The Bizarre World of Historical Theories of Justice: Revisiting Nozick's Argument

Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 533-549, October 2008

17 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2009

See all articles by Ezequiel Spector

Ezequiel Spector

Universidad Torcuato Di Tella - School of Law

Martin Hevia

Universidad Torcuato Di Tella

Date Written: October 15, 2008

Abstract

In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick defends his entitlement theory against patterned and end-state theories of justice. He claims that, unlike patterned and end-state theories of justice, the entitlement theory is consistent with people's liberty. In other words, he argues that the entitlement theory is consistent with people's liberty because it is a historical unpatterned theory of justice. This argument has been attacked on many different grounds. For instance, it has been argued that some patterned and end-state theories of justice are not inconsistent with people's liberty. Others have claimed that the entitlement theory itself is a patterned or end-state theory of justice and that, therefore, it has the defect that Nozick attributes to all patterned and end-state theories of justice.

The aim of this paper is to cast doubt on Nozick's argument on a different basis. Let us assume that these objections against Nozick fail, that is, that all patterned and end-state theories of justice are contrary to liberty, and that the entitlement theory is a historical unpatterned theory of justice. On this assumption, we discuss Nozick's argument that the entitlement theory is consistent with liberty because the entitlement theory is a historical unpatterned theory of justice. We hold that this argument could be understood in two different ways. First, it could mean that the fact that a theory is historical unpatterned is a necessary and sufficient condition for that theory to be consistent with liberty. Second, it could mean that the fact that a theory is historical unpatterned is only a necessary condition for that theory to be consistent with liberty.

We conclude two things. First, if the right way to interpret Nozick's argument is the first one, then there is something wrong with this argument: although it is true that being historical unpatterned is a necessary condition for a theory to be consistent with liberty, it is false that all historical unpatterned theories are consistent with liberty. In order to show that it is false, we propose a historical unpatterned theory of justice that is inconsistent with liberty: the "bizarre" theory of justice. In turn, the second interpretation of Nozick's argument is based on a more charitable reading of his text that would make him right. However, if we interpret Nozick's argument in this way, then his distinction between historical unpatterned and patterned (or end-state) theories is irrelevant: the relevant distinction is that between theories that are consistent with Nozick's conception of liberty and theories which are not.

We will proceed in the following sequence. In section II, we present Nozick's argument for the entitlement theory and against patterned and end-state theories of justice. In section III, we deal with the first interpretation of Nozick's argument, which we call the "sufficiency-necessity claim." Section IV discusses the second interpretation of Nozick's argument, which we call the "necessity claim." Finally, section V sketches a conclusion.

Keywords: Nozick, Distributive Justice, Historical Theories, Patterned Theories, Liberty, Necessary and Sufficient Conditions

Suggested Citation

Spector, Ezequiel and Hevia, Martin, The Bizarre World of Historical Theories of Justice: Revisiting Nozick's Argument (October 15, 2008). Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 533-549, October 2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1438196

Ezequiel Spector

Universidad Torcuato Di Tella - School of Law ( email )

United States

Martin Hevia (Contact Author)

Universidad Torcuato Di Tella ( email )

Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 7350
Buenos Aires, C1428BCW
Argentina
5411-5169-7185 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.utdt.edu/ver_contenido.php?id_contenido=4134&id_item_menu=8738

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