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The theory of rights by Robert Nozick

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Friedrich Hayek : 1899 – 1992 (Nobel Prize for economy in 1974)[edit | edit source]

Friedrich Hayek.

At first Hayek had mainly economic theses. He drew up a whole critique of the economy of the Keynes era, but also of the Austrian monetarists before. What he points out is that something like the market, which an institution could steer or regulate, is a completely inefficient and ontologically unfounded notion. For Hayek, the only entities that have any value in understanding how the economy works are the entrepreneurs who are confronted with the competent management of their stocks, the best placed to set prices for their goods and secure the economy. The State questions the very idea of a market economy. Hayek gave one of the most powerful demonstrations of the impossibility of functioning of the communist model not based on moral issues, but based on strong criticism of the very possibilities that any central power would have to influence the market. For him, the market is a spontaneous order referring to Smith's idea of an invisible hand. It is something that is the product of a myriad of human actions, but that can't be controlled or managed by someone or something outside of it, or else it questions it. This makes it impossible to plan or regulate economic dynamics, which also means letting the market operate on its own.

It is an important and extensive defence of the capitalist model, but not only on emancipatory grounds, but above all on the basis of economic efficiency. Based on this economic observation, Hayek draws a normative theory. If we cannot do anything to organise the market and if we start from the idea that market regulation is necessary to avoid social injustice, if this involves intervention and interference in the market, for Hayek, this is bad because it calls the market into question, but in addition, it will gradually be bad and raise a moral problem because society has no moral conscience. We cannot think that a society can be just, that the market can be just because the only people who are holders of determining what is good or moral are individuals and not general entities like the market. The humanization of something that is not for Hayek to consider the regulation of the market to redress the wrongs, from there one goes to the economic catastrophe and this is immoral because a market does not carry morality, we must return to a moral issue that affects individuals in their action and forget the market in there.

The resulting idea is that the question that any intervention on the spontaneous social and economic order is not only ineffective, but morally reprehensible, as it infringes on the freedom of individuals and their private property as described in the Road to Servitude published in 1944. Hayek does not need this aspect. Hayek's argument is that market interference is morally unfair because it affects individuals.

This conception does not lead to the complete rejection of any regulatory role of the State. Hayek kept in mind that the state still has a number of prerogatives such as education or health beyond the traditional functions of state rule. There are a lot of things that need to be taken out of the prerogatives of a state. There are functions that would be much more efficient if run by entrepreneurs and others that still require the existence of a state, albeit a little smaller than the rawlsian state. We would go back to a state that would guarantee access to public goods that the market cannot deal with without creating even more injustice.

The market, by self-regulating, will enable greater social welfare for everyone and there is the idea that it is necessary in order to protect as much as possible the freedom of individuals for the state to become as small as possible.

Nozick's book, The State, Anarchy and Utopia, retains a conception of the State that deals with the basic functions, and in particular the functions of rule. This minimal conception of the State is the corollary of the protection of individual freedom. For anarchists and for Nozick, if we want to take Kant's maxim of treating individuals as ends and not means, the only way to do so is to guarantee the greatest possible freedom of individuals over themselves and the products of their labour. One of Nozick's fundamental principles is the principle of self-ownership, which is the argument that radically attacks Rawls' thesis by showing that Rawls is incoherent because if he wants to defend freedom, then he cannot defend at the same time the redistributive activity of the state that would imply state interference in the private property and self-property of the state.

The idea of the minimum state is the idea that we just need an institution that protects against violence, theft, fraud, and the guarantee of compliance with contracts is justified. Beyond these justifications, state intervention is unjustified. There is the idea that the very idea of a society is an idea that does not mean much. Society is the aggregation of universal dynamic trajectories, but there is not something called society that would be the object of justice. What we have to focus on the fair management of individuals is the guarantee of their freedom and property.

For libertarians, the limits of state action are found in paternalism, namely laws designed to protect individuals from themselves. This goes hand in hand with legal moralism, which is the laws that restrict freedom in the name of morality. It is not the law to put in place moral forms that will regulate our behaviour. There is no reason for the state to intervene in the redistribution of income and wealth because redistribution calls into question the freedoms of the individual.

