Comparative Analysis between Rawls’ and Nozick’s Distribution Justice and Link to China’s Social Justice Issues

July 20, 2021

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The current paper explores the issue of modern political and economical philosophy concerning distribution justice. The goal of the paper is to identify the principal points of John Rawls’ and Robert Nozick’s ideas about distribution justice, tracing the link of these theories with China’s social justice issues. Nowadays, the world community observes a considerable growth of China’s economy. This evidence gives all the grounds to speak about a new ‘economic wonder’. Taking into account current disappointment of social democratic countries in the Marxist ideology, the problem highlighting the possible choice of states’ political directions seems to be topical and significant. This research work focuses on the main principles of Rawls’ and Nozick’s theories about distribution justice, studying definitions of key notions. The paper gives a short review of current links of the above-mentioned theories with China social justice issues. Comparing the main ideas about social justice, this research work highlights their common features, differences, and possible perspectives. The research work consists of Abstract, Introduction, two chapters, and References.

Comparative Analysis between Rawls and Nozick Distribution Justice and Link to China Social Justice Issues

During the recent decades, ‘welfare consensus’ among the highly-industrializes states and the ultimate discrediting of Marxism as an ideology have given rise to global discussions on the future of politics in former social democratic countries. Therefore, political philosophy has appeared to be focused on this issue. In fact, the ideas of Rawls’ and Nozicks’ distribution justice and their link to China’s social justice issues are the theme of lively debates nowadays. Their differences, similarities, and relationships with social justice ideas are observed by many researchers and policy-makers. This interest is expained by a simple fact. During the previous decades, China has become more accessible to the global reality. Contemporary China is ‘the economic wonder’ with highly-developed industries and prospering economy. In China, the country with unique philosophy and moral values, debates about social justice, in other words, the relationships between groups in the nation, are not a banned issue nowadays. People are looking for the best political and economical directions, consulting prominent philosophical postulates.

The Contemporary Developments of Distributive Justice Ideas

The problems of justice have been discussed for many centuries. Contemporary scientists focus public attention on burning aspects of these issues. Among the prominent philosophers of the twentieth century, two researchers stand apart. They are Robert Nozick and John Rawls.

There is no denying the fact that Robert Nozick is a prominent political philosopher in the Anglo-American tradition. His well-known book ‘Anarchy, the State and Utopia’ started the revival of social and political philosophy. In turn, John Rawls is truly considered to be the most significant contemporary researcher in the field of philosophy. In his works, Rawls (1999) draws public attention to the refocusing Anglo-American model of political philosophy on essential problems of the future and activities people ought to do. His ‘Theory of Justice’ regenerates the ideas of social contract, protecting egalitarian liberalism.

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Definitions of Key Notions

Comparing the ideas of the two researchers, the following conclusion is evident: Rawl defends egalitarian liberalism while Nozick advocates for free-market libertarianism (Feser, n.d.).

Before getting insight into the above-mentioned issue, the key notions of the paper should be considered. According to dictionary, ‘Egalitarian’ means “affirming, promoting, or characterized by belief in equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people” (“Egalitarian”, n.d.). ‘Liberalism’ can be defined as “a political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority” (“Liberalism”, n.d.). Libertarianism means “the philosophical doctrine of free will” (“Libertarianism”, n.d.).

In other words, distribution justice deals with the essence of a socially fair distribution of wealth in a society.

Differences and Common Features of Rawls’ and Nozick’s Ideas about Distributive Justice

In his ‘Anarchy, the State and Utopia’, Nozick refutes the theories of John Rawls. In fact, Nozick proves that the Rawls’ principle of distributive justice is wrong because it concerns economic inequalities. Rawls (1999) states that economic inequalities may be allowed only in case they are favorable for the community. These conceptions are more preferable if they are helpful for the least socially protected individuals. The above-mentioned idea is regarded as ‘the difference principle’. Next, Nozick states that if economic inequalities occur from voluntary exchange, they are fair a priori (Fraser, 2011, p. 1). The author illustrates this thought in his book ‘Anarchy, the State and Utopia’. In Chapter 7, Nozick describes the world where Wilt Chamberlain grows wealthy due to voluntary exchange (Nozick, , pp. 160-162). The author shows the way in which people cannot involve the Rawls’ methods to influence economic inequality without abandoning the most of liberty.

In his turn, Rawls appreciates liberty. Nevertheless, he understands the great detrimental effect of inequality, especially if this inequality concerns severe poverty. Rawls argues that it is unfair when individuals suffer from despair and hardship while other members of the society live in a grand style. In fact, Nozick states that immoral feature of the situation is that any individual should believe that seized possessions are allowed to other individuals (Fraser, 2011).

