Justice as Fairness by John Rawls and Nozick


A variety of perspectives on equity and ethics research entails numerous debates between experts who uphold specific theories and ideas. Prominent philosophers Robert Nozick and John Rawls describe compelling and engaging ideas concerning equity values. They express views of establishing a government based on ethics and justice. “Justice as Fairness: Political, not Metaphysical” by Rawls scrutinizes whether fairness can be expanded to an ordinary legislative idea for various societies or only to a comprehensive upright concept. Nozick’s Distributive Justice does not appeal for distribution to be correspondent with ethics, wants, and adequacy to the community: it utilizes an exchange model of justice. This essay reflects on the articles written by Rawls and Nozick by summarizing their major arguments and key points, comparing the areas they could agree and disagree with, and lastly, determining whose theory can be applied to social problems and criminal justice.

Summary of Justice as Fairness by John Rawls

In his work, Rawls describes the function of political concepts and puts in place the major inherent views incorporated into a political formation of fairness for constitutional democracy. The central objectives are that the citizen’s interpretation of fairness should be individualistic of incompatible theoretical and religious principles in a democratic state. Rawls thus employs the theory of open-mindedness to philosophy, thereby constructing people’s perception of justice as political other than metaphysical. The article scrutinizes whether justice can be extended to a common democratic view for different communities or only to a comprehensive righteous concept. He asserts that no overall ethic ideology can bestow an entirely perceived basis for the notion of equity in a contemporary constitutional democracy (Rawls, 1985). Additionally, justice as equitable is built on the primary ideas planted in the governmental organizations of a lawful democratic administration

Rawls’s democratic concept can be contemplated as an inquiry into transitioning from forming an idea and applying it for real use. Justice comprises the ideas of equal freedom, differentiation, and equal chances (Sari,2020). The first and most crucial principle is that every individual has similar privileges as freedoms (Gališanka, 2019). Rawls claims that some rights and freedoms are more important than others. That is, private property such as personal holdings, such as a home is basic liberty, but a complete right to limitless intellectual property is not. As important freedom, these rights are permanent, and the government should not change, breach or remove such freedom from individuals.

In his principle of fair equality of opportunity, he supports that offices and ranks should be available to everyone, disregarding one’s ethnicity, caste or gender. He maintains that human potentiality should not only be termed as a right but also as an equal constructive opportunity. According to Rawls, the principle of difference regulates inequity by permitting only inequalities that function to the advantage of the lowest in society. His claim is more correctly expressed as a democracy where luxury is circulated only among the rich. The guarantee of the worst-off in the community is a fair accord; Rawls (1985) compensates for inequalities that occur naturally, such as talents that one is born with and the ability for the sport. Rawls defends the difference principle because equality of opportunity has a linguistic concern; the appropriate choice from Pareto optimal schemes that could take place would mean gaining disadvantages rather than the benefits.

Summary of Distributive Justice by Robert Nozick

According to Nozick (1973), his theory is based on “the principle of acquisition of holdings, the principle of transfer of holdings, and the principle of rectification of violations of the first two principles” (p. 49). This means individuals who receive holding have the name of ownership of a particular property. Secondly, an individual who obtains a holding from an individual who has the title to a specific asset is also given the title of that property. Thirdly removal of unequal possession of a property is practiced based on the two ideas, and fair allocation emerges from a preceding equal allocation through legal procedures.

A vital element of Nozick’s ideas is that equality in property correlation is traditionally ascertained and relies upon the distribution taking place. Concepts based on the conditions apply only to the owner and what is owned, but no specification is made on how this distribution occurred. Nearly all the principles of Nozick’s theory are shaped, and issuing appears to conform to moral quality, requirements, diligence, and the value of the stated measures. The thesis addresses the production and issuing as two discrete and self-sufficient entities. Every individual who carries out activities of buying or inheriting as per the contract of all other assets used in production possesses its ownership title (Nozick, 1973). Meeting the sequence needs continuous actions in the pursuits of people and in the events of choices they make.