Let us pose two thought experiments to show the counter-intuitive nature of the principle of difference:

  • The development of medical technology has made it possible to transplant eyeballs with a 100% success rate. Since some people were born with eyes and others not, should we redistribute the eyes? Should we organise a national lottery and force the "losers" to give one of their eyes to the blind? The idea is to show the unfairness of Rawls' distributive model. For Nozick, if having an eye is a fundamental condition for our primary social goods to make sense, then why shouldn't we replace the eyes with a lottery? According to Nozick, there is through this experience of thinking, something that shows that there is something intuitive in Rawls' position.
  • A and B love Z. B "wins" Z's heart, because Z loves the intelligence and beauty of B. Should we redistribute the resources to allow A to have cosmetic surgery and rhetorical classes to compensate for his disadvantages in love? If being loved is a fundamental condition for individuals to be able to be free, and if we start from the idea that there are people who, despite the fact that they often try, but cannot be loved, should we take charge through taxation, forms of cosmetic surgery or courses to support the loving employability of these people. For Nozick, this seems very counterintuitive because there is a dose of subjectivity that makes no sense to be redistributed.

As much as the idea of national lottery to give an eye is absurd, so much the idea of freely giving an eye guarantees a property of oneself which is the use that we make of our body. A right-wing libertarian would tend to consider that prostitution poses no moral problem if prostitution is an autonomous choice is not constrained. For Nozick, it is necessary to leave the maximum possibility for individuals to determine themselves, one cannot say externally what is right or wrong because this would violate the way in which individuals dispose of the property of their body.

The philosophical libertarianism of Nozick[edit | edit source]

Robert Nozick.

Nozick will try to show the inconsistency of Rawls' theory of justice. It does not limit itself externally to saying that Rawls is wrong. He will try to show that Rawls is wrong because he is inconsistent in his argument.

Nozick's internal criticism of the coherence of Rawls' principles of justice is as follows:

  1. It is not consistent to defend both the principle of freedom and the principle of difference at the same time, because defending freedom means refraining from limiting property rights. The principle of difference calls property rights into question, runs counter to the principle of freedom and therefore calls into question the inviolability of fundamental rights. Any state interference involves interference in self ownership, denying freedom in the name of equality. The protection of our freedoms implies that the state refrains from involving itself in our lives. Nozick is a negative freedom theory that sets apart the idea that we are free through non-interference by the state. What matters to him is to prevent a state apparatus founded for unjust purposes from interfering in our sphere of freedom by limiting it.
  2. The conception of Rawls' theory is the model of equity. Contrary to Rawls, Nozick defends a historical conception which means that the current and just situation, his property is just as long as it was acquired in a morally founded way at a historical moment. For Nozick, if one acquires an object according to the principles of justice in force, then the object is acquired fairly. It is the idea that by what was prior to the analyzed situation of justice that we will find if the possession of today is justified or not and this is not in reference to an external criterion. In other words, there is a distinction between two types of justice theories:
    1. Theories stipulating a final state of redistribution that can be evaluated on the basis of present data, or a given distribution model[patterned; based on need, merit, etc.]. That's the case with Rawls;
    2. Historical theories, according to which only the nature of past exchanges or circumstances that have endowed certain resources (or not) make it possible to define the right or unjust nature of the present situation. That's Nozick's approach.
  3. Wilt Chamberlain's example. Let us imagine that a distribution model is introduced, for example based on the needs of each individual (D1). Let's imagine that W. Chamberlain, the star of basketball, asks that each spectator pay 25 cents into a jackpot to watch him play. At the end of the season, if 1 million people wanted to admire WC, this last one will have constituted a heritage of 250'000. -. This heritage consists of a new form of redistribution (D2). For Nozick, you can't force people to tell them what to do with their money. It is a new D2 distribution that is no longer the same as D1. For Rawls, this income should be redistributed. For Nozick, once individuals have paid in soul and conscience to go see a player play, nothing can justify dispossessing him.
  4. What general implications does Nozick draw from this example? The free and voluntary action of individuals (D2) inevitably calls into question the initial distribution model; the D1 model is thus vulnerable. Somewhere, the idea is to organize social cooperation around a model of justice that always produces virtuous and refuted effects. If D1 is correct, then the fact that it was produced by the free and voluntary action of individuals also makes D2 fair, even if this distribution does not conform to the original model (D1). Thus, the very idea of the existence of a given distribution model is refuted. Thus, distribution models can only be applied by causing serious infringements of the principle of freedom, because in the case of D2, in order to restore the balance of D1, the only possibility is to (a) prohibit D2 or (b) intervene in D2 to redistribute resources. In both cases, there is an illegitimate intrusion into the free choice of individuals. For Nozick, state intervention calls into question the ownership of individuals and the willingness of spectators to fund Chamberlain to see it in question.
  5. What implications for Rawls' principles of justice? The Difference Principle (PD) is a distribution model. Once individuals have received resources in accordance with the DD, they will make use choices (expend, invest, save, etc.) that will eventually lead to a situation in which the distribution of the DD will no longer be satisfied. Resources will have to be further redistributed, leading to State interference in the free choices of individuals. Thus, maintaining the DD leads to a restriction of freedom. It follows that if Rawls wants to defend the priority of the principle of equal freedom, he must give up the DD, because taking freedom seriously is incompatible with the application of a determined model of redistribution. Rawls' principles of justice are therefore inconsistent.

