Distributive Justice: Rawls and Nozick

A look at Rawls and Nozick's positions on distributive justice with disucssion between their arguments.

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Rawls: Distributive Justice
Justice as fairness/Distributive justice
Based on the idea that society is a system of cooperation for mutual advantage between
individuals, principles of justice should "define the appropriate distribution of the benefits
and burdens of social cooperation."
Justice is the most important political value as it applies to the market, property, family,
freedom etc. and so is intimately connected to society.
If justice is a matter of cooperation for mutual advantage then conditions for cooperation
need to be defended and inequalities in social positions justified.
"The principles that free and rational persons concerned to further their own interests
would accept in an initial position of equality as defining the fundamental terms of their
The veil of ignorance
Agreement to a fair, impartial procedure means eliminating any bias toward rich or poor,
religious or atheist etc.
We agree without knowing what our position in society will be.
That nobody is favoured by the outcome of natural chance of social circumstance since
all are similar situation and no one is able to design principles to favour his particular
condition, the principles of justice are the result of a fair agreement. ­ORIGINAL
Cake example: we would cut the cake into even slices knowing someone else chooses
which slice we get, but would we really?
Two principles of justice
Rights, liberties, powers, opportunities, income, wealth are goods which should be distributed
In the Original Position, Rawls argues that we will:
1) Only agree to an equal distribution unless a certain amount of inequality will work to
everyone's advantage e.g. incentives which will generate more wealth for everyone.
2) Once a certain level of material wellbeing is secured we will value our basic liberties
(above) more than other goods.
These lead to the two principles:
1) Political justice: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total
system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all
2) Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are
a. both to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged and

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Rawls argues that we would elect for the Difference Principle (2.a) so that inequalities would
be to everyone's benefit but his "maximise the minimum" approach makes just as much
sense as maximising the average wealth (2.b)
Critics of the view
Society is a cooperative pursuit of what is in our individual interest ­liberal individualism.
Society is a means to an end, not intrinsically valued. Marxism and Conservatism critics.
Assumes we are fundamentally separate rather than naturally social.…read more

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In contrast, justice according to equality, need, or desert depends on "pattern" of
E.g. Adele in concert
People are "endsinthemselves" and we cannot use them in ways they do not agree to,
even if it would lead to some "greater good" e.g. people getting what they need.
Redistribution violates rights tax should be collected for a night watchman state, nothing
A person has a right to what they produce because they own their own labour, which they
invest in creating the product.…read more

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