Nozick, Robert

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In many ways Robert Nozick’s (1938–2002) objections to Rawls revisit a classical issue in liberal theory, namely the reconciliation of exclusive private property rights with redistribution in response to poverty. Before focusing on their disagreement about redistributive justice, it is useful to note a couple of important agreements between the two. Both Rawls (in A Theory of Justice) and Nozick (State, Anarchy, and Utopia) considered utilitarian theories to be the dominant political theories of their day, and both thought that, nevertheless, utilitarianism fails as a liberal theory of justice. Rawls expresses this point by saying that utilitarianism does not “take seriously the distinction between persons” (TJ 24), whereas Nozick expresses it by saying that utilitarianism fails to take the liberal principle of “self-ownership” seriously. The main problem, they agree, issues from utilitarianism’s focus on the aggregate sum of values as well as how these values are distributed in a society at any given time. This focus, Rawls and Nozick argue, makes utilitarianism incapable of protecting each person’s right to be free (not enslaved) or to be the one who has sole, exclusive coercive authority with regard to herself and her own powers and means. Both thinkers also explicitly view the contract tradition, especially Lockean and Kantian approaches, as more suited to developing contemporary liberal theories of justice (see TJ 10 n.4; Nozick 1974, 3–20). Nozick’s various objections to Rawls may be summarized as a charge that Rawls fails to stay true to their shared liberal aspirations. Nozick argues that although Rawls’s theory of justice as fairness is “undeniably[a] great advance over utilitarianism,” it still encounters the same types of problems (Nozick 1974, 230, cf. 172). Also Rawls’s theory, Nozick argues at length, fails to take seriously enough the distinction between persons or each person’s right to self-ownership.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Rawls Lexicon
EditorsJon Mandle, David A Reidy
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781139026741
ISBN (Print)9780521192941
StatePublished - Dec 2014


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