In Kant and Social Policies. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 93-123 (2016)

Helga Varden
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Robert Nozick initiated one of the most inspired and inspiring discussions in political philosophy with his 1974 response in Anarchy, State, and Utopia to John Rawls’s 1971 account of distributive justice in A Theory of Justice. These two works have informed an enormous amount of subsequent, especially liberal, discussions of economic justice, where Nozick’s work typically functions as a resource for those defending more right-wing (libertarian) positions, whereas Rawls’s has been used to defend various left-wing stances. Common to these discussions, as found in politics generally (where similar kinds of arguments frequently are used to defend right and the left-wing policies and conclusions) is that they end in rather stubborn stalemates: the right defending minimal states while the left defends more extensive states. Interesting, too, is that both Nozick and Rawls take themselves to be consistent with, inspired by, and furthering Kant’s freedom project in the development of their own theories of justice. In this paper, I start by outlining the structures of these debates with an emphasis on the original disagreements between Nozick and Rawls. I then show how neither theory actually employed Kant’s own theory of justice, but rather drew on or out (presumed) implications of his ethical theory. In the final sections, I argue that if Nozick and Rawls had instead used Kant’s theory of justice and not his ethics, not only would their individual theories have been stronger, but they could have found ways of overcoming the unproductive stalemates that characterize their own as well as subsequent related discussions of economic justice as we currently find them in much scholarly and contemporary political debate.
Keywords Nozick  Kant's theory of justice  Distributive Justice  Economic Justice  Rawls
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