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Nozick’s Transfer Injustice Principle Essay

Robert Nozick’s principle of transfer is also known as the principle of justice in transfer. He is among the most inspiring political philosophers from the 20th century. His book titled, “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” focuses on the principal of transfer injustice. Mainly, the author develops the principal of entitlement theory. This theory supports the notion that the minimal state is a form of extensive state that is considered valid. Furthermore, a state without any limits goes against people’s rights (Nozick 1974). This essay seeks to detail a critical analysis of Nozick’s principle of transfer. The first part will contain an explanation of the theory. It is then followed by details of the strengths and weaknesses of the principle. Finally, the critical analysis will consider whether the principle of transfer is justifiable.

Principle basis

The principle of transfer is a principle that guides the entitlement theory. It details that a person is only entitled to a holding if they get that holding from another individual who is entitled to it (Nozick 1974). The principle of transfer is distinguished between time-sliced and historical principles (Kymlicka 2002). Nozick applies John Locke’s theory of property in his description to defend the principle. Essentially, it is a historical principle as it distributes to different people what they deserve. Furthermore, it considers their past action during the process. However, the conclusive principles do not consider historical event when making a decision. For instance, utilitarian theories are a form of distributive justice that is time-sliced. Specifically, it comes from the belief that past events will lead to a differential outcome to issues or will lead differing entitlements.

There are many differences that arise in the theories of patterned and non-patterned distributive justice. A patterned there will be characterized by descriptions of how it distributes with. For instance, it can involve distribution based on either needs or merit. However, a non-patterned theory is the principle of transfer. The principle does not contain a guide to determine how wealth is distributed. In this regard, a person only has the entitlement to hold something (Otsuka 2003).

The state lacks any power over redistribution. The state is only a party that watches over the transactions, but cannot determine what each will receive. Moreover, their power is based on various variables. It means that the initial distribution must be based on history, is free or an autonomous process. According to Nozick, a state that applies redistribution is in violation of the people’s freedoms. Moreover, occurring patterns will lead to a disruption of liberty. Based on the principle, individuals do not have the freedom to determine what to do with what they own.

The principle of transfer can be compared to a situation where distribution is favoured such as in the patterned theory of justice. Specifically, this is the favourite one. We can call it P1. The distribution can exist in two contexts. In the first, everyone has a share that varies, and in the second, everyone has an equal share. Furthermore, a situation can exist where a sportsperson is making a contractual agreement. In the contract, the player will get 25% of the admission price paid by fans (Friedman 2012). If the attendance is high, the player will get more money than anyone else will.

This comprises the second scenario, or P2. A question Nozick would pose is whether the player is entitled to his payment. This creates the second context, where everyone has a share that varies. In this regard, all parties made an agreement in the first context to share a particular sum with the player. In the second context, they inadvertently transferred some of their share from the first context. In this regard, can P2 be considered as just? It means that the fans were entitled to share, and in return, to get the sportsperson.

Additionally, Nozick equates redistribution as another form of forced labor. For instance, taxation by government is simply an act of forced labour. In this regard, the government forcefully takes the earnings of workers. This is the same as stealing working hours from the individual. It is the individual’s time where they carry out various activities, mostly for their benefit, but the government still demands a chunk out of it (Bader & Meadowcroft 2011).

Moreover, those who are not in support would still decline to the idea of forcing unemployed people to be engaged in work for the benefit of the poor. Despite this, those who are taxed are given a wide choice to select. It leads to emerge of gradation of the systems in forced labor. Some people consider this perspective as absurd. It emerges from a practice that supports a specific activity instead of one that gives the individual freedom to choose between two activities. Essentially, the state is not is a position to be engaged with redistribution.

Shortcomings of the principle

The principle, under the entitlement theory, has some issues that can be criticized. For a start, a major issue of the principle is that it is formulated without any foundations. Essentially, even though the principle arises from the entitlement theory, it does not have a basis in the theory. Specifically, the theory does not have any content that applies to the principles. Nozick follows the belief that for a person to be entitled, they have to follow the principle of transfer (Cohen 1995). However, Nozick does not specify the basis of the principle. Essentially, it lacks practical value when applied within the theoretical framework.

Nozick has ignored the principle of transfer in many areas of his descriptions. For instance, how can it be considered as just to transfer? This is a difficult question as sharing something differs based on context and the individuals involved (Friedman 2012). The principle does to provide a conclusive response. It only follows the belief that people have the opportunity to transfer their holdings or property as they wish. The principle of rectification within the entitlement theory also depends on the principle of transfer to gain a meaning. It means that if the principle of transfer is void, then the principle of rectification is invalid. Overall, it makes the principle of transfer feel incomplete. It is a law that has a defined structure, but it lacks a legal basis that would give it meaning.

An issue that arises is that the principle makes a claim that taxation is a violation of individual rights. It creates some problems. In some cases, the claim can be factual but it supports an idea that goes against a person’s will. Taxation is illegitimate if it occurs without consent. On the other hand, if a person accepts the taxes, then their freedoms have not been violated (Kymlicka 2002). For example, consider the context of a citizenship contract. It is a situation where the person voluntarily agrees to follow their obligations for the state.

Citizenship is a situation where the person accepts certain requirements to be part of the state. The person will accept these conditions, as they are aware of the advantages they will derive if accepted. This contract between the state and the individual is rational. The citizen plays their part within the state in exchange for the commodities provided by the state. Mostly, a transfer occurs. Some of the roles of the citizen include paying taxes (Okin 1989). It is in return for the services offered by the state.

