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The Theories of Justice - Essay Example

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University of California, Santa Barbara
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Every human being possesses properties or objects that they claim to be their own. They range from expensive materials such as land to simple objects such as groceries and utensils. Residents of a state or town require their government to take a step to ensure the protection of their possession from destruction or theft. However, the mode of distribution in every society is not fair. Unfairness occurs because every individual has different abilities hence making it had to have uniformity. The high class consisting of wealthy politicians, bankers, and other highly paid officials makes up a tiny percentage of the society. The lower level and the average earners make up the more significant portion of the nation. It would be unfair if the government decides to take possession of the rich and supply it to the poor since it would violate the rights to property ownership. In the early government systems, societies believed in socialism where people owned properties in groups. This type of government has changed over the years and capitalism has taken over the system. Capitalism is where individuals are allowed to own properties no matter how big and expensive they are. The issue of justice on property ownership led to the development of various theories by Robert Nozick and John Rawls to support or justify possession of properties as discussed in this essay.

Robert Nozick based his philosophies on Lockes initial arguments. Locke founded his arguments socialism. He believed that initially, all properties were owned by all individuals. But he also stated that no single person could ever live without possession of the property. Such ownership would help them get their daily food (Wolff, 2006). He also believed that ownership of any property be it land or money was just if it was acquired legally. According to his arguments, he found that if people were allowed to work on a particular portion of land to yield products, they would gain some rightful ownership. However, they had to ensure that the rest of the people had ways of obtaining food because when individuals decided to take and own all the ground, it would leave some of the people in poor conditions. Homelessness was one of the reasons that led to conflicts among people. Hence they were required to ensure that they only manage properties according to their abilities (Wolff, 2006). They were also needed to ensure that they shared the land equally in that every person received a portion. According to Locke, when a person worked on a piece land, they gained some entitlement of the same. However, his philosophies received criticism from Nozick who argued that it was not just to conclude that labor could determine who owned a particular piece of land and who did not.

Similarly, Nozick based his arguments on the rights to entitlement. He believed that no human being had the power to destroy the other persons property or even destroy life because such people would be violating the right to property ownership. The theory of Nozick took in to account three fundamental principles in which he used to support his arguments. The first principle that Nozick took the liberty of elaborating was the right that an individual had during the acquisition of properties that controlled and governed the manner in which people got specific properties (Cahn, 2011). It is an important principle as it ensured that no person acquired his or her property in the wrong way. Nozick agrees with Lockes theory in that any ownership gained of materials not previously owned had to consider the requirements of the rest of the population. In case this ownership affected the survival of other people, then it would be unfair for the person to claim legitimate ownership. He also agreed that any person owning particular properties should ensure they left behind more holdings for the rest of the population. As the purchase of properties is concerned, Nozick applied the Lockean theory of the acquisition. At times a person may have complete control of materials which may be essential to other people. However, the manner in which the person acquired these properties would determine whether they justly earned the holdings or not (Cahn, 2011). If a person designed particular holding from scratch to a complete product, then they had the right to own the property even if it affected the survival of the other citizens. However, if a person held properties that were initially communally owned and then failed to share its products with other people, would be considered violators of the rights of property possession.

The other principle that holds the basis of entitlement theory is that which involved the exchange of legitimately acquired properties. Any illegally gained possession was not exchangeable with other members whatsoever. However, legally obtained properties were possible to transfer to other people. There were different ways in which exchange could take place. In case of properties such as land, a person could decide to give their younger generation as a form of inheritance (Cahn, 2011). When such exchange occurred, it meant that the heir of the property had legal ownership of the same property. At times people gained ownership of properties through trade. Owners sometimes decided to sell their properties to other people for a sum of money hence giving the buyers the legal right to own the property. Also, people gained ownership from lottery and gambling. In instances when people are unable to pay debts to various organizations, their properties were placed on auction to help cover these loans. Such properties when bought seized to become properties of the previous owners and the buyers became the legal owners. Certain games such as gambling caused many people to lose ownership of their lands because when people placed their properties such as cars, buildings, money as security during gambling, they risked losing ownership of such materials if they lost in the game (Cahn, 2011).