Nozick asserts that allocation of taxation in an insignificant state is the same as using individuals as a way to reach the desired goal. Only an individual has legal assertions on the fruits of his talents and, as a result, complete holding of them. People’s full ownership indicates full possession of what they generate. Redistributing taxation takes an unquestionable sum of what an individual hands over without their permission and gives this share to other people. Redistribution of taxes is not in line with the self-possession principle, making it inequitable (Nozick, 1973). The author presumes rights as inherent and does not lay out the rationale favoring their actuality. They are also not validated through divine law, nature of the universe or human nature.

Comparison of the Theories

The author’s concepts differ in ways, such as Rawls’s theory is perceived as a balance to utilitarianism, while Nozick’s theory acts as a response to Rawls’s liberalism. In a realistic sense, the concepts of these authors are incompatible (Gališanka, 2019). Rawls is open-minded and an advocate of social democracy, while Nozick is said to be a libertarian and conservative. From a philosophical view, they disagree with utilitarianism because it eliminates the existing distinctions between people. The authors also support independent rights but have several outstanding differences. Rawls constitutes his ideologies based on Kant’s rule-based ethics, while Nozick creates his theory based on Locke’s concept of natural rights (Salahuddin,2018). Nozick utilizes an exchange model of justice while Rawls keeps to an allocation model of general fairness.

Nozick’s ideologies do not seek distribution to correspond with ethics, wants, and utility to society since he believes individuals may have things by fate or as a gift when they are born. Rawls’s theory states that the alternatives of his principles are constructed on what an individual can acquire because of a specific set of rules and regulations. Therefore, Rawls’s approach to justice is identified as inaccurate if any historical accepted justice theory is correct. Altogether, Nozick’s ideologies can be said to be a depiction in which many fundamental details are not well actualized and presented (Salahuddin, 2018). Nozick strongly believes in personal freedom and calls for a country that upholds the constitution and does not engage in anything to redistribute the wealth of individuals.

Both theorists may potentially agree by starting their arguments with a broad statement of the importance of justice. Nozick was more or less reserved on Rawls’s first principal liberty while disapproving of the principle of difference. Meaning they both agree that there should be justice and equity within modern society. Concerning state redistribution of wealth, Nozick appears to agree that his entitlement concept is inadequate to contradict his ideas for a redistributive state (Nozick, 1973). He further suggests that some collective ownerships were received differently, such as authentic action of unfair conquest.

Nozick and Rawls share a perception of political ideology as a movement in producing theoretical speculations, with low regard for the actual establishment of justice in human nature. For example, conforming with the likely wants required by different human beings. Therefore, both authors estimate a community’s accomplishments by how firmly its constitution and policies comply with the representation rather than if such laws bring about ethically magnified outcomes. They followed Immanuel Kant‘s dictum, which states that justice should be allowed to conquer even if it destroys the world.


There exist various discussions and concepts of what fairness entails and ways used to establish a country built on ethics and justice. Prominent ideologists John Rawls and Robert Nozick provide compelling and fascinating concepts concerning the principles of fairness. Rawal’s ideas issue a more practical basis for the actual implementation of social problems and criminal justice. A fundamental attribute of Rawls’ concepts is their usefulness and ability to apply them in a real sense to reach social democracy. For example, if applied to a state, it prospers by offering individuals the chance to create equal and unbiased principles. These concepts are then utilized in solving social problems and improving the standards of criminal justice. The author provides an effective means of reaching righteous decisions by avoiding several issues relating to a utilitarian system.


Gališanka, A. (2019). John Rawls: The Path to a Theory of Justice. Harvard University Press.

Nozick, R. (1973). Distributive justice. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 3(1), 45–126.

Rawls, J. (1985). Justice as Fairness: political, not metaphysical. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 14(3), 223–251.

Salahuddin. A, (2018). Robert Nozick’s entitlement theory of justice, libertarian rights and the minimal state: A Critical Evaluation. Journal of Civil & Legal Sciences, 07(01), 1–234.

Sari, C. M. A. (2020). Rawls’s Theory of justice and its relevance in analyzing injustice on ethnic phenomenon. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 7(3), 210.

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