Robert Nozick's Entitlement Theory

Robert Nozick and Entitlement Theory

Robert Nozick was a staunch opponent of excessive state interference in its citizens' lives. His entitlement theory attempts to propose a justice distribution approach that seeks to reduce the state's overwhelming influence. Novick advocates for a historical and ad hoc distribution of property, which is deceptive since it ignores involuntary transactions and promotes high levels of inequality in society. The study investigates the major principles of entitlement theory and attempts to criticize its main flaws. The entitlement theory's criticism seeks to identify a better way to the allocation of justice. Being a proponent of the minimal state, Nozick abandons the term “distributive justice” for a more neutral term of “holdings.” The use of the term “holdings” is more relevant to his argument on the transference of ownership through the transaction and the elimination of the state in distributing such holdings (Nozick, 1).

The Three Principles of Entitlement Theory

In the entitlement theory, the three principles of acquisition, transfer, and rectification are considered to be the most essential. The first principle considers that one acquires holdings through the prevailing principles of justice. The entitlement thus arises through the principles of justice. The second principle considers that those that possess a holding through the principle of justice can transfer the holding to another party. The entitlement is transferable to another party if the transferrer is entitled to the holding. The third principle espouses to rectify any injustices in the entitlement of holdings. Nozick appears to favor an unpatterned historical approach in addressing injustices in holdings. He considers that if the world were truly just, then only the principles of acquisition and transfer would be needed. In essence, the distributive justice holds when those in possession of holdings are entitled to the distribution. The third principle is, however, necessary since not everyone will follow the set rules.

Nozick's Historical and Unpatterned Approach

Nozick encourages an entitlement theory that is historical and not patterned. He illustrates that the liberty of individuals will upset patterns. He uses The Wilt Chamberlain example in which in the first instance the people pay an established price D1 to watch Chamberlin play. In the second option, they are to pay price D2 in which a portion of the ticket sales goes directly to Chamberlain. In the second instance, the option is voluntary and unpatterned. If the second option were to be removed then, the rights of those that volunteered their monies would be infringed. To make his argument more relevant, Nozick tries to establish the point at which entitlement to holdings emanates using Locke’s theory of acquisition. Locke considered that adding value to a holding provided an individual with entitlement (Locke, 19). Nozick improved on Locke’s decision by asserting that justice in this form of acquisition is achieved if the rights of others are not infringed.

Criticisms of Nozick's Entitlement Theory

The main arguments against Novick's entitlement theory are the creation of inequalities and the fact that he ignores the presence of involuntary transactions. The entitlement theory creates a state of inequality. Given that those that people acquire holdings based on their rights to the entitlement, some people will be entitled to more holdings than others in the society (Corlette, 46). Those that have the skills and resources to improve holdings through labor will automatically possess more than those that lack such abilities. One form of transfer suggested by Nozick is through gifts and rights such as those of inheritances. Based on that argument, the level of unfairness will persist. He further favors addressing injustices by exploring historical injustices. This is not only a hard task, but it is also prone to result in inequality. The scenario creates a conflict since the holding might have been improved by another party yet the entitlement principles allocate it to another party because of historical possession. Essentially, the entitlement theory might be just, but it can be considered immoral from the inequality it creates.

Inequality and Involuntary Transactions

In the Chamberlain example, Nozick criticises the patterned approach to justice based on voluntary transactions. What Nozick fails to elaborate is the limitations of voluntary actions. The fact that price D2 was provided does not necessarily mean that the people paid voluntarily. The payments to Chamberlain might result from those individuals that are there to see the opposing team. Since they are there to see the opposing team, they will make involuntary payments to Chamberlain which is not just. Therefore, Chamberlain benefits from involuntary contributions from other participants. Ultimately, Nozick fails to consider the presence of involuntary transactions in his entitlement theory.

Rectification of Injustice and Patterned Approach

Nozick is at fault in expecting rectification of injustice while still expecting the unpatterned approach to be superior. For an injustice to be rectified an established pattern has to be followed. The historical rectification might be difficult since the information needed might be missing. It is difficult to trace the acquisition to the original person that was entitled to a holding following Locke’s acquisition approach. A patterned approach has to exist to rectify injustices where the historical approach fails.

Improving the Entitlement Theory

Nozick’s entitlement theory is based on the principle of justice acquisition, transfer, and rectification. He further considers that unpatterned and historical approaches to justice distributions are the most appropriate. He, however, fails to consider the inequality created by the entitlement theory. Since the rights on holdings depend on the ability to improve holdings and the transfer of holdings through gifts and inheritance, inequality is increased in the society. The entitlement theory is further weakened through the assumption that all transactions are voluntary. There are involuntary transactions that exist and might result in injustice in distribution. The entitlement theory will, therefore, be improved if it addresses the weaknesses on inequality and considers involuntary transactions.

Works Cited

Corlette, J. Angelo, ed. Equality and liberty: analyzing Rawls and Nozick. Springer, 2016.

Locke, John. Locke: Two treatises of government student edition. Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books 1974."

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