Evaluations and Critiques: Nozick and Rawls (Gloves Off)

Evaluations and Critiques: Nozick and Rawls (Gloves Off) November 21, 2022

Evaluation and Critiques: Nozick and Rawls (Gloves Off)

*Note: If you choose to comment, make sure your comment is relatively brief (no more than 100 words), on topic, addressed to me, civil and respectful (not hostile or argumentative) and devoid of pictures of links. Know that no comment is guaranteed appearance here; this is not a discussion board. Any comment that misrepresents what I wrote will not be approved.*

If you have not read the immediately preceding post about Nozick and Rawls, before reading this one, which is really a “part 2,” you ought to go back and read that one. That one was description; this one is prescriptive. Do not comment if you have not read the previous post or are very familiar with the philosophies of Nozick and Rawls.

Nozick’s theory of justice as entitlement has no way of guarding against price gouging even in a catastrophe. Nor has it any way to ameliorate the growing gap between rich and poor in a capitalist society. In fact, I will go so far as to say his theory of justice is unjust and evil. Nozick may not have been a Social Darwinist, but this I will say about it: If I were a Social Darwinist I would find Nozick’s theory of justice as entitlement an ally and I would use it to promote my Social Darwinist beliefs. As a Christian ethicist, I unequivocally condemn Nozick’s theory of justice as entitlement even if Nozick himself inconsistently with his own theory offered qualifications that make it appear as if his theory has “place” for compassion. In his theory, charity is left to individuals and organizations and government has no obligation to help the poor, the indigent, the vulnerable, the weak, or the helpless.

Now, to Rawls’s theory. Ever since I began studying Rawls and his theory of justice as fairness I have found it congenial to Christian social ethics. Then, not recently, I discovered that Rawls began studying for Christian ministry in a seminary, before switching to a career in philosophy. And he was greatly influenced by the thought of my favorite Christian theologian, Emil Brunner.

Rawls’s theory of justice serves as the perfect “middle axiom” for Christian social ethics. (Look up what “middle axiom” means or remember how I described it here earlier.) As a Christian who wants Christian values and virtues to influence the secular “public square,” I can and do appeal to Rawls’s theory of justice. It is both completely rational AND completely compassionate.

Nozick’s theory is compatible with Social Darwinism; Rawls’s theory is compatible with Christianity. Nozick’s theory is incompatible with Christianity; Rawls’s theory is incompatible with Social Darwinism.

Yet, Rawls’s theory does not appeal to compassion at all. It is entirely and solely rational. It is a critical principle useful for prophetically criticizing public policies that are incompatible with compassion for “the least of these” among us. Such policies are irrational, according to Rawls. Why?

To repeat from my previous post: According to Rawls all reasonable, self-interested individuals in the “original condition,” under the “veil of ignorance” would “vote” for a social order in which there is incentive to gain wealth through hard work and creativity but also economic structures that guarantee that increases in wealth benefit the poor. The principle is called “maximin,” maximizing the minimum.

Back to Nozick and his evil theory. It does not at all take into account that all of the real wealth (land and what’s on and under it) was stolen by Europeans using force and/or deception. There are many treaties between white, European settlers (invaders) and Native Americans that were broken by the white, Europeans, including especially American governments and military leaders, and have never been kept. An example is the one giving the Black Hills of South Dakota to the Lakota Tribe in perpetuity. Once gold was discovered in the Black Hills the treaty was broken and “shelved.”

Nozick’s theory does not take into account that much of the wealth of families, individuals and companies has been acquired through violence, deception, and evils such as slavery and oppression of Native Americans. And, as I said, it is incompatible with compassion. Much wealth is acquired through indirect deception in which unscrupulous entrepreneurs convince uncritical and unsuspecting buyers or investors to buy or invest in property, services or investment schemes that they do not understand. According to Nozick, so long as the transfer of property (including money) is done voluntarily and without blatant deception, it is fair and just and the government’s “job” is to protect the new owner and his/her property. What this does not account for is the fact that many such transactions happen because the losers did not understand the transaction and the winners took advantage of their ignorance. The theory itself does not take into account the human factor involved in many “voluntary” transactions.

Also, Nozick’s theory justifies price gouging as ethical. A drug company spends one million dollars developing a life-saving medicine and offers it to families of dying children, whose lives it could save, at an exorbitant price that far exceeds  the cost involved in creation. Only the super-wealthy can afford it and their children live; some children of the poor die because their families cannot afford the life-saving medicine. (Don’t talk to me about insurance because I have a life-long experience of health insurances NOT including expensive and even life-saving medicines in their formularies.) Some “orphan diseases” go without life-saving medicines because neither drug manufacturers nor government spend the necessary money to create them.

Sidebar: To those who argue that taxes constitute theft, I can cogently argue that profit constitutes theft. However, profit is a necessary evil. Taxes might also be a necessarily evil. But all depends on how you think about “necessary.” Everyone seems to agree that taxation to support the military is either good or necessary or both. Why not taxation to save the lives of the indigent among us?

The gloves are off now, as I promised before I retired. Some of you, my valued readers, need to repent of your social theories and beliefs insofar as they are actually evil because they would, in practice, result in the demises of numerous indigent, needy, vulnerable, helpless people, including children. Mere assertions otherwise will not be posted here. This is a call for repentance and changes of minds and hearts. An altar call does not invite objections from the audience or congregation.

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