From Criticism to Proposal: The Theory of Legitimate Property Rights (Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, 1988[1974])[edit | edit source]

In ''Anarchy, State and Utopia'', published in 1974, Nozick proposed two important principles and principles of justice:

  1. Ownership of oneself as the primary moral principle (private ownership as the central concept of liberalism; it is part of the Locke tradition);
  2. any limitation or infringement of self-ownership is inconsistent with Kant's position that people should be treated as ends in themselves and not as means and is therefore immoral. If we are treated as an end, it means that we are respected for being in our autonomy to be oneself.
  3. the State has no right to intervene in private exchanges and property gains in order to tax and redistribute them. This is unfair and illegitimate.
  4. Nozick proposes three principles for determining who is a legitimate owner of property and resources.
    1. Initial acquisition: it is fair if based on the right of the first occupant (and if consistent with the lockéan restrictive covenant, i. e. the initial acquisition must leave enough resources for others and not worsen their situation). For Nozick, it is relatively simple to determine what an initial acquisition is;
    2. Voluntary transfer: only what is freely transferred, sold or given is fair and leads to a fair distribution of resources;
    3. The rectification and correction of injustices is linked to an unfair acquisition such as, for example, compensation in order to determine legitimate property rights. For Nozick, there still needs to be enough property resources left over for the others. Nozick puts clauses on what can be acquired and how to use it.

For Nozick, Rawls is incoherent, namely that his principles of justice and more specifically the principle of difference cannot be defended if Rawls truly agreed to establish that freedom can only be challenged by freedom. According to him, when a redistributive state wants to impose forms of equality through distributive taxation, it violates the principle of freedom. At that time, there is an inconsistency between the first principle of equal freedom and the second principle, the principle of difference.

Once this criticism has been established, Nozick lays the foundations for his own approach, which revolves around the idea of self ownership, which is the fundamental principle of Nozick's libertarian position, namely that, somewhere, the ownership we have over ourselves and what we produce allows individuals to acquire rights (entitlement) that will subsequently make it possible to establish what is right and what is wrong in the future. The initial acquisition is what was acquired fairly, the first person to use it has a right to the acquisition. If an individual decides to transfer his or her property, in order for it to be fair, it must be voluntary and follow a number of procedures, for example by having a contract that establishes the transfer of ownership. In the event that the initial acquisition was not made in accordance with the best practices, i. e. if the initial acquisition was already unfair as such, such as occupation following a war or a flight, for Nozick, it is necessary to rectify this acquisition by means of compensation.

The question that will arise is how to rectify the acquisitions established as a result of slavery or war, and from a political point of view this seems complicated, but from a purely theoretical and ideal point of view, Nozick proposes a procedural, simple and effective vision in order to establish how properties are legitimately transferred.

(some) Implications[edit | edit source]

What do these principles show?

In Nozick's logic, what counts is not the result of acquiring and producing wealth, but how it was obtained. It is a form of procedural justice, based on historical principles of property acquisition. Nozick has a procedural vision, he does not ask himself the ethical question of the property inherent in the property that he wishes to transfer or not, he does not ask himself the question of whether people have good reasons or not to acquire or transfer property. He is interested in knowing how to establish a certain number of rules and procedures, how to establish that what is being done is rightfully or legitimately ours.

