Rawls vs. Nozick vs. Kant on domestic economic justice (2022)

Robert Nozick initiated one of the most inspired and inspiring discussions in political philosophy with his 1974 response in Anarchy, State, and Utopia to John Rawls’s 1971 account of distributive justice in A Theory of Justice. These two works have informed an enormous amount of subsequent, especially liberal, discussions of economic justice, where Nozick’s work typically functions as a resource for those defending more rightwing (libertarian) positions, whereas Rawls’s has been used to defend leftwing stances. Common to these discussions, as found in politics generally (where similar kinds of arguments frequently are used to defend right and the leftwing policies and conclusions) is that they end in rather stubborn stalemates: the right defends minimal states while the left defends more extensive states. Interesting, too, is that both Nozick and Rawls take themselves to be consistent with, inspired by, and furthering Kant’s freedom project in the development of their own Kantian theories of justice. In this chapter, I start by outlining the structures of these debates with an emphasis on the original disagreements between Nozick and Rawls. I then show how neither theory actually employed Kant’s own theory of justice, but rather drew on or out (presumed) implications of his ethical theory. In the final sections, I argue that if Nozick and Rawls had instead used Kant’s theory of justice and not his ethics, not only would their individual theories have been stronger, but also they could have found ways of overcoming the unproductive stalemates that characterize their own as well as subsequent related discussions of economic justice as we currently find them in scholarly and contemporary political debates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationKant and Social Policies
EditorsAndrea Faggion, Alessandro Pinzani, Nuria Sanchez Madrid
PublisherSpringer
Pages93-123
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)9783319426587
ISBN (Print)9783319426570
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
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  • liberal state
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Varden, H. (2016). Rawls vs. Nozick vs. Kant on domestic economic justice. In A. Faggion, A. Pinzani, & N. Sanchez Madrid (Eds.), Kant and Social Policies (pp. 93-123). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-42658-7_5

(Video) POLITICAL THEORY - John Rawls

Rawls vs. Nozick vs. Kant on domestic economic justice. / Varden, Helga.

Kant and Social Policies. ed. / Andrea Faggion; Alessandro Pinzani; Nuria Sanchez Madrid. Springer, 2016. p. 93-123.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Varden, H 2016, Rawls vs. Nozick vs. Kant on domestic economic justice. in A Faggion, A Pinzani & N Sanchez Madrid (eds), Kant and Social Policies. Springer, pp. 93-123. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-42658-7_5

Varden H. Rawls vs. Nozick vs. Kant on domestic economic justice. In Faggion A, Pinzani A, Sanchez Madrid N, editors, Kant and Social Policies. Springer. 2016. p. 93-123 https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-42658-7_5

Varden, Helga. / Rawls vs. Nozick vs. Kant on domestic economic justice. Kant and Social Policies. editor / Andrea Faggion ; Alessandro Pinzani ; Nuria Sanchez Madrid. Springer, 2016. pp. 93-123

(Video) Introduction to Rawls: A Theory of Justice

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(Video) John Rawls's Theory of Justice

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FAQs

What is the difference between Kant and Rawls? ›

While Rawls's constructivism works from many of the same assumptions that ground his substantive political theory, Kantian constructivism provides an account of the structure of moral reasoning that is independent of both justice as fairness and political liberalism.

How do Rawls and Nozick disagree? ›

Rawls' great insight was that economic inequalities can be to the benefit of society and the poor, and that the desirable inequalities do just that. Nozick's was that the way to make those happen is through liberty and voluntary exchange.

What did John Rawls believe about the economy? ›

He envisions "an economy in which you have wealth being created by the private sector, but you have a fair distribution of that wealth, and you make sure the most vulnerable people in this country are doing well." Rawls is to the left of Sanders, but here, Sanders is the better Rawlsian.

What are Nozick's three principles of justice? ›

We have seen that Nozick's theory is based on three key principles. Nozick put forward the claim that, inorder to deserve something, a person must be entitled to it according to the principle of justice in acquisition, the principle of justice in transfer, or the principle of rectification.

In which ways are Kant's and Rawls theories similar? ›

In which way are Kant's and Rawls' theories similar? a. Both provide a utilitarian approach to ethical decision making, focusing on the higher sentiments as well as physical pleasures.

What does Kant say about justice? ›

It is what Kant calls 'the universal principle of justice': that an action is just only if it is compatible with everyone's freedom under a law applying to all. This principle is not a guide to moral action but an authorization to use coercion.

How does the veil of ignorance apply Kant's categorical imperative? ›

According to them, the veil of ignorance enforces a stronger form of impartiality than Kant's categorical imperative and, primarily as a consequence, it generally leads to anti-prioritarian conclusions, if the procedures that are necessary to determine the demands of justice are specified fully and are based on sound ...

What is the basis of morality according to Kant? ›

Kant believed that the shared ability of humans to reason should be the basis of morality, and that it is the ability to reason that makes humans morally significant. He, therefore, believed that all humans should have the right to common dignity and respect.

What is the veil of ignorance according to Rawls? ›

The Veil of Ignorance is a way of working out the basic institutions and structures of a just society . According to Rawls,, working out what justice requires demands that we think as if we are building society from the ground up, in a way that everyone who is reasonable can accept.

Is Rawls a utilitarian? ›

Rawls takes the basic structure of society as his subject matter and utilitarianism as his principal opponent.

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