Rawls and Nozick on Liberty & Equality

Prof. James Otteson discusses the philosophers John Rawls and Robert Nozick, and their different views on liberty and equality. Rawls considered equality to be the moral benchmark for all social and political institutions, and felt that any deviation from equality must be specially justified. Nozick, on the other hand, considered liberty to be the more important value. He pointed out that there is an inevitable tension between liberty and equality: to maintain equal distribution in society, a central planner would have to constantly interfere with people’s personal choices. Alternatively, if a central planner left people free to make independent choices, any patterns of equality would ultimately be disrupted.


  1. taschrant

    I know true equality can never exist, but does liberty make people closer to equality as an unintended consequence?

  2. Anonymous

    We should remember, however, that even John Rawls based liberty BEFORE equality. However, in contrast to Nozick, he meant by liberty only a set of “basic liberties.” These did not include uninhibited economic liberties. The libertarian sense of liberty is of course much more stringent. The important point is to remember that John Rawls was also a liberal in the European sense, although on the “leftist” end of the spectrum.

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