’ (p. 198), ‘there might be a more compelling reason to search for a pattern. But since things come into existence already held (or with agreements already made about how they are to be held), there is no need to search for some pattern for unheld holdings to fit; and since the process whereby holdings actually come into being or are shaped, itself needn’t realize any particular pattern, there is no reason to expect any pattern to result.. In the non-manna-from-heaven world in which things have to be made or produced or transformed by people, there is no separate process of distribution for a theory of distributions to be a theory of’; p. 219.
No Presumption of Equality Nozick ask why it is to be assumed that differences between persons are arbitrary unless they can be justified. A central distributor would perhaps be bound to treat all alike unless for good reason, but in a free society distribution results from many localized exchanges between individuals entitled to bestow their holdings as they wish. p. 223. The Natural Lottery not Unjust According to Rawls, the veil of ignorance should conceal the distribution of natural talents, because rules reflecting this distribution would not be just.
But according to Nozick, it is not true that a person deserves something only if he also deserves whatever he used, including natural talents, to obtain it. ‘It needn’t be that the foundations underlying desert are themselves deserved, all the way down’; p. 225. ‘Whether or not people’s natural assets are arbitrary from a moral point of view they are entitled to them, and to what flows from them’; p. 226. Equal Opportunity not a Right Possessions that people are entitled to may not be seized to provide equality of opportunity for others. Life is not a race; ‘there is no unified race’, p.
235. There are individual exchanges, in which the parties do not usually care about desert or handicaps, but simply about what they get in exchange. ‘No centralized process judges people’s use of the opportunities they had; that is not what the process of social cooperation and exchange are for’; p. 236. (Statements about what institutions are for are always suspect. How do we decide what exchange is for, and anyway why would this impose a norm?) Justice and Equality People often note that wealth is unequally distributed, and proceed immediately to discuss how it might be made more equal.
But on the entitlement theory one cannot decide whether redistribution is necessary merely by looking at the prevailing pattern of distribution. Whether it just depends on how the distribution came about. If it came about in accordance with the rules of acquisition, transfer and rectification, then it is not unjust, however unequal it may be. Redistributive Action by Government Unjust According to Nozick, taxation is equivalent to forced labour. Taking a proportion of earnings is like making a person work a proportion of his working time for another’s purposes.
It is unjust to force a person to work for another’s benefit. According to Locke (Section 27), a person has a property in himself and in his labour; each person has liberty to decide what he will do (subject to the rights of others), and a right to reap the benefits of his own actions. But tax-financed social welfare programs institute something like ownership by others of people and their actions. The poor have a claim on the actions and products of others, whether or not those others freely entered into relationships that might give rise to such claims, whether or not they voluntarily take these claims upon themselves, in charity or as part of an exchange. It is inconsistent to allow a right to emigrate, when there is no right to stay and opt out; see p. 173. (Are there any enforceable duties to do things for others? E.
g. is there a duty to help in floods or earthquakes? Enforceable duties to help do not imply that actions or persons are owned. Part of ownership is the right to sell; the fact that someone has a duty to help me does not imply that I have a right to sell his help. Parents are not partly owned by their children. Nozick’s analogies need to be analysed carefully. ) Rectification of Past Injustice Nozick does not attempt to work out the rules of rectification. However he says that it is an important task in each society to work out what operable policy best approximates the results of a detailed application of rules of rectification. It is possible that some tax-financed welfare program, or even Rawls’s rule of favouring the worst off group, may be justified as a means of rectification, if it can be assumed that the better off are beneficiaries of past injustices, and the worse off victims. He warns that his entitlement theory cannot be used to condemn any particular welfare scheme unless it is clear that it cannot be justified as a means of rectifying past injustices.
See p. 231. (Will this warning be heeded, or will the theory be taken as a justification of the existing distributions?). Nozick’s theory of rights In his account of the possible justification of the state, and in his entitlement theory of justice, Nozick postulates absolute rights – not merely prima facie rights which might be overridden, but boundaries not to be crossed without the free consent of the persons whose rights they are. Other people’s rights are constraints upon our actions toward our own g …