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Nozick on the difference principle


Gläser, Micha (2023). Nozick on the difference principle. Politics, Philosophy and Economics, 22(2):126-159.

Abstract

Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia contains one of the earliest and best-known criticisms of John Rawls’s theory of justice in general and the difference principle in particular. The discussion of Nozick’s critique of Rawls in the literature has focused on his argument against “patterned” conceptions of justice, of which the difference principle as Nozick understands it constitutes merely one version among others. In this article I consider the objection Nozick raises against the difference principle specifically, namely that it unfairly favors the “worse endowed” over the “better endowed” members of society. I argue that Nozick’s charge of unfairness against the difference principle is ambiguous between two distinct interpretations of the difference principle and as such divides into two distinct objections, the pre-cooperative and the cooperative fairness objection. I then argue that neither of these two interpretations of the difference principle represents the actual, Rawlsian difference principle accurately and that, more fundamentally, Nozick lacks the concept of politics as the distinctive moral category implicitly at work in Rawls’s theory of justice. Not as much of Nozick’s charge of unfairness against the difference principle therefore remains on reflection as may have appeared at first sight.

Abstract

Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia contains one of the earliest and best-known criticisms of John Rawls’s theory of justice in general and the difference principle in particular. The discussion of Nozick’s critique of Rawls in the literature has focused on his argument against “patterned” conceptions of justice, of which the difference principle as Nozick understands it constitutes merely one version among others. In this article I consider the objection Nozick raises against the difference principle specifically, namely that it unfairly favors the “worse endowed” over the “better endowed” members of society. I argue that Nozick’s charge of unfairness against the difference principle is ambiguous between two distinct interpretations of the difference principle and as such divides into two distinct objections, the pre-cooperative and the cooperative fairness objection. I then argue that neither of these two interpretations of the difference principle represents the actual, Rawlsian difference principle accurately and that, more fundamentally, Nozick lacks the concept of politics as the distinctive moral category implicitly at work in Rawls’s theory of justice. Not as much of Nozick’s charge of unfairness against the difference principle therefore remains on reflection as may have appeared at first sight.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:01 Faculty of Theology and the Study of Religion > Center for Ethics
06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Philosophy
Dewey Decimal Classification:100 Philosophy
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Philosophy
Social Sciences & Humanities > Sociology and Political Science
Social Sciences & Humanities > Economics and Econometrics
Uncontrolled Keywords:Robert Nozick, John Rawls, difference principle, distributive justice, social cooperation, basic structure, original position, social contract
Language:English
Date:1 May 2023
Deposited On:17 May 2023 10:54
Last Modified:31 Jan 2024 02:38
Publisher:Sage Publications
ISSN:1470-594X
OA Status:Hybrid
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/1470594x231156931
Official URL:https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1470594X231156931
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)