Nozick and Rawls on Natural Rights Essay

  • Length: 5 pages
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  • Subject: Economics
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  • Paper: #18477193

Excerpt from Essay :

rights exist and where they come from can provide a useful approach to thinking about justice. To this end, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature concerning how rights relate to Nozick's entitlement theory of just distribution and how Nozick uses the Wilt Chamberlain example to argue for his preferred view. In addition, a discussion concerning the question of society and natural rights by considering Rawls' focus on the original position and fairness is followed by an analysis of the applicability of Rawl's "veil of ignorance" to decision making. Finally, an examination of the possible implications of these two different approaches to justice and economic distribution for a real-world water case study is followed by a summary of the research and important findings concerning these issues in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

What may have been regarded as just distribution at one point in time may be viewed far differently later when all of the facts are known or the situation changes in substantive ways. In this regard, Richman (2011) advises that, "Nozick opted for an 'entitlement theory of justice in distribution,' which poses a historical test: 'whether a distribution is just depends upon how it came about'" (p. 23). Although resources are by definition scarce and finite, Nozick's entitlement theory of just distribution suggests that some people are entitled to more because they are capable of paying for it based on their own individual initiative and abilities. For instance, according to Aalberg (2003), "Nozick's theory of distribution according to entitlement stresses that if someone is willing to pay a huge amount of money for the transfer of a certain good, that individual is entitled to that reward, and the distribution is just" (p. 29).

In support of this assertion, Aalberg cites Nozick's observation that, "From each according to what he chooses to do, to each according to what he makes for himself (perhaps with the contracted aid of others) and what others choose to do for him and choose to give him" (1993, p. 161). Moreover, Nozick maintains that if the transfer is legal, the holdings are just (Aalberg, 2003). Subsumed in Nozick's principle of merit, equity or entitlement is the principle of contribution according to the respective ability of the individuals that are involved. Indeed, Aalberg emphasizes that, "Nozick would agree that if someone is more able than others, they deserve to be rewarded for this" (2003, p. 29) and this is certainly the case with the example of Wilt Chamberlain used by Nozick.

Like the Beatles, Donovan, Cat Stevens and other rock stars from the 1960s, it is reasonable to suggest that some young people today may not even know who Wilt Chamberlain, the 7-foot-1 inch center for the Philadelphia Warriors was, but no one could argue that he lacked the abilities to excel in sports. For example, on March 2, 1962, "Wilt the Stilt" scored an unprecedented 100 points (28 free throws and 36 field goals) in a one-sided win (169-147) over the New York Knicks (Ten most dramatics moments, 1999). Indeed, to date, this record-breaking accomplishment remains unmatched and Chamberlain still holds a number of other NBA records as well, including league records for average points per game (50., most points in a regular season and career rebounds (23,924) (Ten most dramatic moments, 1999).

Taken together, it is clear that Wilt was worth his salt and Richman (2011) agrees. According to Richman (2011), "If Wilt Chamberlain is entitled to a bigger income than his fellow human beings when it results from voluntary exchange, it must follow that others are too" (p. 24). According to Johnson (2013), Nozick used the Wilt Chamberlain example to demonstrate that a so-called "patterned" theory of just distribution was not defensible. In this regard, Johnson points out that, "Any distribution which results from free exchanges between persons entitled to their holdings must be just. But free exchanges will always disrupt any favored patterned of distribution" (2013, para. 2). Just as the invisible hand will direct more money towards those things that people want and need the most, Wilt Chamberlain was able to attract more money than his counterparts because of his abilities. For Philadelphia fans, this distribution would certainly seem appropriate and fair while New York Knick fans might believe otherwise, but the fact remains that "The Stilt" could deliver the goods and was legitimately entitled to whatever he could earn with his athletic abilities. As Johnson notes, "If we have legitimately acquired something, we can dispose of it as we see fit, whatever pattern of distribution results. Some will flourish, some will starve, and this will in turn affect the chances of offspring, etc. But these results, though perhaps undesirable, are not unjust" (2013, para. 3).

By contrast, some authorities prefer Rawls' position because the patterns of distribution that are in place were created by the operation of institutions to develop a basic structure which are relevant to the evaluation of the respective justice provided by those institutions (Meikle, 2001). For example, according to Hill (2000), "Rawls's 'veil of ignorance', asks us to set aside our particular values as members of this or that group (gender, race, country, family, etc.) when, at the highest level of deliberation, we reflect on what constraints on action and institutions should form the framework of any moral life" (p. 22). Although it would seem counterintuitive to require decision-makers to formulate their decisions based on limited information, Rawls argues that this approach can help reduce personal bias, presuppositions and stereotypical thinking. In this regard, Hill reports that, "Requiring decisions to be made in ignorance of certain facts is a useful thought experiment or psychological device that can help decision-makers to discount irrelevant personal preferences and minimize other distorting influences on judgment" (2000, p. 22).

There are in fact some commonplace real-world examples of Rawls' veil of ignorance in action. For instance, Hill points out the veil of ignorance "serves this function, for example, both in Rawls's theory and in the practice of sequestering juries" (2000, p. 47). Sequestering juries prevents jurors from learning anything from the "outside world" during the pendency of the trial, and limits their knowledge to the most relevant information that is presented in the courtroom only, thereby inducing a veil of ignorance compared to the mainstream population that hears every little dirty detail on the evening news. For instance, Hill notes that, "In many common contexts the 'impartiality' that is called for is not selective blindness to facts but rather being guided effectively by given standards, without being distracted by irrelevancies, when one has to judge or decide about cases understood in full detail" (2000, p. 47). In other words, by sticking to the facts in a case, jurors and other decision-makers can gain a better understanding of what is really involved without extraneous factors being taken into account. As Hill concludes, "If one can make oneself judge by specified standards rather than by irrelevant concerns, then the better one understands the situation in question the wiser one's decision should be" (2000, p. 47). In sum, Rawls's veil of ignorance suggests that decision-makers need to exert some type of legitimate effort to exclude personal preferences and specific attachments when these are not morally relevant to their decisions concerning the general principles under consideration (Hill, 2000).

The implications for these differing views on the distribution of the world's water are profound. Today, there are seven billion thirty humans in the world and fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce (Roberts, 2011). While the debate over peak oil continues, the harsh reality facing humankind today is that water is far more valuable than oil and humans simply cannot live without it. Moreover, like oil, water is a zero-sum resource, and to the extent that others use existing water supplies is the extent to which they will be unavailable to others. Unlike oil, though, there are no substitutes for water. It is reasonable to suggest that Nestle's arguments that the water was somehow magically transformed into "food" when it was bottled "would not hold water" if equitable patterns of distribution were in place.

Adopting a veil of ignorance in this issue would therefore contribute to a finding that Nestle was exploiting not only the citizens of Michigan, but of all the world's citizens since the available supplies of water are finite and belong to everyone in common. The veil of ignorance would also help decision-makers recognize that transporting 262 million gallons of water a year through the 12-mile stainless steel pipeline from the plant to Sanctuary Spring used by Nestle essentially "severs it from the estate." As the case study points out, one critic stated that the right to public water "does not include the right to transport water to some distant land for [some other] use. We're arguing that the same is true with groundwater-you can't sever it from the estate." By extension, using Nestle's model and provided the technology existed, oil producers in the United States could simply run…

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