Lastly, there is the principle of coping with injustices associated with property ownership. The world as it is right now is not a fair place. Some people cannot work to gain their properties but depend on the struggles of others. Therefore, such kinds of people tend to illegally acquire properties through various ways which are against the moral concept. These include theft or fraud. Not a single day that passes without cases of burglary, car hijacking, pickpocketing with the same ill intentions of gaining ownership illegally. Propertyacquiredunlawfully should not by any chance be transferred to other people (Cahn, 2011).Nozick in his theory stated that no single person was allowed to endanger or violate the rights of ownership to properties. They may be required to pay fines or even compensate the owners. Punishment is the best action that will help reduce the number of people with such intentions. It also instills hard work and determination since such harsh punishment show the offenders that the only way to gain legal ownership is by working hard and obtaining resources.

Unlike Nozicks theory, Rawls theory focused more on social equality among all people. He formulated a policy that would ensure that every person no matter their background would receive fairness in various sectors such as decision making, trading among others. Rawls ensured that decisions that made were fair to all parties. His theory dealt with the social contract. The latter was a technique in which parties that were in conflicts came together and worked out the best decisions that would favor them (Cahn, 2011). To begin with, Rawls initiated this theory by stating that parties should determine the conditions that led to these conflicts. However, if these people were allowed to make their own decisions, they would have resulted in biased outcomes since every person wants the best out of the deal. Hence he made sure that individuals that took part in the decision making were not aware of their current state of life or class which ensured that the decision formulated favored all the parties altogether. This original condition formed the basis of his two principles. In his first principle, Rawls stated that every person no matter their class, background or location should receive same equality with other people. Examples of things that people should enjoy are political rights and health rights. No person should be denied access to health facilities since it is a form of rights violation. Also, they were allowed to support particular political parties and also vote for their leaders of choice (Cahn, 2011). It is important to mention that even though Rawls support egalitarianism, he also agrees with Nozick that at times the world is not a fair place. Due to such instances, Rawls introduced the second principle in which he stated that even though people were not equal regarding property ownership, the high ranked individuals ensured that they did not neglect or leave behind the less advantaged individuals by using their wealth to benefit both themselves and the poor. In support of this second principle, Rawls stated that the low-class people should receive equal opportunities with the rich. Equality in the job sector can only be possible if job opportunities were awarded on experience basis and not according to a persons background.

From these theories stated above, Rawls theory would be a preferable theory of justice. Several reasons make this preferable. Currently, life is very unfair to most low-class people. Rawls theory supports fairness hence would be the most applicable at the moment. For instance, it is not a hard thing to find that major and prominent job opportunities go to people who have a particular connection with the employers. Favorism has caused unfairness in the job markets. Regardless of the experience that a poor person may have, a person may find these people still unemployed since the opportunities were taken up by the higher classes. Similarly, we find that in some countries, there is a high number of homeless people in the streets. It is regrettable that is the number is increasing with every passing day. While this is happening, the rich own large acres of lands which some remains unused for long periods. Rawlss theory would assist these homeless people in that conditions would be formulated on how to support them. Rawls theory focuses more on socialism rather than capitalism.

In conclusion, it is critical to note that Lockes theory of entitlement formed a basis for Nozicks argument. Although they had various disagreements regarding the acquisition of properties, Nozicks applied his ideas. Nozicks, on the other hand, believed in capitalism as a governing tool among societies. In his theory, he focused on how properties can be acquired legally and how to transfer them to another owner in a legit way. Nozick explained ways in which this transfer was possible through buying, inheritance or gambling. He also explained ways in which people gained ownership of properties illegally and the consequence of such action. Rawls theory contradicts with that of Nozick because he believes in equality of everything and also equal opportunities regardless of a persons background whereas Nozick does not. Rawls theory involves coming up with the condition that would form the basis his other principles. Fairness in his philosophy has made it more preferable as it ensures there is no favoritism in various job opportunities. Favouritism makes it possible for everyone to compete fairly. However, in cases where equality is not possible, then people with more wealth have an obligation of ensuring that the assist the poor in any possible ways.


Cahn, S.M. (2011). Political philosophy: the essential texts.

Wolff, J. (2006). An introduction to political philosophy. Oxford University Press, US...

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