A Challenge to Neo-Lockeanism

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 18 (4):697-710 (1988)
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The neo-Lockean justification of the highly unequal distribution of income in capitalist societies is based upon two key premises: that people are the rightful owners of their labor and talents, and that the external world was, in the state of nature, unowned, and therefore up for grabs by people, who could rightfully appropriate parts of it subject to a ‘Lockean proviso.’ The argument is presented by Nozick. Counter-proposals to Nozick’s, for the most part, have either denied the premise that people should morally be viewed as the owners of their talents, or have challenged Nozick’s Lockean proviso.Rawls, and to a more limited extent Ronald Dworkin, deny self-ownership. As Rawls writes: ‘…the difference principle represents, in effect, an agreement to regard the distribution of natural talents as a common asset … The naturally advantaged are not to gain merely because they are more gifted, but only to cover the costs of training and education and for using their endowments in ways that help the less fortunate as well. No one deserves his greater natural capacity nor merits a more favorable starting place in society.’ Behind the Rawlsian veil of ignorance, those who deliberate about justice are deprived of knowledge about characteristics whose distribution is morally arbitrary. In Dworkin’s proposal for resource egalitarianism, agents calculate the insurance policy they would hypothetically ask for, were they denied knowledge of what talents they will draw in the birth lottery. Compensation for unequal talents is, according to Dworkin, properly made by taxing and transferring income according to the way it would have been distributed as a consequence of such insurance. Dworkin’s veil of ignorance is thin, because agents in the appropriate posture for deliberating about income distribution know their preferences and attitudes toward risk, but not their talents. For both Rawls and Dworkin, the self-ownership premise is challenged by constructing a veil of ignorance in which people are deprived of knowledge of certain personal characteristics, knowledge of which would bias their opinions, from a moral viewpoint.



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Distributive Justice and the Complex Structure of Ownership.John Chrstman - 1994 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 23 (3):225-250.

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References found in this work

Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - Philosophy 52 (199):102-105.
What is equality? Part 1: Equality of welfare.Ronald Dworkin - 1981 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 10 (3):185-246.
Equality of talent.John E. Roemer - 1985 - Economics and Philosophy 1 (2):151-.

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