Regardless of the distribution of resources resulting from voluntary exchanges, the latter is fair. A voluntary exchange is an exchange that is not restricted by other persons (a) and does not infringe upon the rights of persons (b). For Nozick, everything is valid from a procedural point of view, essentially on condition that the way in which ownership is transferred or acquired does not affect the rights of others. We agree that this clause is a clause that may be somewhat problematic in the Nozick design.

What would Nozick say to rawlsians or socio-democrats about the fact that his design does not allow for fair and effective treatment of the poor? Some individuals are less likely than others to be born into poor families, for example: this may be unfortunate, but it is not unfair. The fact that some lose in the natural and social lottery does not automatically entail an obligation of redistribution by the State. It is sad at the limit that poor people exist if someone decides to use part of their property to help them, but there is no reason to consider that forms of poverty for which we are not responsible are morally unjust. At that point, any interference by the state, which is talking about redistribution to correct these inequalities, to make them less obvious or to give more primary social goods in the sense of Rawls, would be illegitimate interference. The voluntary basis is acceptable, given that in our individualistic liberal conception, if we decide to use half of our wealth to help a village that has suffered an earthquake, nothing and nobody can stop us from doing so, but to say that the state can force us to do so in the same way that the state can force us to give eyes is morally illegitimate. The state does not have the right or the moral basis to seek such intervention from individuals. If individuals wish to help the poorest, they can do so on a voluntary (charitable) basis by transferring part of their property to them, but they are not morally bound to do so. The social condition of the most disadvantaged is not a collective responsibility to redress the inequalities of some.

If it is true that, in accordance with the Kantian principle, we must treat individuals as ends in themselves and not as means for something, any intervention by the State that aims to tap for redistribution would be tantamount somewhere to sanctioning the idea that someone must work part of his or her annual time to finance redistribution for some. For Nozick, this mechanism would be a form of forced labour and therefore a form of slavery. In other words, any interference for the purpose of redistributing the state in the property rights of individuals is tantamount to forced labour, and thus a kind of slavery. Indeed, any levy on earnings implies that part of the working time will be devoted solely to collecting resources for others. This violates negative freedom and, more generally, the fundamental moral right of self ownership.

It is for this reason that Nozick is placed in the category of minarchies, namely anarchists, but which provide for a minimum form of state, this minimum state must be there to ensure that certain functions are fulfilled, namely the sovereign functions, but this state does not have a redistributive aim, this state is there to ensure that freedoms are respected. Thus, the welfare state is illegitimate. The state can only be minimal, i. e. with a function of protecting the market and property. The minimum state is financed by taxes, but taxes are not redistributive. Contrary to what people often think on the basis of his title, Nozick is not an anarchist because Nozick presupposes a certain theory of the state which is certainly minimal but it is legitimate for him to recognize our obligation towards a state in certain particular cases which is a postulate questioned by the anarchists. If we compare Nozick to the vision inherent in the rawlsian conception, it is clear that we are talking about two very different models of states.

We must not forget that we are in the criticism of redistributive justice in Rawls, so the redistributive and economic dimension is emphasised, but at the same time, the Libertarian movement also has fairly clear-cut positions on any criticism of state interference. Nozick's Libertarian perspective applies not only to questions of distributive justice, but also, more generally, to criticism of the State's interference in the regulation of human activities such as, for example, in the moral, cultural and other fields. This state is not just illegitimate when it redistributes, but rather illegitimate when it interferes in moral matters that are the property of individuals, when they adopt positions that seek to challenge the way in which individuals can use their bodies or property. There is that dimension of libertarians which sometimes reminds us of forms of anarchism, but which are not anarchist from an analytical point of view, and which would be tantamount to calling into question the idea of a State which aims to regulate from the fields of public health to culture or multiculturalist policy aimed at protecting minorities. For libertarians, these are often areas of immoral state interference. If people decide to use part of their resources to support their language and traditions, they are free to do so, but it is not up to the state to defend minorities. For libertarians, what is the point of a state keeping a cultural form alive if the people themselves have no interest in keeping it alive, then it is better for it to disappear. It is something that falls within the individual sphere, the state does not have to use resources for this kind of thing. This minimalist view of the state is accompanied by a rather strict view of the non-interference of the state in matters in which the state has nothing to do beyond redistributive justice.

