Nozick on Distributive Justice

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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...
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