When Nozick says distributive justice 'marks a shift from the classical liberal notion of self ownership to a notion of property rights in others', is this a fair criticism of Rawls and distributive justice?

  • 4
    A lawyer would perhaps answer "It depends". Maybe you should give more context and indicate your own current understanding as part of the question.
    – Drux
    Jan 18, 2013 at 0:21
  • I would read the following link since it discusses the arguments against Rawls and distributive justice. philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/120/…
    – Falem
    Oct 21, 2013 at 21:46
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    Is this a criticism, even? The idea of individuation of objects on a socially structural level, and a social critique of the idea of "self", is hardly unique to Rawls, if it is indeed correctly ascribed to him. Is the question asking "Does Rawls' position entail that an individual does not have infallible rights to hold property for the exclusive use of themselves?", or is there something more in mind here?
    – Paul Ross
    Oct 28, 2013 at 13:44
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    The quotation in the question appears inaccurate. On p. 172 of ASU we find: "These principles involve a shift from the classical liberals' notion of self-ownership to a notion of (partial) property rights in other people." This is immediately preceded by: "End-state and most patterned principles of distributive justice institute (partial) ownership by others of people and their actions and labor." Think of implementation by redistributive labor taxation.
    – user3164
    Oct 29, 2013 at 7:36
  • Is "correct" the same as "fair"?
    – Drux
    Sep 26, 2014 at 8:04

1 Answer 1


Not a specialist in Ethics, but it looks to me like the fundamental issue here is whether everyone has rights only over himself (the classical liberal position) or whether some people have rights over others (Rawls's position). Rawls has to be saying that some people have rights over others because the strategically rational set of principles of justice that we would agree to in the original position should involve redistribution of income and other similar schemes of social welfare. Consequently, this means that I have a right over other people insofar as I have a claim upon putting the money they earn by their time and talent to use in funding such schemes.

I don't know that that's Nozick's criticism of Rawls, actually. But it is a fair characterization of Rawl's position.

  • 1
    I don't know enough Rawls or Nozick to enter in on details, but I'm an ethicist and this seems like an accurate characterization to me as well.
    – virmaior
    Jun 1, 2014 at 15:16

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