Inequality

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Inequality is undoubtedly the most blatant and pressing issue that plagues society. After all, how can we possibly accept that some perpetually carry the scar of a long history of poverty that impedes them from having opportunities in life? As we find ourselves face-to-face with this despicable reality we should ask ourselves: what equality of opportunity should we aim for and what measures must be taken in order to solve this issue? John Rawls and Robert Nozick present diverging views on social equality in their books A Theory of Justice and Anarchy, State, and Utopia, respectively. Nozick, on one hand, believes that liberty is the most central good and that if a property is justly owned then social inequalities are acceptable and should thus be free of intervention. He believes that people have property rights, thereby conceding them the right to what they justly own. Rawls challenges the importance that Nozick gives to property rights, by claiming that many times property ownership stems from advantageous social positions and natural talents. With that in mind, he proposes his Second Principle and Difference Principle in order to aim at correcting the injustices that arise as a product of birth accidents. Rawls’ theory of justice represents the ideal of equality of opportunity which a just society should aim at, for it is not enough to merely have a formal liberty – effective liberty is necessary as well for there to be equal access to opportunities in society. It is important to no infringe on people’s liberties, though, while trying to bring about equality. However, it is Nozick’s liberty theory that I will be using in this paper as the one we should try to preserve, for it consists in having one’s rights respected (29) – that is, their duties and claim-rights. The only amendment I will add to Nozick’s point of view is that liberty is only justified in being restricted if by doing so in the short run it will bring about maximal liberty to everyone in the long run. That said, in order to obtain this ideal equality of opportunity it is important to protect liberty as well, so that the property that stems from your talent and hard work is protected. Neither liberty nor equality should trump one another – they should exist in congruity. I will therefore argue in this paper that the means to an ideal equality of opportunity is to have a meritocratic unified educational system that incorporates Rawls’ theory of justice, but excludes his Difference Principle and redistributive measures in order to protect people’s liberty. In order to arrive at the ideal equality of opportunity proposed, I will therefore trace both philosophers’ ideas that should either be grounded in the system or absent from it. When it comes to treating inequalities, Nozick is not concerned with effective liberty – he believes that formal liberty suffices. That is, his focus is not on whether people actually have the means to acquire something, but simply on whether they have the right to do so. He presents his conception of justice through his entitlement theory:

“1. A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in acquisition is entitled to that holding. 2. 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. 3. No one is entitled to a holding except by (repeated) application of 1 and 2.” (151)

That is, Nozick is only concerned with whether property ownership is just; he does not care about inequality as an end-result as long as the means of acquisition are just. He believes that liberty (as long as the points in his entitlement theory hold true) should trump any attempt at correcting societal inequalities. However, we cannot be oblivious to the inequalities that root our societies, and so it is important to also focus in effective liberty– after all, that is what essentially allows individuals to have equal...
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