Philosophy 2074F/G Chapter Notes -Wilt Chamberlain, Historical Right, Robert Nozick
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Distributive Justice – Nozick
1. Wilt Chamberlain: Consider this story:
Now imagine that some of the spectators (maybe even a lot of them) just found
their quarters laying around. Maybe some of them found their quarter laying on
a busy sidewalk; others might have found theirs in the middle of the woods near
a campsite. Is their ownership of these quarters just? Probably. Finding something
that is unowned and claiming it as your own seems permissible, especially when
no one else is harmed or made worse off by it.
But now imagine that Wilt had charged any admission at the door, but had
pickpocketed one quarter from every spectator. Would THIS result be fair?
Probably not. What do you think ought to be done in this case? Should Wilt give
all of the money that he stole back to the pickpocketed spectators? Probably.
Wilt Chamberlain: There is a
society that is currently in a
perfectly just state. In that
society, Wilt Chamberlain is a
very talented basketball
player. Wilt offers to tour
around and play basketball in
front of crowds, and charges
25 cents admission per person.
One million people go to see
him. Wilt now has $250,000.
Now ask: Does the result
(where 1 million people have
25 cents less and Wilt
Chamberlain has $250,000)
seem just to you? Nozick
observes that this is CLEARLY
just. The people freely gave
their quarters to Wilt, and no
one was harmed, so the result
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2. Entitlement Theory: Our verdicts in the Wilt Chamberlain case are likely to align
themselves with Nozick’s proposed principles of justice. Robert Nozick states that
a distribution of wealth is just, so long as it follows these 3 rules:
1. Justice of acquisition: If you acquired something justly, then it is just to
own it (for example, we may justly acquire something that is unowned if
doing so does not leave others worse off). In the Wilt Chamberlain
example, the spectators who found their quarters acquired them justly
(they were unowned; no one is worse off).
Note: As an example of finding something unowned and claiming it for
one’s self which is NOT just, we might imagine a group of settlers arriving at
their destination, and one person finding and claiming the unowned
water source as their own. This sort of acquisition is NOT just because it
leaves everyone else worse off (for instance, because the other settlers will
all now die of thirst).
2. Justice of transfer: If someone who justly owns something freely transfers
that property to another, then it is just for that other person to own it
(provided that it does not leave others worse off). In the example above,
the spectators may justly transfer their quarters to Wilt if they want to (no
one is worse off).
3. Rectification of injustices: If someone UNjustly “owns” something (by
unjust acquisition or transfer), then the situation ought to be rectified (e.g.,
by restoring the property to its rightful owner). If Wilt pickpockets his
audience, he is obligated to rectify the situation (e.g., return the money).
3. Historical vs. End-State Principles: Nozick makes a distinction between
principles of justice which are “historical”, and those that are “NON-historical”:
Historical Principles of Justice: Principles for which, if we were to examine
a distribution of wealth, we cannot determine whether it is just or unjust
unless we know some of the HISTORICAL DETAILS about how this
distribution CAME ABOUT.
Non-Historical Principles of Justice: Principles for which, in order to
determine whether or not a distribution is just or unjust, we ONLY need to
look at the distribution itself, and we do NOT need to know any of the
historical details regarding how this distribution came about.
Note: It might help to think of non-historical views as “time-slice” views.
They are ones where we need only look at a single “snapshot” of a time
(a single moment, or slice of time) in order to determine whether or not it is
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