PHIL 41150: Political Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Friday April 25, 2003


[3.3.] End-Result Principles vs. Historical Principles.


Nozick distinguished between two different approaches to judging the justice of distributions:


         historical principles: judge the justice of a distribution by viewing how it came about

         Nozick's libertarianism


         end-result principles: judge the justice of a distribution by the way it is at a particular time, independently of how it came about; these sorts of principles include

         utilitarianism -- judges the justice of a distribution according to the total amount of happiness (or well-being) that results (e.g. Mill)

         egalitarianism -- judges the justice of a distribution according to how equal people are under that distribution (e.g. Rawls' difference principle -- inequality is justified if it works to the benefit of the least "equal")


According to Nozick, end-result principles are inadequate; by ignoring the historical facts about how a given distribution came about, they exclude a fundamental value from our moral reasoning: the liberty/right to transfer what you hold and to hold what another has voluntarily transferred to you.


Suppose we distribute all property, including money, to everyone equally and in a just way; call this scenario of equal distribution D1. Further suppose that Shaquille O'Neal is hired to play basketball with the L. A. Lakers. His one-year contract (voluntarily entered into by both O'Neal and the Lakers' owner) stipulates that all attendees must, in addition to paying the ticket price, drop a quarter into a box with O'Neal's name on it; O'Neal gets to keep all the money in the box after each game. One million people attend Lakers games that year, happily (and voluntarily) paying their extra quarter because they like to watch O'Neal play. Because of this he becomes richer than most other people. Call this unequal distribution D2.[1]


There is nothing unjust about distribution D2. If we start out in D1 and then I become rich because everybody gave me a little of their own money, then this unequal distribution of money is morally permissible. Voluntary transfers can make some people rich (or poor) and others not. The Entitlement Theory is consistent with this, because it bases the legitimacy of a transfer of goods on the willingness of the party from whom the goods are being transferred (as well as on the legitimacy of that person's initial ownership of those goods). Nozick calls such transactions "capitalist acts between consenting adults." (ASU 163; Cahn 1071)


On the other hand, Rawls' egalitarian approach implies that the sort of distribution involved in the Shaquille O'Neal example is unjust.


The general lesson Nozick takes from the O'Neal (Wilt Chamberlain) example: "no end-state principle or distributional patterned principle of justice can be continuously realized without continuous interference with people's lives", in particular, without continuous violations of peoples' rights of transfer. (ASU 163; Cahn 1071)


[1] Nozick's 1973 example referred to Wilt Chamberlain.

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