Political and Social Philosophy
R. N. Johnson
I. THE ENTITLEMENT THEORY
Nozick's Entitlement Theory is based on the
idea that only free market exchanges respect people as equals--for him,
as "ends in themselves". Indeed, even if a free market did not, for instance,
produce the most overall well being on Nozick's view, it would be justified.
According to Nozick, the theory consists of three principles:
1. Transfer principle:Holdings
(actually) freely acquired from others who acquired them in a just way
are justly acquired.
If people's current holdings are justly acquired,
then the transfer principle alone determines whether subsequent distributions
are just. Consequently, any taxation over the amount required to preserving
institutions of just transfer, acquisition and rectification--that is,
preserving entitlements--according to Nozick, are unjust.
2. Acquisition principle: Persons are
entitled to holdings initially acquired in a just way (according to the
3. Rectification principle: Rectify violations
of 1 or 2 by restoring holdings to their rightful owners, or a "one time"
redistribution according to the Difference Principle.
II. THE WILT CHAMBERLAIN ARGUMENT
The Wilt Chamberlain example is supposed to
show intuitively that no "patterned" theory of just distribution is defensible:
Any distribution which results from free exchanges between persons entitled
to their holdings must be just. But free exchanges will always disrupt
any favored patterned of distribution. If we have legitimately acquired
something, we can dispose of it as we see fit, whatever pattern of distribution
results. Some will flourish, some will starve, and this will in turn affect
the chances of offspring, etc. But these results, though perhaps undesirable,
are not unjust.
1. Let D1 be a distribution
according to your favorite pattern for society S, in which each person
has Rn holdings. Let S have 1 million members.
3, of course, is question-begging. Nozick
has not really allowed any favored initial distribution principle in determining
D1, but only those apportioning absolute rights to property. That
is how he is able to argue that any resulting distribution, e.g., D2, from
free exchanges must just. But whether people have absolute rights over
their shares is what is in question. Does Nozick have an argument for 3?
2. If D1 is just, then each is entitled
3. If each is entitled to Rn, then
each may dispose of Rn as she sees fit.
4. Wilt Chamberlain is a member
5. Therefore Wilt Chamberlain has
6. Suppose each person in S freely
contributes .25 of her Rn to Wilt.
7. Therefore, in the resulting distribution
D2, Chamberlain has Rn +$250,000 and every other member of society has
8. The distribution in D2 will now
9. But D2 resulted from a just initial
distribution plus free exchanges.
10. So D2 is just, but violates the pattern
that determined D1.
II. THE SELF-OWNERSHIP ARGUMENT
Yes, he does, the Self-Ownership Argument.
Put more simply, the Chamberlain argument is:
1. D1 is just according to your
favored pattern of distribution (stipulation).
The problem we noted above was that premise
2 is question-begging: Why should we think that if a distribution is just,
it entails absolute rights over holdings? This is where the self-ownership
argument comes in.
The self-ownership argument is based on the
idea that human beings are of unique value. It is one way of construing
the fundamental idea that people must be treated as equals. People are
"ends in themselves". To say that a person is an end in herself is to say
that she cannot be treated merely as a means to some other end. What makes
a person an end is the fact that she has the capacity to choose rationally
what she does. This makes people quite different from anything else, such
as commodities or animals. The latter can be used by us as mere means to
our ends without doing anything morally untoward, since they lack the ability
to choose for themselves how they will act or be used. Human beings, having
the ability to direct their own behavior by rational decision and choice,
can only be used in a way that respects this capacity. And this means that
people can't be used by us unless they consent.
The paradigm of violating this requirement
to treat people as ends in themselves is thus slavery. A slave is a person
who is used as a mere means, that is, without her consent. That is, a slave
is someone who is owned by another person. And quite obviously the reverse
of slavery is self-ownership. If no one is a slave, then no one owns another
person, and if no one owns another person, then each person is only owned
by herself. Hence, we get the idea that treating people as ends in themselves
is treating them as owning themselves.
The Self-ownership argument tries to show
that redistributive taxation is equivalent to using people as mere means,
that is, not consistently with their self-ownership, since it uses them
without their consent:
2. If D1 is just, then each has an absolute
right to her holdings.
3. If each has such a right, then any
D2 which arises from D1 plus free exchanges is just.
4. D2 will be random with regard to any
pattern of distribution.
5. Therefore, for any pattern of distribution
in D1, any new pattern D2 derived from D1 plus free exchanges will be just.
1. If people are ends in themselves,
then they may not be used without their consent.
