Nozick on Distributive Justice

Justice Paper 2 -Ankur Shah Nozick says that “liberty upsets patterns. ” Critically assess this claim. Be sure to: I. Explain what the quoted phrase means (what Nozick means by “liberty” and by “patterns”); II. Discuss how Rawls would respond to Nozick’s thesis; III. Explain whether Nozick is right that liberty upsets patterns; IV. If Nozick is right, then discuss whether such “upsetting” of patterns provides a sound reason for rejecting patterns, or for regulating liberty. ———————————————— “Liberty upsets patterns” In his book “Anarchy, state and utopia”, Nozick provides a moral defense for Libertarianism, which is traditionally defined as “the advocacy of individual liberty, especially freedom of thought and action”. The core idea behind Nozick’s Libertarianism is the concept of “self-ownership,” which means that each individual belongs totally and entirely to himself and not to anyone else (Cohen Lecture6).

Based on this concept, Nozick sets the premise for Possessive Libertarianism, in which any reduction of liberty is a violation of basic rights and that interference reduces a person’s liberty if and only if the interference is unjustified” (Cohen Lecture6). To justify his claims Nozick purports that a minimalistic state is the only form of governance that is dedicated to protecting basic rights. Furthermore, he argues against equality or any form of distributive justice because any pattern designed for distribution of goods conflicts directly with the protection of liberty, specifically the rights of self-ownership.

In this paper I present Nozick’s definition of “liberty” and “pattern” and prove that based on Nozick’s conventions for these terms, liberty and pattern are incompatible. Furthermore, I explore possible counterarguments from Rawls and provide my justification for why liberty takes precedence over maintaining the pattern. What Nozick means by “liberty” and by “patterns” In order to evaluate Nozick’s claim that “liberty upsets pattern”, it is critical to understand how Nozick’s defines “liberty” and “pattern”. Nozick’s meaning of “liberty” arises from the concept of “self-ownership. In this context, an individual is entitled to their lives, their labor and by extension the fruits of their labor (Feser). So, no entity or individual can justifiably take away the end product of one’s own labor. Furthermore, the concept of self-ownership extends an individual’s capacity to do as they please with their wealth. Every individual is entitled to make their own choices, be they positive or negative, and pursue their own life plans, so long as they do not interfere with the rights of another individual.

This concept of Liberty is demonstrated in Nozick’s Chamberlain example, where people who came to watch have the power to invest their wealth to see Chamberlain play. In essence, liberty is one person’s right to do as they see fit with their property without interference from another. The term “pattern” arises from Nozick’s evaluation of the various systems for distribution of wealth in a society. Nozick defines a principle of distribution to be patterned if “it specifies that a distribution is to vary along with some natural dimension, weighted sum of natural dimensions, or lexicographic ordering of natural dimensions” (Nozick 156).

So, if we imagine a system where wealth is distributed according to a moral compass, where more is given to the virtuous and less to the vicious. Another would be a system where wealth is divided based on the effort one puts into one’s work or one that is based on the highest level of degree or one based on the number of contributions they make to society or one where individuals with higher IQ hold more wealth (Arnold). If a system for redistribution existed to ensure any of the previous scenario’s hold true, then such a society would be “patterned” based on Nozick’s definition.

Simply put, if there exists a system that enforces wealth distribution based on a set rules, then the society is patterned. How does liberty upset patterns? To illustrate the meaning behind “liberty upsets patterns,” I will closely examine the Chamberlain’s example. This example demonstrates that free exchange, which rises from the idea of self-ownership, will upset the patterned distribution. Basically, if people have the right to dispose their legitimately earned wealth as they see fit. The following outlines the Chamberlain’s logic as presented by Nozick (Pg 160-161) 1.

There exists a patterned distribution D1, which is a favorite patter of non-entitlement conception of justice 2. Wilt Chamberlain, a skilled basketball player who attracts home crowds, signs a contract where 0. 25 is put apart for every home game for him 3. Since people are excited to see him play, they freely contribute 0. 25 towards Wilt Chamberlain. 4. Thus, if let’s say a million people come to watch, Chamberlain ends up with 250,000, which is more than everyone else. 5. Since the distribution D1 no longer holds, there exist a new distribution where everyone has 0. 5 less than original and Wilt Chamberlain has 250,000 more than original 6. Since, all exchanges were done with willing participants there was no injustice done in order for the new distribution to come into place, and therefore D2 is a just distribution. Now, in order to revert to D1, the wealth acquired by Chamberlain would have to be taken away and redistributed to its original form. In doing so, Chamberlain’s rights to his wealth would be violated. Similar conditions emerge if one considers someone doing overtime, or performing services in exchange for wealth outside the initial D1 distribution.

