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81 Nw. U. L. Rev. 363 (1986-1987)
Turning Rawls into Nozick and Back Again

handle is hein.journals/illlr81 and id is 371 raw text is: Copyright 1987 by Northwestern University, School of Law               Printed in U.S.A.
Northwestern University Law Review                                       Vol. 81, No. 3
VOLUME 81                         SPRING 1987                        NUMBER 3
John Stick*
The differences in the political philosophies of John Rawls and Rob-
ert Nozick are often attributed to differences in their initial assumptions
and methods of argument.1 Nozick himself criticizes Rawls for con-
structing the original position'2 in such a way that one cannot seriously
consider Nozick's theory.3 Alasdair MacIntyre has stated that Rawls'
and Nozick's theories are incommensurable.4 In this Article I will at-
tempt to demonstrate that Rawls and Nozick are not incommensurable,
and that their disagreements are not attributable to their starting points
or methodologies.
To show how Rawls and Nozick are commensurable, I will demon-
strate how each can argue as convincingly for his own theory from the
* Visiting Associate Professor of Law, University of Southern California Law Center; Associate
Professor of Law, Tulane University School of Law. B.A., B.S., Michigan State University (1975);
M.A. (1977), J.D. (1980), University of California at Los Angeles. I would like to thank Lawrence
Alexander, John Dzienkowski, Richard Epstein, Sheldon Leader, Sanford Levinson, and Carol Rose
for reading a draft and offering comments and suggestions.
I See generally A. MACINTYRE, AFTER VIRTUE 244-52 (2d ed. 1984); R. NozICK, ANARCHY,
2 Rawls argues for his theory of justice using a hypothetical situation of equality where individ-
uals would jointly choose the principles which will regulate society. This hypothetical situation,
which Rawls calls the original position, is the counterpart to the state of nature in social contract
theory. Rawls designs the original position to embody our common sense notions of unbiased moral
reasoning. He attempts to demonstrate that in the original position, only his theory of justice could
be chosen. See J. RAwLs, supra note 1, at 11-12, 17-22; see also infra text accompanying notes 17-
3 As Nozick describes it, Rawls has designed the original position so that end-result principles
of justice are fundamental, and entitlement theories like Nozick's cannot be selected. R. NozlCK,
supra note 1, at 198-204.
4 A. MACINTYRE, supra note 1, at 244-52.

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