An important element to keep in mind and which for some people weakens Nozick's position paradoxically and for which Nozick has a certain ambiguity. Nozick adds to the initial acquisition idea the logic of the lockéenne clause. Nozick's position is not completely anti-thetical to any consideration of equality. For example, the lockéan restrictive covenant implies the principle of equal consideration of the interests of individuals. This is a restrictive condition that requires that it is possible to occupy a piece of land provided that by occupying it, one leaves enough land for others to live. Thus, ownership must be balanced so that at least others have access to a vital resource. You must be a homeowner by giving others the opportunity to access this vital resource. In other words, according to Locke, we can only legitimately acquire property if we leave enough for others and not make their situation worse.

Locke was limited in some ways to the idea that you need enough for others. Nozick adds that we have to leave some for others and, moreover, that the acquisition does not worsen illegitimately by the situation of others. The question is what does it mean not to encroach on the situation of others? The question of what is meant by "not worsening everyone's situation" according to the lockéenne clause opens up a whole bunch of considerations that can be complicated to deal with in a nozickian approach, because we no longer know exactly when a situation is worse or not. Presumably, one of Nozick's answers would be to say that there is the law, that it is possible to agree on a number of terms and conditions. It is possible to imagine that there are forms of use of property by some who, in addition to falling back on the ownership of oneself and others, even if this escapes a simple economic calculation. For some, Nozick is paradoxically too egalitarian to go all the way to the end of his libertarian logic because, according to Kymlicka, from the moment Nozick leaves room for the lockéenne clause because he does not worsen the situation of others, he treats every individual somewhere as a moral equal who has the possibility of expressing and feeling aggrieved in relation to the lockéenne clause. So, there are many egalitarianists according to Kymlicka, who question in part the strength of Nozick behind this rather radical libertarian position of self-property.

(Some) critics of Nozick (and libertarianism)[edit | edit source]

There are a lot of questions that we can ask ourselves and Rawls in particular, whether taxing Charmberlain really calls his freedom into question? Is it just a matter of the difference between gross and net income? Does the move from gross to net income imply a reduction in our freedom? For Rawls, Nozick is wrong because he confuses wealth and freedom. Thus, Charmberlain is free because he has options, because there is legislation that protects him, because he has rights, but it cannot be said that he is freer according to the extent of his wealth. This means confusing freedom and autonomy as a moral disposition with a standard of living that is more or less incidental. If we start from the idea that Chamberlain would not be free according to Rawls with $2 million, what would people say about $12,000 a year? For Rawls, Nozick's argument that any form of redistribution implies a liberticidal attitude does not hold water. The quarrel between Nozick and Rawls obliges us to look beyond the simple economic question of the amounts, but also to relate this quarrel and these amounts with a conception of equality and freedom that is at its core through which we can decide. This consideration may or may not give rise to considerations of justice.

One of the questions that arises is whether the conceptions of the person and well-being that form the basis of Nozick's theory are not excessively economicist, based too much on the idea of the rational individual, which is a much more individualistic position that would make us individuals, nomadic species with their own properties. Community members question this conception of the person.

The classic criticism of Rawls is whether or not, to the extent that in real life, the original acquisition is never guaranteed; Doesn't Nozick's theory basically rest on an edifice that is shaky as such because we are thinking of redistributive states that have already acquired their situation in an unjust way through conquest and wars that are not equal to the initial acquisition as expressed and formulated in the first principle of Nozick? Somewhere, to the extent that virtually any initial situation could be challenged as legitimate and should therefore require forms of rectification? Doesn't Nozick give us a theory that is certainly fascinating philosophically, but theoretically and politically inoperative? At that point, you might as well let her down. This argument is also evoked and is a more general argument because it is indirectly concerned with the question of what the political theory is for and with the cleavage between ideal theory and contextualist theory. For some, political theory makes sense in an ideal world even if it cannot be applied because it poses and gives frameworks of thought that allow us to consider options even though these options may not be realistic today and on the other hand, a conception of political theory that is more pragmatic with the idea that political theory is to help and think about criteria of justification for certain policies or decision of the' political'. The moment when the recommended solutions are not realistic, then, or change theory or ask yourself other questions. For some people, political theory must be useful to real public action, but for ideal philosophers, it would be possible to find categories or principles that could be the subject of reflection and political implementation. In history, it took a little utopia to make a number of characteristics legitimate and audible. Nevertheless, there is a mismatch between a more applied theory and a more philosophical theory. Some criticize Nozick for the fact that his theory is so abstract, even if it gives him a complete hold somewhere because it is based on a very basic metric.