Since D1 distribution cannot be maintained as long as people have the right to do what they wish with their wealth, it would become necessary to restrict people from spending wealth based on their choice. This would infringe upon the rights of individuals. It is clear that patterned society would not be able to maintain itself alongside liberty. As citizens are free to use their resources and wealth as they see fit in such a state, people with talent, or skills that are in greater demand, like Wilt Chamberlain’s talent in basketball, will be able to increase their wealth through their talent.

An automatic transfer of wealth will occur towards these individuals with skills that are in demand, and thus causing the disturbance in the initial distribution. In order to restore the distribution, the government will have to redistribute the wealth which would violate the basic rights of self-ownership since wealth acquired through valid means, like Will Chamberlain’s money, would be taken away without compensation. Thus, it is impossible to redistribute wealth without infringing on the liberties which means that a liberty would necessarily upset a patterned state.

Rawls and Nozick In his book, A Theory of Justice, Rawls argues for a patterned distributive justice with the belief that not knowing one’s own position in society would lead everyone to be concerned for equality. Thus, we should always be concerned about the least fortunate because we might be the least fortunate ones. This argument draws its support from the assumption that people as a whole are under veil of ignorance regarding their place in society.

Based on this he presents two principles of justice, the Liberty principle and the Difference principle stated below. (Brown) 1. “Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for others. ” (Rawls 51) 2. Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both a. to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society (the difference principle) b. ffices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity (Rawls 303) In contrast for Nozick arguments are based on the self-ownership principle, according to which, the people who produce a thing have absolute right over it, as in “things come into the world already attached to people having entitlements over them” (Nozick 160). They have the right to do as they choose with their property. Based on this, Nozick derives the entitlement theory, which states 1. A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in acquisition is entitled to that holding- Theory of Acquisition. . 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- Theory of Transfer. 3. No one is entitled to a holding except by (repeated) applications of 1 and 2- Theory of Rectification. (Nozick 151) Thus Nozick would oppose Rawls’ view that it is just to redistribute wealth as long as it benefits the least fortunate is society because the owners would not be reaping all the benefits of their labor, if some of it was taken away for the less fortunate group (Cohen Lecture 6).

Rawls argument against Nozick would rest on the grounds that ownership comes about due to external influences based on social position, and can result in total lack of property among a certain group of people. Thus, without any property, they would be unable to maintain themselves and thus taxation of the wealthy to support the unfortunate is justified. Furthermore, Rawls would argue that in Nozick’s case, rights seem to have sprung forth without having principles of justice in place, and thus are invalid since Rawls views society as a system of cooperation between individuals for mutual advantage (Lacewing).

Thus in Rawls’ view, people will only have rights to a part of the share based on the principles of justice in place. Does liberty really upset pattern? It is my belief that Nozick’s claim that “liberty upsets pattern” is valid. To support this claim, I rely on the fact that as long as people have the liberty to spend their resources to their whims, it is impossible to maintain the systemized pattern that will ensure distribution based on the current system. To demonstrate this claim, we consider a system where wealth is distributed equally among all its individuals.

We also maintain that every individual is granted liberty, which ensures that there is no external interference that keeps people from doing as they wish with their wealth. Now, in such a society we suppose that two individuals living close together combine their wealth and build a facility to race their remote controlled (RC) cars right next to their houses, because they are RC fanatics and would get enjoyment out of this center. Attracted by the facility, many people get into the RC hobby and want to use the facility that was built.

Since, the first two individuals spend their own wealth building this facility, they decide to charge other people for the use of their facility. Attracted by the growing numbers, more and more individuals get into the hobby, and start using the facility to demonstrate and race their RC cars. Now, since these individuals have the right to do as they wish with their wealth and are willing to pay for the use of the facility, they individuals who built the facility start running a net profit offsetting the cost of building and maintaining the facility.

Because of this the wealth distribution shifts towards the builders of the facility. With enough profits, they decide to opt for another facility. However, since the wealth distribution is no longer equal, the system must interfere in order to redistribute the wealth to equal terms. This interference reduces the rights of the builders, since they are no longer able to build a second facility, which was through their own wealth. Thus, a very simple case demonstrates that maintaining a pattern will require constant interference, and reduction of liberty.

To further illustrate the fact that pattern and liberty are incompatible, we can consider any two individuals living in this society. It is natural to assume that these individuals will have different taste, and different view on what to do with their resources or available wealth. If we consider any system, that distributes wealth based on certain systemized values and then add liberty to the equation, the system will no longer hold valid. Introducing liberty basically alters the system by adding a free element, which is outside the established pattern.

