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Essays by Rawls and Nozick Analysis


The term justice is very controversial and, in a high manner, provocative word. This fact becomes evident after a careful reading of the essay by Rawls and answers to it by Nozick. These two of the greatest thinkers had the most significant effect on modern politics and topical debate (Varden, 2016); as a result, they vastly contributed to the contemporary understanding of justice. Each of the works revived the interest of society to philosophical questions of justice. In this essay, I will summarize the positions of both authors, compare their thoughts, and finally, offer my understanding of social problems and criminal justice as a whole based on the knowledge acquired from both works.

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Summary of Rawls’s arguments

First, I start by summarizing the arguments which Rawls puts forward. The author first commences with the explanation of the concept of “justice as fairness,” which he sees as a political instrument generally appropriate for the simple unit of a democratic society (Rawls, 1985). Rawls believes that people can come up with the fairest and just decisions if they are behind of “veil of ignorance,” which is an elegant name for being unaware of social status, race, financial position (Corlett, 2016). In other words, what he states is that if people do not aim to maximize their profit and minimize their discomfort, they can make quite justified decisions.

The author suggests two main principles to which the resolutions of the person behind the “veil of ignorance” will conform: the liberty principle and the difference principle. He defines the former term in the following way: “each person has an equal right to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties which is compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for all” (Rawls, 2016). It is based upon the fundamental freedoms which everyone possesses by the right of his or her birth—moreover, the rights of one persona end where the freedom of the other begin.

On the other hand, the difference principle can be described as a somewhat socialistic approach (Varden, 2016). In essence, both social and economic inequalities must be equally distributed among the citizens, so the benefits and drawbacks are experienced by every single person. It should be noted that although this principle is associated with a socialistic view, it is definitely designed for a society with capitalistic order. The reason is that the difference principle considers the difference between various classes of society. To conclude, Rawls’s term “veil of ignorance” is an efficient tool for understanding in which direction governments and communities should work to become equal and fair.

Summary of Nozick’s arguments

Secondly, I consider the arguments by Nozick, who is Rawls’s opponent and recognized thinker. As it was with the “theory of justice,” this author puts forward the principles on which his “entitlement theory” is based. There are three of them, namely “a principle of justice in acquisition,” “a principle of justice in transfer,” and “a principle of rectification of justice” (Nozick, 1973). As Nozick takes the position of following a fundamental moral principle associated with Immanuel Kant, he describes individual human beings as self-owners (Varden, 2016). According to Nozick (1973), the first principle is a process by which the things in the world become appropriate objects; the second postulate states that everyone should have a right to trade his property; and the last one guarantees that there are correct inequities in the view of the first two principles. To sum up, individual rights ought to be sacrificed in the name of society and balance in it.


Writing of the points where the two philosophies disagree, the main is the treatment of law for the redistribution of wealth. To replace Rawls’ “difference principle,” Nozick suggests his “principle of acquisition” (Corlett, 2016). Strictly speaking, according to the latter, the individual’s property can be justified if only they are contributed by acquisition or voluntary. Another fundamental discrepancy is that Nozick critiques his peer for the statement that successful people have to share the perks of their hard work with less prosperous ones (Varden, 2016). In such a way, the authors mainly disagreed on property owning matters.


However, there is some agreement between the authors, which will be discussed further. Indeed, both theories perceive the primacy of justice as given. Furthermore, both approaches did not consider the practical side of the question. For instance, the opinions generalized the needs of actual human beings, although it is evident that everyone is special and unique. Their abstract results in the perfect moral outcome rather than real social welfare.

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Unsolved questions of the theories

Personally, I have some problems with both of these theories. To begin with, issues of theory by Rawls: the state described by these principles is likely to end up being vulnerable to excessive bureaucracy and taxation. Moreover, the system is going to promote the free-riders. Considering human nature and the quickly growing population of the world, it is an inevitable process. The growing state also creates difficulty in accounting as with time, and it becomes harder to keep fairness for all. Next, there are similar problems with distributive justice: as mentioned above, the theory tries to fit all people into one description with the same needs, ambitions, and comforts. The question of social security stands as there was no mentioning of it. Some baseline level of governmental support is significant in the view of motivation to keep loyalty to the state. The author did not mention pure constituents of the stability of society, such as minimal or maximum working hours, food and drug inspection, pollution regulations, polygamy allowance, religious necessities. The major drawback of these theories is the absence of practical consideration.

My workable framework

I would like to offer my view of the practical application of social prosperity and criminal justice. First, some examples from world history should be reminded. Most of the significant economic growth examples were linked to a severe violation of human rights (Colonisation of India by England, Soviet regime camps, etc.). Taken into consideration, the first and foremost aim of philosophical politics should be social welfare rather than an economic miracle or moral perfectness. Also, it should be noted that if the government decides to provide everyone the accommodation, the environment will be lost. Thus it is better to learn the reasonable consumption of resources, which means the aspiration to consume less and reuse the existing stuff. It is hard not to agree with Rawls’s difference principle, so I believe that world governments should consider the main postulates of this principle carefully.

Moreover, as the latest evidence has demonstrated, an adequate amount of information about the citizens helps the government to make just decisions during emergency time. What I mean is that South Korea and Germany are the only countries that genuinely coped with the situation of the pandemic. Although they did collect the information about the movements of citizens and thus somewhat restricted their freedoms, it was indispensable for the sake of the entire population. I am convinced that the government should collect personal information from the residents of the country without invading their privacy.

Criminal justice is another significant problem for political philosophy to solve. Assuming that all people of the country agree to abide by laws and those legislative matters are logical, it is fair to adapt strict punishment for every lawbreaker. Additionally, people should be aware of those rules and penalties; because of that, it is crucial to use such tools as social ads, lessons at schools, mandatory pieces of training in corporations.


To conclude, Rawls and Nozick presented genuine pieces of political philosophy in their works, which are the firm basis for modern and future thinkers. Their ideas have some differences and similarities, as well as some questions to ask from both of the authors. However, generally agreeing with them, I have thought about my view on political philosophy. With the principles by Rawls and Nozick in mind, I suppose such pieces of philosophy should be based on the existing evidence and experience. Thus there are three most important rules to follow: considering social welfare above any economic advantages and moral beliefs, reasonable consumption of resources, and stringent laws. The first fragment guarantees peace in the society; the second one helps to create a sustainable environment (which is of great importance as the resources are to be scarce); the third basis prevents people from crimes and keeps the government aware of its residents in case of emergency.


Corlett, A. J. (2016). Equality and Liberty: Analysing Rawls and Nozick. Springer.

Nozick, R. (1973). Distributive justice. Philosophy & Public Affairs, vol. 3, no. 1 pp. 45-126.

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Rawls, R. (1985). Justice as fairness: Political not metaphysical. Philosophy & Public Affairs, vol. 14, no. 3 pp. 223-251.

Varden, H. (2016). Rawls Vs. Nozick Vs. Kant on Domestic Economic Justice. In Faggion A., Pinzani A., Sanchez Madrid N. (Eds.), Kant and Social Policies pp. 93-123. Palgrave Macmillan.

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