[Rawls vs. Nozick] Justice and Equality

  • A Theory of Justice (1971) – John Rawls
  • Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974) – Robert Nozick

In Ethics, the primary question is what is good and what is right. How does equality play the role here? Is equality the precondition of being just? Is equality the result of a just society? Has equality nothing to do with justice? Or does equality actually violate some justice?

The debate between Rawls and Nozick has been a hot topic of this context and helps you philosophize your own ideas.

Rawls proposed the distributive justice. There are fundamental conditions that need to be guaranteed to everyone as a human being in a society. The basic conditions provide the common starting point to everyone and justify the need for redistribution. 

Meanwhile, Nozick emphasized the freedom and the security of private property rights. Any distributive system except protecting the basic protection mechanism violates the human rights.

At first glance, they talk about two different things, but their arguments are based on the same logic. Here is the logic of the argument:

“Every human being has basic rights that cannot be violated. Something can be permitted only when it does not violate them.”

For Rawls, the basic right is the common human condition, which can be translated as an equal base point. His argument is 

“Every human being has a right to be equal (at least at some level), which cannot be violated at any rate. Some forms of redistribution can be justified because they do not violate the human right. Rather redistribution is required to guarantee the individual’s right.” 

How about Nozick? He argues

“Every human being has a right to own a property and transfer it voluntarily, which cannot be violated at any rate. Any redistributive system requires an involuntary transfer of private properties, so it violates basic human rights.”

In the 21st century, we live in a society in which justice is important. It does not mean we live in an equal society. Equality is not an easy topic and can be measured in various degrees. Nobody thinks complete equality is the best or is even possible. But if some degree of equality is the safeguard of being human, what can it be? It is time to think over!

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