Despite this, the contract of the citizen, which implies a transfer, cannot apply to all citizens. It arises from the fact that there is more than one way of acquiring citizenship. The first is voluntary. It also occurs through inheritance. Specifically, inheriting a citizenship means the person gains the status of nationality (Wolff & Nozick 1991). It occurs without their consent, and they do not agree when the individual is acquiring the new status. The choice to be a citizen is imposed. Their person inherited the condition. It can be argued that the individual can renounce their citizenship when they become of age.

In reality, this is not an option. The person cannot renounce their citizenship, as it would mean that they would lack a nationality. The person will lack a place to reside, go, or even make a living. Inheriting a citizenship is a consequence of circumstance, and the person does not have a responsibility in the process. In the first scenario, the person has a choice of getting the citizenship. In this regard, the belief that taxation is a violation of individual rights cannot apply in the event of citizenship by contract. The person has only accepted the requirement to be taxed (Wolff & Nozick 1991).

Indeed, in the case of an inherited citizenship, taxation violates the individual rights. Despite this, it does not mean that that tax is not justified. Specifically, the idea of a political community is based on the view that violation of individual rights is sometimes the best option to attain the greater good. Based on socialistic view, it means they deemphasize on private property. According to utilitarian, this will involve putting the needs of the community ahead of individual rights (Paul 1981). Moreover, justification will not occur unless there is a compromise. The state protects itself through undesirable actions such as coercion and violation of individual freedoms. An alternative to this condition is anarchy, and this is not attractive for many people.

Nozick distances himself from anarchism and instead supports a differing kind of political theory. This theory considers the existence of the state and supports the need for total freedom. It is impractical. The contradictory nature of the principle can also arise when analysing redistribution policies. According to Nozick, redistribution policies are not legitimate. They violate the entitlement rights of the individual to the rights they hold. The state should not be allowed to carry out redistributive practices (Paul 1981).

Nozick’s contradiction of the minimal state

Nozick further creates the notion of a minimal state. It means a state that is limited to its functions. In this regard, the state deals with enforcement of contracts and security. It is a logical state. Despite this, these provisions by the state are also redistribution activities. Taxation to provide finances for security is considered legitimate. On the other hand, taxes for activities like healthcare and education illegitimate. According to Nozick, education and health are private goods (Olsaretti 2004). On the contrary, security is a public good. Economically, this is applicable.

However, according to Nozick’s claim, it makes sense that people should not be taxed, as long as they do not agree to be taxed. Furthermore, it is not important whether the taxes are used for either private or public goods. A valid claim that arises is that individuals have to pay taxes to gain from the government’s investment such as infrastructure developments and other services required by the population. Essentially, the system is within the interests of the people. Furthermore, a strong army and an education have equal weight concerning how the populations can gain as a whole. It makes no sense to differentiate between the two.

Nozick supports the notion that the minimal state is a change from the historical process that leads to state formation. It would not be an applicable response, as it would create more difficulties. To defend his belief, Nozick has to show that his conception in regards to the formation of the state is truthful. Furthermore, even his description of the structure of the state is valid, and it would not be true that the minimal state is justifiable based on the reason that it occurred naturally. It arises from the fact that most, if not all states, emerged through redistribution and not as minimal states.

Nozick tries to create the idea that a country will evolve into a minimal state without effort. Historically, this has not been the case. Many states tend to become redistributive states even if that was not the initial intention (Younkins 2008). Essentially, there is no minimal state. The evolution from minimal state to a redistributive state is part of a natural political evolution and is common throughout history. Natural growth should also not be considered as legitimate. In this regard, it is not applicable to say that Nozick’s minimal state is natural since there is a belief that a minimal state comprises nature.


In conclusion, the essay provides a critical analysis of Nozick’s principle of transfer. It is one of the principles of the theory of entitlement. The critical analysis should the issues arising from Nozick’s idea of redistributive justice. Nozick offers a principle characterized by many flaws. These issues cannot be overcome. The principle lacks further explanations or context to substantiate its belief. Even though Nozick establishes a theoretical framework to explain the principle, it is not sufficient. Nozick applies Locke’s theory of property to explain the principle, but it does not detail how it should be.

It makes the principle, and its theoretical basis, incomplete. Nozick supports the belief that it is not justifiable for the state to violate individual rights. It leads to the creation of a minimal state. Despite this, Nozick has been unable to provide enough argument to justify the minimal state, and to describe the differences that between a minimal state and any other state. Essentially, this critical analysis has been able to show the advantages and inefficiencies of the principle of transfer.

Reference List

Bader, RM & Meadowcroft, J 2011, The Cambridge companion to Nozick’s anarchy, state, and utopia, 1st ed, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Cohen, GA 1995, Self-ownership, freedom, and equality, 1st ed, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Friedman, MD 2012, Nozick’s libertarian project: an elaboration and defense, 1st ed, Bloomsbury Academic, New York.

Kymlicka, W 2002, Contemporary political philosophy, 1st ed, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Nozick, R 1974, Anarchy, state and utopia, 1st ed, Blackwell, Oxford.

Okin, S 1989, Justice, gender and the family, 1st ed, Basic Books, New York.

Olsaretti, S 2004, Liberty, desert and the market, 1st ed, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Otsuka, M 2003, Libertarianism without inequality, 1st ed, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Paul, J 1981, Reading Nozick, 1st ed, Blackwell, Oxford.

Wolff, J & Nozick, R 1991, Justice, property, and the minimal state, 1st ed, Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Younkins, EW 2008, Champions of a free society: Ideas of capitalism’s philosophers and economists. 1st ed, Lexington Books, Lanham, MD

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