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Nozick’s Entitlement Theory Essay


Robert Nozick’s Entitlement theory detailed in Nozick’s book “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” is a theory that pertains to distributive justice and private property. The entitlement theory attempts to illustrate the justice in holdings which essentially tries to explain the action that can be taken on individually owned property when analyzed from a principle of justice (Hailwood 112).

The Entitlement Theory of Justice is intended to submit an explanation of what justice necessitates in relation to property and is divided into three doctrines which are; the principle of justice in rectification, justice in acquisition and justice in transfer.

The principle of justice in acquisition stipulates the various compulsory and mutually sufficient conditions that need to be satisfied in order for an individual to be converted into a justifiable holder of any entity which has not been owned in the past by any individual. The most important objects to which this principle is predestined to take account of are the portions of the Earth’s surface, which are the areas of land which have no previous owners.

The principle of justice in transfer gives details as to the necessary action needed in order for an individual to acquire holdings from another; for instance the voluntary exchange and gifts so that holdings can change ownership in a justifiable approach. The final principle which is the principle of justice in rectification also known as the principle of rectification of injustice gives explanation as to how to deal with holdings that are unjustly acquired or transferred (Hailwood 112).

Robert Nozick’s argument against theories of distributive justice

Distributive justice primarily deals with the just distribution of resources among different members of a society. In general, equitable distribution takes into consideration the overall sum of objects to be distributed, the distributing process and the eventual pattern of distribution that materializes.

The principles of distributive justice occur due to the fact that different types of distributions perpetuate diverse social goals thus each society must undertake activities that ensure its sustainability (Hailwood 113). A society for instance will retain its association, take on resourceful and successful production as well as take care of the interests of its members in order for that society to survive (Perry et al 592).

Due to the fact that these ideologies will often strain on a similar resource at any particular time, one of the principles is therefore considered to be the fundamental condition of distribution. John Rawls in his Theory of Justice asserts that every individual has an equal claim to fundamental rights and liberties, and that inequality has its place in society and should only be exercised to the extent that people living at the bottom of the social sphere benefit from it (Hailwood 114).

According to Perry et al, a person’s place of birth, social status and family influences are basically determined by luck and thus such conditions should not overly control the sum of benefits one receives in life (596). In his theory, Rawls further states that the role of distributive justice is to manage the influence of luck in order for every individual to achieve maximum benefits in society through the equitable distribution of goods.

Marxism philosophy argues that inequality should be non existent in its entirety and hence there should be no private ownership of the means of production or privileges derived from the means of production by specific individuals (Perry et al 592). Other schools of thought believe that distributive justice has to take into account both process and outcome.

Hailwood (16) agues that the distributive justice processes have to be facilitated so as to make them fair so that people believe that they have established a fair outcome. It can be seen that the Robert Nozick’s theory contrasts Rawls theory when it states that distributive justice needs to be given some guiding rules to which citizens have to be following while they buy and transfer benefits and resources.

According to Nozick, the intention of distributive justice is to guarantee a fair process of acquisition and exchange rather than attain a specific outcome through distribution. Therefore, while other theories of distributive justice were concerned with the final outcome of distribution, Nozick was more concerned in the process believing justice took place in the process rather than the outcome (Hailwood 118).

Historical aspects of the Entitlement theory

The entitlement theory of justice is historical though it has no historical patterns since the justice of distribution is generally determined by particular historical conditions. The Entitlement theory however argues that individuals get what they are entitled to in a process consistent with the three principles of justice in holdings.

Therefore, Nozick characterizes his entitlement theory of justice as historical due to the fact that through out history, a number of people have much more than others; for instance morally corrupt individuals in most cases have been recorded historically to earn more than morally upright individuals and unlucky individuals who work hard have less income than lazy individuals who are luckier than hard workers (Hailwood 121).

Thus, a just distribution is entirely dependant on the historical circumstances that led to the current situation. “End-state principles” allude that historical information of repetitive patterns is the primary foundation as to which distribution of justice is based.

However, the known current time-slice principles propose that distribution justice should be determined by how goods are allocated in accordance with various structural principles of just distribution.

The current time-slice principle of justice is held by one who makes a comparison between any two distributions by determining which distribution bears a greater value for effectiveness. In cases where the value between the two distributions is equal, current time-slice principles necessitate a fixed egalitarianism standard to determine the more equal distribution (Perry et al 593).

Nozick argues that his entitlement theory is better than theories of distributive justice that involve “end-state principles” and “current time-slice principles” because individuals will use an end-state principle to determine the outcome of the justice process and the outcome of current time-slice principle through two varying distributions (Hailwood 120).

However, such decisions require historical information in order to arrive at accurate conclusions, for instance sentences and punishments for crimes will require historical information in order for the outcome to be just. Such technical information is taken into account by Nozick’s entitlement theory considering the fast that end-state principles rely on historical patterns while current time-slice principles have no historical basis.

