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1 Libertarian Papers 1 (2009)

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VOL. 1, ARi. No. 1 (2009)


  PRESENT PAYMENTS, PAST WRONGS: CORRECTING LOOSE
           TALK ABOUT NoZICK AND RECTIFICATION

                            JAN NARVESON*


The Problem Stated

     AcCORDING 1O NOZICK (and Locke and innumerable others), what
has come to be termed distributive justice is a matter of goods going to
those who made or found them, or to those who get them from others by
agreement, e.g. by buying or selling them. No other fundamental ways of
arriving at ownership of anything are morally legitimate-since, by definition,
the only other ways there are would involve compelling some to give goods
to others, contrar to the general libertarian principle that Nozick (and many
others, including the present writer) suppose to be the most fundamental
general principle of morals. But of course things sometimes go wrong, and
people get things by theft, assassination, fraud, and so forth. When this
happens, what should be done about it? Nozick calls upon a third category,
rectification. The simplest way of putting this idea is that if A unjustly acquires
x from B, then A may (if necessary) be compelled to restore x to B. The idea
can be made more precise: to the extent that A has illegitimately worsened the
situation of B, rectification is accomplished if A brings it about that B is no
worse off, given the actions done with a view to rectification, than B would have
been had the injustice not occurred in the first place. This last is a tall order,
and not easily accomplished in a wide variety of cases. Indeed, in
conspicuously important cases, it is, in the most direct way, impossible, for in
those cases, B is dead and nothing whatever can be done to make B in

    University of Waterloo. Email: p   aiw   ',. The present article is an
expanded and revised version a paper presented at the Austrian Scholars Conference,
Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Alabama, March 21, 2005, under the title Present
Pa)ments, Past Wrongs: Correcting Impressions from Nozick on Restitution.
    CITE TIHIS ARTICLE \S: Jan Narveson, Present Payments, Past Wrongs: Correcting
Loose Talk about Nozick and Rectification, Libertarian Papers 1, 1 (2009). ONLINE AT:
NA x~v.hlxr tArnu z'trg. TIiis ARTICLE IS subject to a Creative Commons Attribution
3.0 License (crea1ixecrtnnoa orgilicen e


LIBER TARIAN PAPERS

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