Friday, 8 February 2019

Rawls v Nozick on inequality & 'social justice'


"[The popular] conception of social justice [is] associated with the work of John Rawls. Rawls suggested that we should gauge social justice with reference to the social arrangements which individuals would agree upon were they all in an ‘original position’ in which none of them knew what their personal attributes would be and all were ignorant of the place which they would occupy in society. Operating behind such a ‘veil of ignorance,’ Rawls argued ... that we would all agree that resources should be shared out equally, except in those situations where an unequal distribution could be shown to produce greater benefits for those who are least well-off than they could possibly enjoy under any other social arrangement (what he called the ‘difference principle’)... 
    "But no sooner had Rawls established this argument for equality than Robert Nozick offered an equally compelling refutation. He likened Rawls’s ‘original position’ to the situation of a group of students being asked to agree on the distribution of examination grades before starting their course. Having no way of knowing how well they are likely to perform, Nozick accepts that they would probably all agree to share the same marks. But in reality, they do not have to make such decisions in ignorance of their own vices and virtues. Some work hard and revise while others are lazy, and this would make it grossly unfair to insist they should all be graded the same. Nozick therefore proposed that we should gauge a just distribution simply by asking whether people have established a legitimate right to what they have. If they have worked for what they’ve got, or if they have received it from somebody else as a result of a voluntary gift or exchange, then they are entitled to keep it, end of story." 
          ~ Peter Saunders, from his 2010 monogram 'Beware False Prophets'
[Hat tip Utopia...]
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