The basic idea here is that one doesn't really
own oneself if others have a legitimate claim over what one produces by
one's talents. And if only I have a legitimate claim over the products
of my talents, then I have absolute property rights over them. Hence, Nozick
argues for absolute property rights on the basis of the fact that people
are ends in themselves. And distributive schemes such as Rawls', which
allows people the products of their talents only to the extent that they
benefit the less talented treats people as mere means to the enhancement
of the less talented.
2. If they may not be used without their
consent, then they own themselves.
3. If people own themselves, then they
own their talents and abilities.
4. If they own their talents and abilities,
then they own the products of their talents and abilities.
5. Patterned redistribution allows some
people to own the products of others' talents and abilities.
6. Therefore, patterned redistribution
allows some people to own other people, and so does not treat them as ends
III. ABSOLUTE PROPERTY RIGHTS AND SELF-OWNERSHIP
Put simply, Nozick argues that if we own ourselves
absolutely, then we own what we produce absolutely. But redistributive
taxation takes some of what we produce without our consent and gives it
to others. So redistributive taxation is inconsistent with self-ownership,
and so is unjust. But does absolute self-ownership really imply absolute
ownership over the products of one's talents?
No. Free market exchanges involve much more
than simply ourselves and our talents and abilities. We exchange houses,
cars, TVs and so on, all of which are not entirely the products of our
talents and abilities. For they are made in part of natural resources as
well, and natural resources are not the products of our talents and abilities.
Every commodity, except labor iself, is the outcome at least two items,
human powers and natural resources. For instance, a house is made by human
talents and abilities; but it is made out of wood, bricks and land as well.
So even supposing that we have absolute control over our own talents and
abilities, it would not imply that redistributive taxation is inconsistent
with self-ownership, since we do not have absolute control over resources
as well. So if libertarianism is justified in terms of self-ownership,
it requires in addition the help of some view about how we come to have
ownership over the resources on which we exercise our talents and abilities.
Of course, if we freely exchange for a resource
over which someone has absolute rights, perhaps we can have absolute rights
over it. But recall that on Nozick's view, I am entitled to whatever has
been transferred to me by someone who had legitimate title over it. The
legitimacy of my entitlement is thus dependent on the legitimacy of the
previous owner's entitlement. If she was not entitled to it, then the transfer
to me, no matter how free, does not entitle me to it. For instance, I may
buy a car from someone for a price we both agree on. But I will still not
be entitled to it if it was stolen. Hence, our entitlements are all dependent
on the legitimacy of the entitlement of previous owners, and theirs on
those previous to them, and so on. This general concern raises the
following dilemma from G.A. Cohen:
1. The acquisition of most natural
resources was by force.
Nozick takes the first horn of the dilemma:
Governments may confiscate and redistribute all holdings that were acquired
by force, that is, unless we can restore holdings to their rightful owners
(e.g., Native Americans).
But what about the very first person to acquire
a given resource, as opposed to someone down the line who forced another
to give it up. What would make the initial acquisition of the holding legitimate?
If the initial acquisition is legitimate, then all subsequent free exchanges
are legitimate, and the current holder is entitled to her holding. However,
if the initial acquisition was not legitimate, then the current holder
is not entitled to her holding. Moreover, Nozick must show, not merely
that people can come to acquire natural objects that were previously unowned,
but that they can come to have absolute rights over them. If one could
initially get absolute property rights, then they could be freely transferred.
2. Either force made the acquisition illegitimate
3. If it did, then governments may now
rightfully confiscate and redistribute it.
4. If it did not, then governments may
now rightfully confiscate it and redistribute it.
5. Hence, either way, if force was the
source of the initial acquisition, then governments may rightfully redistribute
IV. The Lockean Proviso
How might an initial acquisition be legitimate?
Nozick appeals to the Lockean Proviso: Natural resources, such as land,
come to be rightfully owned by the first person to appropriate it, as long
as she left "enough and as good" for others. Suppose we are talking about
a parcel of land. A may appropriate as much land as he wants only if he
leaves enough and as good for others. Suppose A takes half, then. Now others
come along, and each can appropriate only if she leaves enough and as good
for others. So B can take half of the half left by A, C half of the half
left by B, D half the half left by C, and so on through the alphabet. It
is easy to see that evenutally there will not be enough left for some person,
Z. Z can then complain that X did not leave enough and as good, so X's
appropriation was illegitimate. But if so, then Y did not leave enough
and as good for X, and so on all the way back up the alphabet to A. This
seems to show that it will be impossible to meet the Lockean Proviso, since
it will be impossible, no matter how little A takes, to leave "enough and
as good" for others.