When one wonders about the limits of self-ownership, Nozick starts from the idea that self-ownership is very inclusive. Owners are the morally legitimate owners of their own bodies, their powers and are thus impregnated with their acquisition rights not only over their own property, but also over the means of production (a). For Nozick, self-ownership also includes what we produce in order to produce. An idea, tool or machine that we have created to produce or do something belongs to us. However, Rawls proceeds from the idea that the principle of self ownership stops at b, namely that the owners of self are the morally legitimate owners of their own body and powers and have the right to have and maintain their personal property (b).

What's the difference? Why does Rawls stop there? For him, it is just not possible to build industries, to use land, to exploit resources in the broadest sense, without the cooperation of many not being engaged at some point. For Rawls, therefore, it is Nozick's conception that individualizes by placing under the seal of an individual's own property, individualizes something that is de facto and social and collective. Industries are also the product of labour and workers and not just the contractor. To say that the industry belongs only to the owner and ignores the workers is an abusive extension of self-ownership. It is for this reason that for Rawls, this collective dimension, the means of production and the production of wealth, are the ones that fall within the scope of social cooperation. This is precisely where Rawls argues that a theory of justice as equity must be applied in order to fairly redistribute the resources that are produced collectively. It is the great disagreement with Nozick that stems from the idea that basically we bought a piece of land and two hundred years after an industry and set up there, so we are the owner of everything that is produced by that industry. By paying the workers, they lose the right to ask somewhere to consider what belongs to that company as well, if they did not agree, they did not have to accept the contract. Once this contract has been drawn up in a procedureually correct manner, then it is good. Nozick's vision is very individualistic on this point.

A final point to keep in mind for interesting thought experiences is the question of limits to self ownership such as organ sales, assisted suicide or self-sacrifice. Where do we draw the line? The question that arises is something that is extremely powerful from the libertarian position of forcing us to tell ourselves that there are a lot of things that seem to be causing problems, but basically there are no other things that seem to go without saying, but they are just as problematic. The function of political theory is to make distinctions. Is reason philosophical or are there some things we prefer to others? Libertarians have done little about it, but what they are interested in is whether or not a person concerned has a property right in his or her body. Libertarians tend to ask themselves questions that lead them to destabilize a certain number of things, particularly on the issue of suicide, for example.

This position is not only that of the Libertarians. A whole bunch of liberals and also rawlsians share these conceptions concerning more or less broad positions on public morality, the interference of the state which in the rawlsian position wants to be neutral in relation to the conception of the good. It is a criticism that is more or less shared, but obviously the Libertarians go even further. If we start from the idea that we can't treat people as means, but as ends, the idea that we can't do Darwinism to increase the retirement of such a person, this problem will come off the radar. But if you start to ask yourself the more general question of quality of life or self-ownership, then those questions become important. For example, the paradox of assisted suicide is that it is paradoxically necessary to decide to commit suicide when you are well because when you are ill, it is already too late to give informed and autonomous consent. The paradox in the current legislation is that people are being asked to decide to commit suicide at a time when they may not feel like it because they feel good. When they are not well, it is already too late to show the autonomy and rationality that people are asked to avoid murder.

Equality: a disputed principle[edit | edit source]

Egalitarianists place more emphasis on the notion of equality and what redistribution should be about.

For Kymlicka, every theory of justice has an egalitarian basis. There is something about equality that is contained in any theory of justice even in libertarian approaches. On the other hand, it is clear, although there is some agreement that certain forms of equality are necessary for justice, that there is considerable disagreement about what needs to be equalized, the "why" that needs to be equalized, i. e. the moral reasons that would justify forms of redistribution, and the "how" that is the subject of different considerations. It is possible to agree on the desirability or otherwise of a principle, but it is not at all certain that there is only one way of translating it.

