Nozick, Rawls, and the Problem of Patterned Principles of Justice

Responding to John Rawls egalitarianism, Robert Nozick responds that “….in a socialist society… no end-state principle or distributional patterned principle of justice can be continuously realized without continuous interference with peoples' lives. Any favoured pattern would be transformed into one unflavored by the principle, by people choosing to act in various ways…” (Nozick 1974, 163) This essay will argue that Nozick’s objection is successful against Rawls, only to the extent that it is understood in the context of Rawls' understanding of his own theory.

Two Visions of Justice

In 1974, Robert Nozick wrote a lengthy response to John Rawls' A Theory of Justice, called “Anarchy, State, and Utopia”. One of Nozick’s core critiques of Rawls, centers around a characterization of the kind of Justice that Rawls was advocating. Nozick called it, the justice of “patterned distributions”. Famously, Nozick argued against a fixed “patterned distribution” of wealth, using the metaphor of famous basketball player Wilt Chamberlain. The entire allegory is too much for this post but to summarize briefly, he pointed out through this metaphor that, given a regime of voluntary individual exchanges which, are ostensibly morally acceptable even on Rawls conception of patterned justice, the only way to maintain a fixed pattern of distribution, would be through the application of force, which itself could be construed as unjust, on Rawls' own theory.

Toleration and Free Association

Regarding an issue raised in the Dave Rubin Yasmine Mohammed interview: One particular point raised by Dave sticks out for me. He asks a few times, whether “liberalism is too soft” on radical ideologies nestled within the boundaries of its political realms. The question is never really engaged directly. But indirectly, there are many points in this interview in which toleration of illiberalism is called into question, as a general policy (either social or legal).

Mill Harm Liberty and Censorship

J.S. Mill’s famous essay On Liberty proposes a broadly Utilitarian principle to be applied for the purpose of the preservation of individual liberty against state coercion. This principle is known as the ‘harm principle’. Mill provides three vaguely distinct formulations of the principle, and in each one, the term ‘harm’ takes on a slightly different meaning. The first formulation implies a definition of harm as an act which would require either individual or collective ‘self-protection’ as a response.