Nozick – Distributive Justice
“The minimal state is the most extensive state that can be justified. Any state
more extensive violates people's rights” (176).
Justice consists of three principles:
1) Principle of justice in acquisition (PA)
Concerns original acquisition of holdings, the appropriation of unheld things, how,
what process, what can be held, etc.
2) Principle of justice in transfer (PT)
Concerns transfer of holdings, how, what process, etc.
3) Principle of rectification of injustice (PR)
Nozick argues that:
A: A person acquiring holding in accordance with PA is entitled to that holding
B: A person acquiring holding in accordance with PT from someone entitled to that
holding is entitled to the holding
C: No one is entitled to a holding except by (repeated) applications of A and B
“A distribution is just if everyone is entitled to the holdings they possess under the
“A distribution is just if it arises from another just distribution by legitimate means.
The legitimate means of moving from one distribution to another are specified by
the principle of justice in transfer. The legitimate first 'moves' are specified by the
principle of justice in acquisition. Whatever arises from a just situation by just
steps is itself just” (177).
Importantly, “justice in holdings is historical; it depends upon what actually has
SUM: “The holdings of a person are just if he is entitled to them by the principles
of justice in acquisition and transfer, or by the principle of rectification of injustice
(as specified by the first two principles). If each person's holdings are just, then
the total set (distribution) of holdings is just” (178).
Historical Principles and End-Result Principles
“Entitlement theory of justice in distribution is historical.... Current time-slice principles of justice hold that the justice of a distribution is determined by how
things are distributed (who has what) as judged by some structural principle(s) of
just distribution” (178).
“It is a consequence of such principles of justice that any two structural identical
distributions are equally just. (Two distributions are structurally identical if they
present the same profile, but perhaps have different persons occupying the
particular slots. My having ten and your having five, and my having five and your
having ten are structurally identical distributions)” (178).
However, Nozick notes that, usually, “we think it relevant to ask whether someone
did something so that he deserved to be punished, deserved to have a lower
share” (178). That is, our usual conception of justice is not dehistoricized.
Another form of historical principle distinct from the entitlement principle of
“A principle of distribution [is] 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” (179).
Ex. distribute by moral merit
“There is a purpose or point to someone's transferring a holding to one person
rather than to another” (180).
“Since in a capitalist society people often transfer holdings to others in
accordance with how much they perceive these others benefiting them, the fabric
constituted by the individual transactions and transfers is largely reasonable and
“The system of entitlements is defensible when constituted by the individual aims
of individual transactions. No overarching aim is needed, no distributional pattern
is required” (181).
“Whoever makes something, having bought or contracted for all other held
resources used in the process ... is entitled to it.... Things come into the world
already attached to people having entitlements over them” (181).
How Liberty Upsets Patterns
[Wilt Chamberlain example]
“If D1 was a just distribution, and people voluntarily moved from it to D2,
transferring parts of their shares they were given under D1 ... isn't D2 also just?”
(181). “No end-state principle or distributional patterned principle of justice can be
continuously realized without continuous interference with people's lives” (182).
“Any distributional pattern with any egalitarian component is overturnable by the
voluntary actions of individual persons over time” (183).
Redistribution and Property Rights
“Patterned distributional principles.... do not give the right to choose what to do
with what one has; they do not give the right to choose to pursue an end involving
... the enhancement of another's position” (183).
“Proponents of patt