Because of this, Nozick re-interprets the
proviso to mean that if initial acquisition does not make anyone worse
off who was using the resource before, then it is justly acquired. Hence,
A can even entirely appropriate available unowned resources as long as
A offers B, who was using the resource before, access to it, to the extent
that B is not made worse off by A's appropriation. B can become a sharecropper
for instance, or just a laborer, for A, earning a wage that keeps him at
least as well off as he was before A's appropriation. But since the resource
is now A's, the terms of their agreement is completely within A's hands.
(Keep in mind here that, together with the
self-ownership argument, even this does not result in absolute rights over
the products of our talents and abilities. For the Lockean Proviso does
not purport to show how initial acquisition of natural resources can be
acquired so as to result in absolute rights over that property.)
Notice that in this story
(1) B is no worse off after the
appropriation just in case his material well being is no worse off after
the appropriation, and
Kymlicka argues that both are problematic.
(2) it is the pre-appropriation material
condition of B according to which we measure this.
1. Material well-being.
A. Since B is now subject to A's
will, B may be as well off materially as she was before, but she is not
as well off in absolute terms. For now B has no control over the land,
whereas she had control before, and no control over how her labor will
be used, which she also had before.
2. Pre-appropriation conditions.
B. Moreover, B need not have given her
consent to A to appropriate the land. So B's being subject to A's will
is quite inconsistent with Nozick's own emphasis on persons being ends
in themselves. Yet since the alternative is death, B must accept A's terms.
A. Counterfactual objection #1:
Suppose that if B had appropriated rather than A, both would have been
better off, since B would have been more efficient. Hasn't B then been
made worse-off by A's appropriation? Or suppose that they had split the
land; wouldn't B then have been better off than he is now with A's owning
all of it?
B. Perpetuity objection: No matter what
happens subsequently to anyone after A's appropriation, to B, B's descendants,
or anyone else, as long as they are as well off as they would have been
in the pre appropriation condition, then the Proviso is met. But this is
absurd, since this means that a distributive scheme is just, just in case
no one is living below subsistence.
C. The starvation objection: If B has no
skill valuable to A and so starves, then she cannot object that she was
made worse off by A's appropriation, since she would have starved anyway.
But it is absurd to suppose that by starving to death a person has not
been made worse off.
D. Counterfactual objection #2: It is tempting
to try to save the Lockean Proviso by saying that a person is better off
just in case there is no alternative scheme possible under which she does
better. But this is impossible. For someone with no talents will be better
off under Rawls' principles than Nozick's, but someone with many talents
will be better off under Nozick's scheme than Rawls'. What we want is not
that we are made as well off as possible by a distributive scheme. We want
to be treated as fairly as possible by a distributive scheme. And that
may require Rawlsian, or other principles, but surely not unrestricted
3. Finally, the Lockean Proviso assumes,
without argument, that there was a time when the world was unowned. But
there are alternatives, for instance, that the world is originally owned
jointly by everyone. So he must offer some argument that the world is unowned
originally. If the world is originally jointly owned, however, then those
who are naturally less talented can veto uses of resources that do not
V. BEYOND SELF-OWNERSHIP.
What further sorts of arguments are there
for unrestricted property-rights that go beyond mere self-ownership?
1. Self-owning people would agree
to such a regime. But since different people with different talents will
do best in different regimes, that seems implausible.
2. Unless the world is initially jointly
unowned, we cannot be self-owners, since how can I own myself if I cannot
do anything without the permission of others? That is, substantive self-ownership
entails self-determination, or the ability to act on our conception of
the good. Yet in a libertarian scheme, only some can have substantial self-ownership.
If B sells his labor to A on adverse terms, he still has formal self-ownership
on Nozick's view, and that is all that he legitimately has a right to.
Thus, full self-ownership in a property-less world is no less substantive
than the full self-ownership in a Nozickian world. And it may be more,
since A and B have to strike a deal for either to make use of some resource.
Indeed, if substantive self-ownership is at issue, then liberal schemes
do better than libertarian.
What these objections apparently show is that
self-ownership does not lead to absolute property rights by itself, but
only together with dubious views about ownership of resources. Once we
reject these views, we can see that self-ownership is compatible with a
variety of views on the ownership of resources. The absolute property rights
sought by libertarians, it seems, must be established in some other way.
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