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Boris Spiwak 14 November 2011 7AAN2081: Political Philosophy Module Tutors: Dr. Andrea Sangiovanni and Dr.

Alan Coffee Evaluate the success of the Wilt Chamberlain argument in rejecting patterned principles of justice.


Nozicks arguments against end-state or patterned principles of distributive justice1 can be logically stated as follows: 1. Individuals have the inviolable right not to be forced to do certain things, which means they have full ownership of their actions and labour. 2. Patterned principles of distributive justice require continuous interference with peoples lives (in particular, with their actions and labour) in order to be continuously realized. 3. The entitlement theory of distributive justice is historical, not patterned. It can be realized without continuous interference in peoples lives. 4. Therefore, patterned principles of distributive justice violate peoples rights and are unjust. Historical principles of distributive justice do not violate peoples rights and are just. This paper will elaborate Nozicks premises and show that 1) and 2) above are indefensible, and hence the entire argument is logically invalid. The Wilt Chamberlain story, it is argued, successfully illustrates the difficulties in maintaining a patterned principle of distributive justice an issue normally ignored in the literature. It is entirely unsuccessful, however, in rejecting patterned principles of distributive justice. Nozick on Rights: a circular argument? Individuals have rights, Nozick declares in his treatise, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights) (ix). One of them is the right not to be forced to do certain things, such as aiding others (ix). Nozick bases this assertion on the underlying Kantian principle that individuals are ends and not merely means; they may not be sacrificed or used

The term distributive justice is not a neutral one, according to Nozick, so it is preferable to adopt justice in holdings (149-50). To avoid confusion, however, and in keeping with the bulk of the literature on the topic, this paper will refer to distributive justice throughout.


for the achieving of other ends *such as raising overall social utility+ without their consent (30-31). Nozick extends the argument to claim that individuals have similarly inviolable rights over their labour and the products of their labour (225), subject to certain minimal constraints.2 How plausible is the premise that individuals have rights that may not be intentionally violated by any individual or state? Critics have pointed out that Nozick does not provide an explicit theoretical or moral foundation when defending this assertion (Nagel 137-38). The ideal of inviolable autonomy is cogently defended elsewhere (cf. Kant, referenced by Nozick in the text, or more recently Wolff, 25-31), however, so we may be willing to side with Nozick on this point. More problematic is Nozicks argument that individuals have full ownership over their labour and the products of their labour. Nozick argues, Lockes proviso that there be enough and as good left in common for others (sect. 27) is meant to ensure that the situation of others is not worsened (Nozick 175). Yet he sets an exceedingly low benchmark for when this obtains. All agree that if I own all the waterholes in the desert, I have worsened the situation of my fellow desert-dwellers and this is a violation of the Lockean proviso. But Nozick ignores the power and control that come with ownership, and the impact this can have on non-owners (Scanlon 3-4, 8; Cohen, 10-13). Excess inequality surely worsens the lot of the worst off, even if in material terms their enjoyment is higher than in some Lockean state-of-nature. Relative ownership matters; as Scanlon puts it, ...the obligations and entitlements one person acquires...can affect the alternatives open to others who have not been parties to these agreements (3-4). Put differently, leftist supporters of liberalism concede that the ideal of equality must be sacrificed for competing demands, such as freedom and economic efficiency. Nozick does not explain why he cannot make the same concession and allow for qualified freedoms in order to accommodate competing demands (cf. Nagel, 147). It is similarly unclear why Nozicks original acquisition subject to the Lockean proviso is more just than the egalitarian ownership of natural resources advocated by left-libertarians, for example (Vallentyne 1). In sum, Nozick is rightfully

cf. the Lockean Proviso (169; 172; 174-182).


