Are there any strong counter arguments of Nozick's counter argument to principle of fairness.

Nozick argues that although people may receive the benefits from the state, it does not mean the people are obligated to do something in return (such as following the law).

Nozick gives an example of people in your neighborhood with 364 other adults. The neighborhood decided to institute a system of public entertainment. They assign each adult to a day in which he has to run the public entertainment. After 138 days, it was your turn. Are you obligated to entertain the people? Nozick argues that you are not.

He argues that there is a difference in receiving and accepting the benefits. In the state where principle of fairness is in place, one is just constantly receiving the benefits, there is no actual consenting to the benefits. So therefore, one is not obligated to obey the laws.

1 Answer 1


I am not aware of any argument directed against Nozick specifically, but I would point out that social contract theory, especially modern variants, disagree. (You can read more here or here.)

In brief, the idea is (usually) that receiving the benefits does imply consent to the benefits. It is just a formalization and generalization of the kind of reciprocity that comes naturally with one-on-one interactions (e.g. if you need a pot and your neighbor loans you one, and then they need a lawnmower, you would be more likely to let them use yours; and, indeed, if you didn't, people would tend to view you as ungrateful or selfish).

To justify that this is not only natural but also good, there are a variety of approaches. Most refer to game theory (directly or implicitly), wherein Prisoner's Dilemma situations cannot be negotiated successfully (i.e. for best overall outcome) without some sort of contract, or to the fact that we can do many things implicitly, so why not this?, or to the difficulty of maintaining a stable system given that there are children (where they are initially not able to consent), injured people (also unable to consent), and so on, for whom refusing help because they might post hoc decide they had not consented seems a more grievous ill than helping them yet holding them to have some degree of reciprocal obligation.

Anyway, the key is: (explicit) consent is not necessary to accrue some level of obligation, because if you make it necessary, society in practice will have higher levels of injustice, suffering, and cruelty. (And saying that it is moral to have more of such things seems counter to what we want morality to be about.)

I don't believe Rawls (perhaps the most famous contemporary supporter of a flavor of social contract theory) ever directly addressed Nozick's criticisms of Rawls' view of the social contract, or Nozick's specific counterarguments to the principle of fairness. I'm not familiar enough with Rawls' later writings to know if the indirect address contains a compact answer to your question.

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