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John Rawls vs. Robert Nozick

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    Regarding justice in a society, both John Rawls and Robert Nozick express differing opinions on the best way to reach this. Both philosophers illustrate what they feel justice to be and offer support for their ideas in their efforts to put forth the best argument. Before being able to decide on which argument is the strongest, it is best to understand the ideas each philosopher possesses in order to compare and contrast them. John Rawls argues that the principles of justice that govern the basic structure of society are the principles that would be agreed upon in a hypothetical fair bargaining position, which he calls “the original position.

    Throughout his writing, Rawls describes the original position and conveys how it would lead to agreement on two principles of justice. The first principle that he describes says that 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. The second principle requires that social and economic inequalities must exist only if they are to everyone’s advantage and attached to positions that are open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.

    Robert Nozick argues on behalf of an entitlement theory of justice. Nozick illustrates his belief that people are entitled only to those holdings that they have originally acquired in a just manner or that have been transferred to them in a just manner. He goes on to say how people own themselves and their labor and what their labor produces as well. From this, Nozick says that any system that threatens or takes away things from people and gives them to others is unjust.

    He continues on the subject by writing how principles or practices that distribute goods according to some other scheme are morally indefensible because they violate individuals’ rights to the holdings that they have justly acquired. Though Rawls and Nozick state their own ideas regarding justice, we can’t help but notice the various similarities and differences within their arguments. One similarity between the two is that both men feel Nozick’s entitlement theory is insufficient to deny demands for a state that supports income redistribution.

    Nozick even agrees that Rawls’ difference principle can be morally acceptable and also on the idea that people who are the least well off have “the highest probability of being descended from previous victims of injustice”. The main difference between the two philosophers’ arguments is that Rawls believes in a patterned view while Nozick does not. While Rawls believes in actual distribution, which everyone should be benefited especially the least advantaged, Nozick feels any pattern is a violation of people’s inherent right of liberty. From the standpoint of morality, I feel that Rawls puts forth a stronger argument than Nozick.

    The reason I feel his is stronger has to do with how his arguments, which mirror his beliefs, were put forth in a more straight foreword manner leaving little to no room for questions about unclearness. On the other hand, I feel Nozick had the weaker argument in his failure to address an important issue. This issue that Nozick fails to address deals with how some people are born in bad situations and his argument instead implies that all are born on equal footing. Because the situation people are born into has a huge effect on people most of the time, Nozick’s failure to mention this and assumptions weaken his argument.

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    John Rawls vs. Robert Nozick. (2017, Feb 27). Retrieved from

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