The three levels are contested and disagreed among political philosophers and political theories. There are different ways of imagining a debate on the "what", but also on the "why" with the question of what is the moral normative principle that guides this type of distribution and obviously the concrete modalities.

An interesting example is when we talk about equality of opportunity, that is to say, that everyone in some way agrees to accept some form of equal opportunity: everyone should a priori have access to a certain number of goods or positions on the basis of their moral equality or with something. On the other hand, the concrete ways of thinking about this equality of opportunity can be very different and, of course, are also justified in a different way. The minimal conception would be that anyone can become a student at the University of Geneva regardless of their skin colour, sex or gender. There must not be an arbitrary barrier to entry that would make it possible for white people to become students at the University of Geneva. There is also a somewhat richer conception of this equality of opportunity which is partly similar to that of Rawls, namely this minimal conception, if it does not consider social inequalities any more, the fact that skills also have a social cost or are the product of social phenomena, the simple fact of saying that everyone can access the University of Geneva will inevitably imply that, for example, students who come from families. For some, if we really want to guarantee and defend equality of opportunity, it would be necessary to control a minimum that social situations do not preterite the possibility of everyone having a fair chance. In the case of affirmative action in the United States, it was decided to lower scores on entrance exams to allow members of certain minorities to be more likely to pass. The idea is that when you come from a suburban high school with a very low success rate, these resources will be taken away from the students so that they can develop their intellectual preparation. It is about making a different hierarchy to give a fair chance. It is the conception that goes a little bit behind certain theories of justice, especially those that are somewhat liberal, neutralist and egalitarian. There is also another even more radical conception of equality of opportunity, which would say that true equality of opportunity will only be achieved when there is equality of outcome, which can imply, for some, equality of resources and competition is allowed to take place. In other words, everyone is on the same starting line, which involves a whole range of state interventions so that everyone can be on the starting line.

Behind these three conceptions, there is already a huge philosophical and political debate, because, for example, implementing the first conception is much simpler and cheaper than implementing the third conception in terms of redistribution. For the first conception, a law is enough, we stipulate a law.

Another example is why equality can be important. Van Parijs has a very sophisticated philosophical argument. For him, if we really want to give meaning to the principle of freedom, if we really want to ensure that people are free, a certain number of conditions must be equalized. In other words, certain forms of equality are necessary for freedom.

Van Parijs proposes what is called either the minimum income or the universal benefit. Concretely, it proposes to pay a citizenship income that would be unconditional, that would not depend on contributions or our social situation, that would be given to everyone as a citizen member of the community regardless of whether they are rich or poor, regardless of whether they live alone, as a couple or in polygamy, no matter what, everyone counts as one. The intuition is that for Van Parijs, among the various arguments, Rawls, whose effort he wishes and salutes in terms of thinking about justice, gives too much room to work. This obligation to work, for Van Parijs, would be a way in which the State imposes a conception of the property. From a left-wing libertarian point of view, this goes against the neutrality of the State, it is a way of imposing a conception of the good which would mean that it is ethically better to work than not to work. Van Parijs argues that there is no reason why anyone who decides to go to Malibu and surf all year round should not have the option of not doing so because if they don't do it and it's their conception of good, it would mean that they are not free. He is trying to think of an alternative that would allow people to have livelihoods that are not huge in terms of amount, but that would give them real freedom to choose whether or not they want to work. The fact of telling someone that he or she must work is already the fact, in one way or another, of denying the plurality of conceptions of good.

What he emphasizes is that we need forms of minimum equality, such as having resources to live in order to be free. This freedom has a cost. If we do not partially equalize these starting conditions, we cannot be free. An initiative that will be put to the vote in 2016 has received enough signatures to impose a basic income tax at the Swiss level. Van Parijs' rather abstract philosophical level has political repercussions. The idea is to standardize and partially reduce class inequalities.

Two theories of equality arise in criticism of Rawls' approach. There is the equal resources theory of Ronald Dworkin and the capability theory of Amartya Sen. In both cases, these authors try to think about what needs to be equalized, why, but by trying to position themselves against Rawls, whom they consider unsatisfactory.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]