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Rawls and Nozick take radically different approaches to the concept of justice and the role of the federal government.

Explain Rawls's notion of the "veil of ignorance". What two principles of justice does Rawls formulate from this perspective? Explain each of Rawls's principles in your own words. What are the implications of Rawls's theory for entitlement programs such as welfare and socialized medicine? Do you think the government should force successful people to subsidize the needs of unsuccessful people? Nozick criticizes Rawls's conception of justice, saying that it is not the government's job to serve as cosmic pie cutter. What does Nozick mean when he says that patterning disrupts liberty? Explain Nozick's entitlement theory. What would Nozick say about entitlement programs such as welfare and socialized medicine? Do you think it is reasonable to say that the current state of holdings in the U.S. is the result of transactions that can be characterized as "fair and square"? What do you think is the most important element of justice, forced equality or liberty? With whom do you tend to agree, Rawls or Nozick? If you agree with Rawls, explain why Nozick's view is problematic. If you agree with Nozick, explain why Rawls's view is problematic.


The principles of distributive justice proposed by John Rawls posits an original position: that we are all self-interested, rational beings. The implication of this is that, in all circumstances, we choose what seems best for our wellbeing. This, tendency, along with the veil of ignorance will yield a just and moral distributive system. The veil of ignorance solves the problem of individualistic thought by prompting parties to ignore their own social status when judging the morality of an action. Thus, analyses of a justice system is protected from biases regarding social status. Nevertheless, the rational, self-interested person will retain knowledge of the general situations in which people encounter and the general workings of human psychology. The original position and the veil of ignorance form the basis for a fair social contract on justice.

Rawls argues that justice can be defined by two principles. The first principle creates a code for equal liberty while the second principle suggests a basis for social justice. Rawls’ first principle suggests that each person gets an equal right to the most inclusive and complete system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all. The second principle suggests that social and economic inequalities be addressed to ensure the greatest benefit to the least advantaged. This principle also proposes that systems of addressing the said inequalities remain accessible to all though conditions of fair and equal opportunity. Evidently, these principles support a liberal, democratic welfare state. All people have basic social needs. From the veil of ignorance, it would be beneficial to create a system that guarantees access to these basic wants. Thus, welfare becomes a natural consequence of any just social contract. The natural order inadvertently results in inequalities. For example, people are born with different capabilities. This is not unjust. The unjust thing would be to allow inherited traits to determine social order. The welfare state resolves these problems by supporting entitlement programs. In Rawlsian justice, these programs are a vital part of social justice.

Nozick, on the other hand, proposes a minimal state that serves to ensure order in an otherwise chaotic “state of nature”. Acquisition of economic goods, according to Nozick, is justified as long as the transactions are just and voluntary. In a just society, everyone has a right to liberty, life and property. These rights include the tight to use and dispose of property as desired.  Welfare cannot be classified as a voluntary wealth redistribution program since it violates economic liberty. For example, public welfare programs prevent citizens from using their taxable income as they deem fit. Injustices in this system may exist if property is acquired unjustly or involuntarily. Instead of employing social redistributive programs to address resultant inequalities, Nozick argues that unique justice processes be used for each instance of injustice.

The current state of holdings in the U.S. cannot be defined as fair. Traditionally marginalized groups still have limited access to social, economic and political opportunity. The government has increasingly come under the influence of the wealthy resulting in an upward transfer of wealth.  While Nozick proposes absolute rights and liberties, he dies not consider that rights and freedoms are relative. He states that the right to liberty from coercion makes social entitlement unjust. These liberties are not natural or absolute. They should not take precedence over social welfare, especially that caused by inherited inequalities. Government sanctioned redistributive systems in a democratic society represent the most practical means of solving social injustice.


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