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Rawls and Nozick try to achieve different goals. Rawls (1999) outlines the society where inequalities are profitable for every individual. For Nozick, there is a border between end-result principles and historical principles. The philosopher believes that historical principle is the idea unrelated to end-state emerges. End-state is achieved optionally. Moreover, individuals can get it without the deprivation of liberty. Nozick considers it fair to get rich based on voluntary exchange. For Rawls, end results are important. Next, having got a deep insight into the Wilt Chamberlain issue, the following conclusion appears: unique genuine inequalities are favorable for the community only in case this community follows the entitlement principle. Under the circumstances, when an individual gradually accumulates a great volume of wealth, inequalities appear to be unfair. Nevertheless, Nozick argues that this state of affairs is a small unpleasant thing about the system that provides community’s welfare as a whole. In fact, Wilt Chamberlain dreams to become wealthy with one purpose: he wants to provide the carefree future to his idle descendants. Nevertheless, this fact does not mean that his becoming rich would worsen other individuals’ life in the society. Moreover, his activity promotes an increase in other people’s standards of life. Besides inheritances and gifts, the only inequality that would appear under Nozick’s system originates from voluntary exchange. As it has been proved above, inequalities of such kind are beneficial to the community. To sum up, Rawl’s viewpoint is that economic inequalities can be useful for the whole community, particularly, for the poor in the society. Nozick adds that positive transformations in the society’s welfare are possible by means of providing liberty and voluntary exchange (Fraser, 2011).

In his book, Nozick develops the idea of a minimal state. This state would appear in an originally lawless community. Both practical and moral details play an important role. Nozick discusses the prohibition of prospectively rights-violating self-defense and repayment for this prohibition. The researcher draws public attention to the problem of individual’s rights.

If Rawls regards the state as the engagement of redistributive taxation that is directed at the just distribution of affluence, Nozick provides his ‘entitlement theory’ of justice, pointing out that certain authority distributes wealth and income among people.

Nozhik argues three principles of justice in holdings. The idea of acquisition is the appropriation of natural resources. The second principle is the idea of justice on transfer. It derives from the individual’s right to enjoy the results of his or her labor. The third principle is the idea of justice in rectification. Any individual is entitled to these three issues.

To sum up, in the entitlement theory of distributive justice, Nozick discusses allocation of wealth in the community as a whole. Three major principles are involved: the principles of acquisition, transfer, and rectification. The minimal state is the only unquestionable means of protecting these requirements (Feser, n.d.).

Nozick had a lively debate with Rawls on the issue of distribution justice. This discussion has been transformed into debates between libertarianism and liberalism. It consists of ideas about justice in acquisition, justice in rectification, justice in holdings, and justice in transfer.

Rawls makes an effort to find a solution to the issue of distributive justice. He understands this phenomenon as the social contract. Rawls develops major concepts of justice: the liberty principle and the difference principle.

Nozick proclaims two major principles. According to his first basic rule, “each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all” (Nozick, 2000, p.72). The author’s second basic rule includes the idea that “social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both: to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, consistent with the just savings principle, and attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity” (Nozick, 2000, p.72).

China’s Social Justice Issues

The implementation of Rawls’ and Nozick’s ideas can be traced through the analysis of the contemporary situation in China. Sharing justice in China is getting more valuable “at a time when citizens are more vocal through social mass media, better informed” (Brown, 2013). Being ‘an economic wonder’, China has to provide reforms. The importance of the issue concerns the fact in which directions these transformations will take place. The ideas of profound political philosophers like John Rawls and Robert Nozick would help to choose the right way.

Before getting a deeper insight into the problem, the definition of the notion ‘social justice’ should be given. According to dictionary, social justice is “the fair and proper administration of laws conforming that all persons, irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, possessions, race, religion are to be treated equally and without prejudice” (“Social justice”, n.d.). Nevertheless, ‘sociology justice’ is a proper philosophical category. This phenomenon, as well as the issue of the ideal state, has been attracting philosophers’ attention since Plato. Among the modern scientists, John Rawls spreads ideas about this phenomenon. Rawls in his book ‘A Theory of Justice’ develops the ideas of social contract originated by famous philosophers Locke, Rousseau, and Kant. The central issue of Rawls’ work is the problem of equality. The philosopher argues that people would inevitably choose a certain conception of justice.

In ‘A Theory of Justice’ Rawls argues that “Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others” (Rawls, 1999, p. 3).