Compatibility of Nozick’s entitlement theory with justice

Nozick’s Entitlement theory is principally a good theory for justice due to the fact that justice is applied to everyone since every individual is entitled to the holdings they possess under the distribution. However, not everyone adheres to the first two principles and that is where the third principle of rectification is applied (Hailwood 110). In its practical application, the entitlement theory refutes the philosophical anarchism and defends the libertarian doctrine that the minimal state is the most powerful state.

Under the entitlement theory, people are characterized by and in themselves and equals even though different people may be entitled to diverse quantities of goods and property. As stated by Perry et al Nozick’s entitlement theory generates a strong structure of private property and a free-market economy (594).

In addition, the entitlement theory reinforces justice to an individual level because it sets just standards for transactions as those that are voluntary. It however fails to take into account the poor through the taxation of the rich to sustain social programs for the poor (Perry et al 597). According to Nozick’s Entitlement theory, taxation of the rich is unjust since the state retrieves the financial resources through forcefully imposing the taxes rather than through the voluntary transaction of the individual (Hailwood 119).

Strong points of arguments against Nozick’s theory of distributive justice

Arguments have risen pertaining to the entitlement theory citing that if practiced for a sustained period, it could ultimately lead to the vast majority of resources being collectively owned by the exceptionally skilled individuals, or being transferred through gifts and inheritance to friends and children of the very accomplished individuals.

Additionally, the perception that taxation mainly of the rich is essentially unjust and market transactions are fundamentally just is ambiguous (Hailwood 114). The perception is dependant on the fact that the transactions in reality are as voluntary or involuntary as they materialize.

This is because any democratic nation that allows for the free international movement of its citizens, taxation is not completely involuntary, while market transactions for basic goods and services can not be considered to be entirely voluntary (Hailwood 115). Also in cases where the wealthy, the structured labor, or individuals that control the actual industry standards exercise unjustified pressure on a given market; they recurrently distort such transactions to support their own benefit.

Rawls objections against Nozick’s theory

Nozick and Rawls have contrasting opinions in as far as the distribution of justice is concerned. Nozick’s “Anarchy State and Utopia” has been widely understood as a retort to Rawls’s “A Theory of Justice” and some of the concepts encapsulated by Nozick definitely contend with Rawls’ ideology.

Rawls would therefore have some objections of Nozick’s theories and of Libertarian theory as a whole. Rawls would object to Nozick hypothesis that just transactions are a way of preserving justice similar in manner to the way that logical operations are a way of preserving the truth (Hailwood 116).

Thus, Nozick is of the view that recurring function of justice in holdings and justice in transfer maintain a preliminary state of justice acquired through justice in acquisition or rectification. Rawls would object to this notion and identify it as an assumption or conjecture which entails deeper substantiation and verification.

Rawls is of the opinion that small inequalities that are founded through just transactions gradually build up and the ultimate outcome is great inequalities and unjust circumstances.

The Rawls theory of Libertarianism in The People’s Law is that the accumulative disparity tends to give the upshot of a society which is unjust and also which lacks strength because the citizenry’s upholding the system of justice is corrupted when they are no longer induced that the justice is right and applicable to all. Rawls would also be opposed to Libertarianism since it fails to oblige to the principle of reciprocity by which citizens expect each other to proposition and maintain.

Therefore the only existent laws would be those that the citizenry genuinely consider to be satisfactory to free and equal individuals which would not exploit whichever inequalities that may exist. Nozick argues about Sen’s Liberal Paradox in almost a similar approach to that of Rawls but Nozick considers being fundamental (Hailwood 117). Rawls in his conjectures is however of the view that equal basic liberties incorporated in justice as equality are as a consequence not absolute.


Robert Nozick undoubtedly made significant contributions to various quotas of philosophy which led to the development of a compound theory of rationality. He has also made powerful contributions in epistemology and metaphysics as well as political philosophy. His work in the Anarchy, State and Utopia has however generated the most significant response culminating in him being named as one of the most significant and prominent political philosophers.

He shares the limelight with another great political philosopher, John Rawls both of whom had different and diverse ideology pertaining to the distribution of justice. It can be noted that Nozick defends the libertarianism concept against intense analysis, for example the anarcho-capitalism where there is no state and hence citizens have to go into contract with private companies for the supply of goods and services.

Essentially, Nozick was of the view that individuals were at liberty to voluntarily determine the transactions they want to take part in and hence the outcome would be just. He was also against taxation especially of wealthy individuals since according to him, just transactions have to be voluntary and since taxation is involuntary, then it is an injustice to the taxpayers.

Works Cited

Hailwood, Simon. Exploring Nozick: Beyond Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Sydney: Avebury, 1996. Print.

Perry, John, Bratman, Michael and Fischer, M., John. Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings (5th ed.). New York: Oxford university press, 2005. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2018) 'Nozick’s Entitlement Theory'. 26 June.

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