Thus the pattern will collapse unless checks are placed on liberty. A direct analogy can be made to the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, where it is impossible to control a system without interfering with the system. If the pattern were equal distribution, it would be unsettled by something as simple as the choice of the first individual to save his wealth while the second individual spends his wealth on some form of entertainment. Other liberties like gambling, choices in luxury items to own, varying hobbies, and varying needs will all lead to an imbalance in the distribution.

Furthermore, individuals will have the ability to sell their talents to those who would be willing to pay. These are all sources that necessarily exist with liberty and will just as surely upset any established pattern. The sole fact that people have the liberty to transfer wealth would mean that transfer of wealth will occur autonomously. This will cause the pattern to collapse upon itself unless an external force is applied to restore the balance. In order to restore and maintain the distribution, the governing entity will have to redistribute the wealth according to the pattern or take away people’s rights to spend as they wish.

Both of these choices infringe upon the self-ownership rights of an individual, and thus are invalid. As long as people are free to use their resources as they wish, it is impossible to expect that a certain pattern be maintained. Thus, liberty invariably upsets any established pattern. Regulate Liberty or reject pattern? Since the above examples demonstrated that it is impossible to maintain liberty without “upsetting” the pattern, the natural course of argument is to question whether regulating liberty or rejecting pattern is the right choice.

It is my belief that protecting individual liberties takes precedence over establishing a pattern, as long as every individual is provided with sustainable necessities of life. Basically, there are grounds to establish patterns to ensure a sustainable and progressive society, as long as the interference is minimal. First, I shall argue that an established pattern is detrimental to society as a whole. Let’s consider a patterned principle where wealth is distributed according to the effort that a person puts into his work.

In paper such a system sounds fair and just, where the effort one puts in is rewarded by an equal amount of wealth. In this system, we consider two individuals working on the same task. Now, let us consider that because of factors like intelligence, skill, and other external influences the first individual finishes the task in an hour while the second takes 10 hours to finish the task. In such a system, the second individual is rewarded more because it took him more effort to accomplish the task that the first individual.

As such the more productive member of the society, the first individual, is punished for his superior ability. It is clear that such a system would stifle progress, since people like individual A would lack the incentive to utilize their full capacity. So, it can be clearly seen that the requirement of maintaining the pattern will be detrimental to the progress of society. Let’s go even further and ignore this flaw by assuming that every individual is matched with the task that utilizes his skill in a manner that ensures equal amounts of effort.

So, everyone is putting in equal effort towards their task. For such a system, a pattern of wealth distributed by effort seems to have no flaws. However, since people are free to do with their wealth as they please, some may decide to transfer their wealth to another individual because he provides entertainment that does not exist elsewhere, or another individual who comes up with a product that everyone desires. This transfer of wealth does not require one to perform a task of equal effort, but simply one that has higher demand than the other.

The inherent flaw lies in the fact that certain skills are more valued than others even if they require less effort. This can be seen in an example where an individual creates a product of high value, very useful to society, through very little effort. Would this individual not be entitled to the transferred wealth, even if he put such little effort in it? Now suppose, we take away the transferred wealth to maintain the pattern, very soon there will be no incentive to innovate since there are no rewards for success. In this manner, society would become stagnant.

An argument for regulation of liberty arises from the fact that allowing people to redistribute their wealth as they please, would lead to the emergence of an elite class whose skills are more in demand. Because of this demand, the distribution of wealth would shift towards the elites. This concentration of wealth and resources would give a group of individuals more power than the rest of society leading to an establishment of a polarized, unequal society with a uneven distribution of wealth. Historical evidence suggests that, without any regulation it is very often that rich become richer and the poor become poorer.

In these terms, if the conditions of the poor reach below a certain threshold, (let’s call it sustainability threshold) society suffers because the environment for these individuals is no longer conducive for them being productive members of society. Their contribution will be limited by their need for providing basic necessities for existence. In this manner, the overall productivity of society will be lowered. Thus it is necessary to establish some pattern of redistribution of wealth to ensure that every individual has the basic necessities to sustain themselves, in order to create a most productive society.

Final comments In regards to setting the levels for sustainability is something beyond the scope of this essay, and perhaps beyond the scope of society as a whole. My personal belief is that this threshold wavers based on external factors, but maintains an overall upwards trend. Finally, though Philosophers like Rawls and Nozick seem to have justified a system that works, I do not yet see reconciliation between Liberty and Equality within any of these principles.

Perhaps the search is as elusive as the unifying theory of physics, but mostly insignificant in the daily workings of life.

Word count: 3117 Works Cited Arnold, Scott. Nozick. n. d. 2010 June . Brown, Lachlan. The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 October 2003. June 2010 . Feser, Edward. Internet encyclopedia of philosophy. 4 May 2005. June 2010 . Lacewing, Michael. “Rawls and Nozick of Justice. ” n. d. June 2010 . Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, 1974. Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Belknap, 1971.