accused of assuming what he sets out to prove (Nagel 138). His first premise rings hollow due to the circular nature of his argument. Patterned Principles of Distributive Justice: the case of Wilt Chamberlain Nozicks entitlement theory of justice in holdings can be summarised as follows: free and consenting transfers from an initial just situation are justice-preserving, so that whatever arises from a just situation by just steps is itself just (151). He calls this a purely historical principle of distribution because its justice depends on how it came about. This is in contrast to patterned principles, in which justice depends on some underlying natural dimension. Note that the classification is not mutually exclusive: some principles, such as distribute according to moral merit or distribute according to usefulness to society, are both patterned and historical because they depend on past actions creating differential entitlements to evaluate a distribution but are nonetheless patterned (156). A special sub-class of patterned principles, which Nozick terms endresult or end-state principles, is entirely non-historical. This includes much of welfare economics, utilitarianism, Rawlsian distribution, and a principle like distribute according to IQ, which is by definition an end-result principle (153-158). Nozicks argument against patterned principles of distributive justice is not merely that they unduly impinge on certain inviolable rights (cf. the first premise discussed above), but that they do so continuously. He purports to demonstrate this with an example: Wilt Chamberlain, a famous basketball player, lives in a society with a given end-state and/or patterned principle of distribution. His signs a contract with a baseball team stipulating that 25 cents from every ticket purchase will go to him, so that by the end of the season he has accumulated a fortune of $250,000 from grateful fans. Nozick rhetorically asks, Is he entitled to his income? Is this new distribution...unjust? (161). Surely if consenting adults rationally choose to pay Chamberlain using money they are entitled to from a patterned distribution deemed just they should be able to, Nozick argues, and Chamberlain should be able to retain his earnings.


Cohen points out two main flaws in the Chamberlain example, both relating to the concept of consent in Nozicks entitlement theory. The smaller flaw is its simplicity: the Chamberlain example ignores how mass marketing from corporate sponsors, well-heeled sports teams, and unscrupulous managers can sway public tastes. As Cohen argues, It is important to the persuasive allure of the example that we should think what the fans are doing not only voluntary but sensible (8). Nozick himself admits that if transfers are irrational or arbitrary, we would find this disturbing (159). In the Chamberlain example, however, he ignores how consent can be clouded and instead focuses on deliberate and rational choice in idealized conditions. The Chamberlain examples bigger flaw is that it does not prove that patterned principles of distributive justice require continuous interference with peoples lives. As Cohen points out, Of each person who agrees to a transaction we may ask: would he have agreed to it had he known what its outcome was to be? (9). Basketball fans may have good reason for worrying about an outcome where Chamberlain has $250,000, namely the power that such a fortune entails. Cohen correctly argues that people may choose not to pay Chamberlain, even it in simple cost-benefit terms it is worth the individual price to watch him play: ...a person might welcome a world in which he and a million others watch Wilt play, at a cost of twenty-five cents to each, and consistently disfavours one in which, in addition, Wilt receives a cool quarter million...a convention might evolve not to make such payments... (11-12) In sum, Nozicks classification of distributive justice theories is innovative, and he successfully illustrates the difficulties in maintaining a patterned principle of distributive justice. But he does not prove that patterned principles require continuous interference with peoples lives. The Chamberlain example suffers from two major flaws relating to the concept of consent in Nozicks entitlement theory of justice. The first is that it disregards how mass marketing can influence public tastes. The second is that it ignores how rational actors, fully aware of the long-term consequences of their actions, could choose to change their behaviour. The second premise is thus wrong.


Conclusion This paper condensed Nozicks main arguments regarding distributive justice in Anarchy, State, and Utopia into three premises and their deductively valid conclusion. But premise one is falsified because Nozick assumes what he set out to prove when arguing for individual rights. Premise two is falsified because he uses a problematic example to argue that patterned principles of distributive justice require continuous interference with peoples lives. With the first two premises falsified, Nozicks is no longer a logically valid argument.


REFERENCES Cohen, Gerald A. Robert Nozick and Wilt Chamberlain: How Patterns Preserve Liberty. Erkenntnis 11 (1977): 5-23. Nagel, Thomas. Review: Libertarianism without Foundations. The Yale Law Journal 85.1 (1975): 136-149. Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 1974. Scanlon, Thomas. Nozick on Rights, Liberty, and Property. Philosophy and Public Affairs 6.1 (1976): 3-25. Vallentyne, Peter. Left-Libertarianism: A Primer. Left-Libertarianism and Its Critics: The Contemporary Debate. Eds. Hillel Steiner and Peter Vallentyne. Palgrave, 2000. Wolff, Robert P. The Conflict Between Authority and Autonomy. In Defense of Anarchism. Harper and Row (1970).