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Lecture 8

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Hugh R Alcock

 Theories of Distributive Justice  If in a community there are a few members who hold most of the wealth and positions of power while the remaining members have next-to-nothing it's commonly assumed that there's an unfair distribution of wealth and opportunity  This is an unjust society  It's understood that in fact most societies are to some degree unjust in this way. Consequently, members of such a society, e.g., Canada, see a need to rectify the injustice, make their society fairer  In order either to build a just society or rectify an unjust one we first need to determine what counts as a just society as such  Therefore, we need a comprehensive theory of justice  Here we'll begin by talking about the economic distribution of wealth. Our concern more generally is with quality of life, but today with economic wealth comes power and influence which are closely related to quality of life of course  Robert Nozick (1938 - 2002)  Offers a libertarian conception of justice, that resists this way of seeing things  Libertarianism might be defined as defence of the right of free choice. According to Nozick, a society is just only when the rights (.e., protected freedoms) of its members aren't violated. Call this his principle of justice. Any transaction which isn't done with consent b/w the parties is therefore unjust, e.g., taxation  For Nozick, justice occurs when each transaction of power or wealth (holdings) is just in its own right, that is, it has been consented to freely by both sides  This is the grounds for his entitlement theory of justice. A just society is one in which each member has holdings in according with her entitlements, i.e., in accordance with what she acquires by voluntary agreement  This Entitlement Theory can be basically laid out as follows:  (1): a person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in acquisitions 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 entitle to the holding  No one is entitled to a holding except by repeated application of (1) and (2)  By Nozick's measure, a just society only requires that the transfer and acquisition of holdings be just as he defines it above  It's largely irrelevant how fairly these holdings are distributed in the sense suggested at the beginning , i.e., in terms of avoiding extremely unequal distribution of holdings among the society's members  For Nozick, the most basic right is the right to property, that is, the right to sole control over something  His principle of justice in acquisition and in transfer of holdings is predicated on property rights  An interesting problem arises for Nozick's theory  How do we first acquire ownership of something in the first place? For example, if you pick up a rock on a public beach, can you claim ownership of it? Why or why not?  Here people often appeal to notion of ownership advanced by John Locke (1632 - 1704)  Locke argues that one can acquire ownership of a previously unowned thing by mixing one's labour in it  So, for example, if you pick up the rock and paint an emblem on it that rock becomes your property  But, what is it about mixing labour in this way that makes it yours exactly?  Locke suggests that by working on it you transfer part of yourself, effectively, into the object. And since you naturally own yourself this object becomes part of you.  Nozick disagrees with Locke. He argues that by this measure I can take some tomato juice pour it into the sea and claim ownership of the sea.  Rather, Nozick suggests, to gain ownership of a previously unowned things requires your adding value to it. So, the rock becomes yours on condition that your painting it gives it value, e.g., it's in principle saleable  At any rate, if, by Nozick's standard, someone takes a previously unowned piece of land and sets up a primitive campsite and charges people a dollar per night to stay there she effectively owns that land.  This opens up the following possibility: this person, first on the scene, takes most of the available land and does this. Everyone else is left with practically nothing. Contrary to Nozick's own entitlement theory this person limits the choice of other without their consent  In response to this sort of problem, Locke claims that in such a situation one must leave enough and as good for other. This is known as the Lockean p
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