Explain Nozick’s entitlement theory of justice.
Question 10. Explain Nozick’s entitlement theory of justice.
Answer – Introduction
Robert Nozick (1938-2002) was an American academic and a renowned political philosopher. His Anarchy, State and Utopia created a profound influence upon the contemporary academic world of political science and political philosophy.
In his early years Nozick was a great supporter of extreme libertarianism and in the far end of life he considerably modified his extreme libertarianism. Some are of opinion that ultimately Nozick appears to us as a strong supporter of a political doctrine which is known to us as neo-liberalism.
Mention has been made that Robert Nozick bases his theory of justice on rights. The rights come from the concept of entitlement. In other words, rights mean entitlement. One has right or claim to anything means that one is entitled to it. If justice means the distribution of right, duties, privileges etc. then the idea of justice can appropriately be interpreted as entitlement theory of justice.
Nozick is reluctant to give preference to distributive justice because this concept does not give proper idea about the theory. He observes: “it would be best to use a terminology that clearly is neutral”. Implementation or realisation of the entitlement to holdings creates the foundation of the theory of justice. Thus, Nozick’s theory of distributive justice and entitlement theory are same and convey identical meaning.
There are three different principles or three major topics of holdings:
(1) When a man acquires a holding (we can interpret it as property though Nozick does not use this particular term) according to the principle of justice and law, then the person concerned is entitled to that holding. In other words, property acquired in a legal and justifiable way shall cause under the authority of the person who has acquired it and it is a type of justice.
(2) If a person happens to acquire a holding by means of transfer and here in this case the basic principles of justice has been strictly adhered to, then this justice- based transfer can reasonably be called an entitlement. The transfer takes place from one person to another. There are different forms of transfer such as voluntary exchange, gifts or any other type.
(3) In all societies not, all transfers or acquisitions take place in proper or legal or justifiable ways. There may be illegal transfers or acquisitions and it has been found that such cases are not at all rare. Naturally the rectification of this injustice or wrong can lead to another type of holding. Nozick calls it the “rectification of injustice in holding”.
Nozick’s theory of justice is apparently attractive and convincing but in final analysis it is not so.
Critics have raised several objections against it
1. Nozick has given undue importance to distributive aspect of justice. Through the entitlement of holding he has built up the entitlement theory. Entitlement of holding may be in the form of acquisition or transfer or rectification of injustice.
These are the cases of distribution but what about production? He has neglected it and we think that it is unjust. Both production and distribution are closely connected and to ignore one will lead to an incomplete theory.
2. Robert Nozick was in strong favour of minimal state which is equivalent to night watchman state. It means that in any society the state has a role to play, though the role may be minimum. Nozick’s theory does not make it clear what role the state will exactly play in establishing justice.
Moreover, since Nozick’s theory falls into the category of distributive justice the state, through its elaborate machinery, must ensure proper distribution of holding, and at the same time entitlement to holding. If legal and other problems arise on the way of acquisition or transfer or rectification of previous wrong who will take the responsibility of rectifying this or solving the problem? In Nozick’s theory it remains unsolved.
3. Nozick has taken it for granted that people will strictly adhere to Locke’s proviso that enough will be left for the use of others for their use and the situations of others will not worsen. This implies too much reliance on the rationality of holders or users of property. But we cannot say that all the property owners will resist them from acquiring property/holding beyond their necessity.
If this happens in actual world, we are sure, there would not arise necessity of state or enforcing authority. Even the Utopian socialists and Rousseau could not imagine such a situation.
4. It is unfortunate that both Rawls and Nozick have offered us a theory of justice which they wanted to formulate in a society plagued by class divisions. If a society is divided into two opposing classes, and if one class is economically dominant the comparatively weak class would definitely be deprived of justice. For a real theory of justice, we firmly believe, there shall exist equality in its various manifestations.
According to Nozick, anyone who acquired what he has through these means is morally entitled to it. Thus the “entitlement” theory of justice states that the distribution of holdings in a society is just if everyone in that society is entitled to what he has.