Comparing diametrically controversial Marxist concepts of social justice acceptable in China, the key difference can be observed: despite close relations of Marx and Engels’ concepts with injustices, Karl Marx regards equity as a bourgeois construct. People would surrender materially to achieve their goal. Collaboratively, they provide the key idea arguing that the categories of equality and need can be developed in line with the major principle: fair allocations provide for basic needs of individuals in the community.

The principles of social justice are based on several judgments. First, historical unfairness should be rectified. Second, reallocation of property, power, and status for the individual and collective welfare are urgent. Third, the government is responsible for providing basic life standards for its citizens (“Social justice”, n.d.).

In China, the Marxist ideology plays an important role. Socialism is regarded as the major part of democracy. “The discourse on social democracy in postwar China highlighted three issues: human rights, the third way, and new socialism” (Fung, 2005, p. 341). To attain socialism, China needed to generate wealth by means of speedily increasing productivity. This tendency can be clearly observed nowadays in the country (Fung, 2005, p. 342).

Prior to the economic transformations started by Deng Xiaoping three decades ago, economic and social activity in the state was strictly supervised by the central government. Individual interests were treated as less important and were subordinated to political goals. The China’s government was the only body responsible for resolving social contradictions. Therefore, state intervention could be observed. Nevertheless, since 1980 the state of affairs in China has been improving. The privatization of state-owned enterprises has promoted a great economic increase in the country. The economic transformations have established a new class – the class of entrepreneurs. These events have led to social polarization in the country. The gap between the individuals’ profits is growing. Nevertheless, this gap is beneficial for the community, proving theories of distributive justice by John Rawls and Robert Nozick.

Conclusions

Political and economical philosophy plays an important role in the contemporary society. Highlighting burning current problems, scientists find possible perspective solutions of the crisis. The ideas of prominent philosophers like John Rawls and Robert Nozick prove this. Thoughts of the researchers have a certain common vector: regarding problems of distribution justice, the scientists draw public attention to the primacy of justice and ideas of liberty as the major value.

Nozhik argues for three principles of justice in holdings. The idea of acquisition is the appropriation of natural resources. The second principle is the idea of justice on transfer. It is derived from the individual’s right to enjoy the results of his or her labor. The third principle is the idea of justice in rectification. Any individual is entitled to these three issues.

Nozick regards allocation of wealth in the community as a whole. Three major principles are involved: the principles of acquisition, transfer, and rectification. In his book, Nozick develops the idea of a minimal state. This state would appear in an originally lawless community. Both practical and moral details play an important role. Nozick discusses the prohibition of prospectively rights-violating self-defense and repayment for this prohibition. The researcher draws public attention to the problem of individual’s rights. The minimal state is the only unquestionable means of protecting these requirements.

Rawls and Nozick try to achieve different goals. Rawls outlines the society where inequalities are profitable for every individual. For Nozick, there is a border between end-result principles and historical principles.

To sum up, criticizing Rawls’ theory, Nozhik retains the main principle of his opponent – liberty. Concerning reallocation of wealth by a government, Nozhik recognizes that Rawls’ ‘difference principle’ is morally suitable.

Despite this common feature, there are significant differences in the viewpoints of these scientists. Nozick disputes the so-called ‘difference principle’. The philosopher argues that the Rawls’ principle of distributive justice is misleading because it concerns economic inequalities. To illustrate, Rawls states that economic inequalities may be allowed only in case they are favorable for the community. In fact, these conceptions are more preferable if they are beneficial for the least socially protected individuals. Instead, Nozick suggests his ‘entitlement theory’ of justice. The major point of his idea is that individual holdings of social and economic profits can be considered as fair only in case they originate from acquisitions or voluntary transfers.

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To sum up, Rawl’s viewpoint is that economic inequalities can be useful for the whole community, particularly, for the poor in the society. Nozick adds that positive transformations in the society’s welfare are possible by means of providing liberty and voluntary exchange.

The implementation of Rawls’ and Nozick’s theories can be regarded relatively in the contemporary situation in China, particularly, regarding social justice issues.

In China, the Marxist ideology plays the leading role. In fact, socialism is regarded as the major part of democracy. To achieve socialism, China is expected to generate wealth by means of speedily increasing productivity. This tendency can be clearly observed nowadays in the country. Nevertheless, certain positive transformations are observed. In fact, before the economic reforms started by Deng Xiaoping three decades ago, economic and social activity in China was strictly controlled by the central government. The privatization of state-owned enterprises has led to a great economic growth in China. The economic reforms have established a new class – the class of entrepreneurs. In turn, the above-mentioned events have led to social polarization in the country. The gap in profits between different classes is observed in China. Nevertheless, these transformations are truly positive because such inequality is favorable for the community, illustrating the ideas of distributive justice by John Rawls and Robert Nozick.