Related to Nozick.

What are the policy implications of the two approaches? Any examples?

1 Answer 1


Here's an exposition of the difference :

The difference defined

A crucial feature of his theory of entitlement according to Nozick is the fact that his theory is "historical" rather than being based on a "current time-slice" or "end state" Principle. For a historical theory, whether a distribution is just or not depends on how it came about. "In contrast, current time-slice [patterned : GT] principles of justice hold that the justice of a distribution is determined by how things are distributed as judged by some structural principles of just distribution" (p 153). An example of the latter form of distribution is the utilitarian principle, whereby goods are distributed so as to maximise the sum of individual utilities. Such principles are end result or end state principles which necessarily impose a particular pattern of distribu- tion, and hence militate against the maxim of the inviolability of individual property rights. Thus Nozick regards all end state principles as being coercive and hence unacceptable.

End state theories, according to Nozick, are patterned, which the historical theories necessarily are not. A principle of distribution is defined to be patterned "if it specifies that a distribution is to vary along with some natural dimension, weighted sum of natural dimensions, or lexicographic ordering of natural dimensions. And let us say a distribution is patterned if it accords with some patterned principle" (p 156 : ASU, from which all quotations are taken : GT). An example of a patterned principle is to "distribute according to IQ". Such a principle is not historical because it does not delve into past actions of an individual to determine whether a distribution is just or not.

The historical character of Nozick's principle of entitlement is supposed to have the advantage of being free from any patterning. Thus an entitlement is just if it has been historically determined in terms of the principles of justice in acquisition and transfer. For the first. of these, viz, the principle of just acquisition, Nozick adopts a modified version of a rule outlined by John Locke in his Second Treatise on Civil Government (1960). We shall show that no principle of justice in acquisition can be logically free of patterning. Nor can Locke's writings on the subject be construed to imply that he was against any such patterning that Nozick is against. In fact we shall show that the Lockean notion implies a very clear and definite form of patterning.

Crucial to Nozick's principle of justice in transfer is the presumption that if individuals, with their endowments, have engaged in voluntary trade then the resulting distributions must be fair if the original distribution was fair. Nozick, for example, has observed: "An entitlement theorist would find acceptable whatever distribution resulted from the party's voluntary exchanges" (p 188). (Pulin B. Nayak, 'Nozick's Entitlement Theory and Distributive Justice', Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Jan. 28, 1989), pp. PE2-PE5+PE7-PE8.)

Policy implications

Nozick argues that under a historical theory, for which he argues extensively in Anarchy, State and Utopia', people are entitled to their holdings (p 225) if those holdings have been obtained by just acquisition or just exchange.

They ought to have those holdings, which are therefore not justly available to the state or to any other public body in the coercive promotion (typically via redistributive taxation) of a patterned distribution. Such a distribution might be e.g.'to each according to their needs'. The state may regard such a policy as one of social justice but on a historical conception of just entitlement it is straightforwardly unjust. My just holdings are not properly - fairly, justly - at the state's disposal to promote such a patterned distribution.


I do not myself sympathise with (what I take to be) Nozick's theory of justice. My aim is only to give a clear account of it.


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