Can the Unjust Be Rectified? Robert Nozick, in his essay Rights and the Entitlement Theory, discusses the rights of individuals and just acquisition. He makes it clear that these rights and/or acquisitions cannot be taken away by anyone, either by an individual or by a collective identity such as the state. Individual people and the state have an obligation to not interfere with one?s rights or just acquisitions. As long as one does not interfere with another?s life and intrinsic rights then no one else shall interfere with another?s life, it is a reciprocal obligation. Furthermore, the government should be involved minimally in the life of the individual. According to Nozick, the state should be ?…limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on…?(p. 210).
Also, according to Nozick each individual has the right to choose what to do with what one has, as long as it was acquired justly. Therefore, if a freely organized group of people owned a (communal) house, assuming they acquired it justly, what would give anyone else the right to take it away and redistribute it? (And moreover, in this specific instance what other rights and/or just acquisitions are violated?) In 1993 the administration at Denison University decided to make the fraternity houses non-residential. Fraternity members that had acquired the houses justly would no longer be able to live in them. I believe the acquisition of the houses from one generation to the next was just because initially someone financed the house, and then through initiation to the fraternity, and thus through a belief in the fraternity?s ideals, they ?earned? residency in the house. Moreover, they paid for utilities, upkeep, and basic needs of the house. Despite this just acquisition the school, or government in this example, according to Nozick unjustly ?took? back the houses. This leads to the essay A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls. In his essay Rawls discusses the principles of justice and equality in society. Rawls wants everyone to start in a specific hypothetical situation with two principles of justice, among other things. The first principle is as follows: ?each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others? (p. 551).
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And, the second principle is as follows: ?social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone?s advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all? (p. 551).
According to the first principle everyone has the right to basic liberties; included in these liberties is ?…freedom of the person along with the right to hold (personal) property; and freedom from arbitrary arrest and seizure…? (p. 551).
The dilemma arises again, how does the University account for the seizure and redistribution of an organization?s private property? For Rawls, the first principle comes before the second, ?[T]his ordering means that a departure from the institutions of equal liberty required by the first principle cannot be justified by, or compensated for, by greater social and economic advantages? (p. 551).
Here, I believe it is evident that the University, out of benefit of better social and economic advantages, unjustifiably seized the fraternity houses. The University benefited economically because they could use the fraternity houses to accommodate students; and they benefited socially because ?frats? were no longer a central theme in Denison society. According to both Rawls and Nozick the school had no right in seizing the houses. Moreover, according to Nozick the state, Denison University Administrators, is supposed to be protecting against such unjust acts. This is the most evident violation of basic rights within this example, however there is a more serious violation of basic rights that many seem to overlook. In Nozick?s theory of rights and entitlement is the notion of side constraints. ?Side constraints upon action reflect the underlying Kantian principle that individuals are ends and not merely means; they may not be sacrificed or used for the achieving of other ends without their consent? (p. 210).
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In terms of my example I believe the University was exploiting the fraternities as ?ends and not merely means,? because they used the fraternities for their own means without consent. While at the same time they deprived the fraternities of the means by which they had been working towards some end. Yet another aspect of Nozick?s essay comes to the surface here, the notion that each person is free from any interference concerning the pursuit of one?s own life (p. 209).
It seems, according to the above-mentioned author?s notions that the University is being unjust. First, by taking away private property; then by indirectly denying the freedom to associate; by exploiting the fraternities as means to their own ends; and finally, the freedom from interference concerning the pursuit of one?s own life. This questions the University as a just and fair state. How can the University have the right to take away basic liberties? It seems to me that Denison University is acting more like a dictatorship than a democracy here. It uses the Denison population as means for its own ends, and the University simply becomes an economically driven dictatorship. Perhaps it could be argued that the seizure of the houses was more of an Utilitarian move; the school gets more revenue from room and board and the students get a better education. However, who ever said the students wanted a better education? The real dilemma I still retain is one concerning the principle of rectification. Will the University ever justify its unjustifiable acquisition? Can the University rectify the situation by any other means other than giving the houses back? What is the correct way to justify the University?s unjust ?mistake??
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