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The Issue of Definition of Modern Freedom

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There is no one answer to how modern freedom is defined within political philosophy. In a free country with a modern democracy, political freedom could be defined as justice and fairness. Rawls and Nozick both present a version of negative liberty but offer different views of what freedom is. Both of these two philosophers envision a different role for government on how to enforce and protect their version of freedom. There are two types of liberty; positive and negative. Positive liberty is freedom to act upon one’s will and evolve around entitlement. This freedom is the ability to achieve your goals. Negative liberty is freedom from outside interference and evolves around natural right. This freedom is a zone of non-interference.

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Modern freedom deals with things like money, food or access to services like healthcare and sanitation and who gets to decide who gets what and on what basis. Nozick and Rawls have two separate ideas of freedom. When equality is valued over freedom wealth imbalances in society must have a small gap even at the cost of individual liberty. When freedom is valued over equality individual rights will be respected even when that means accepting large wealth differences.

John Rawls, a 20th century American philosopher, born in Baltimore Maryland, USA in 1921, argued social and economic inequalities are ethically justified if and only if they are of the greatest benefit to the least advantaged members of society. This would create a more level playing field for members of society. People are allowed to engage in a world of economic exchanges that are mutually beneficial and that may result in some people accumulating more wealth than others. Still no one may get ahead at the expense of the needest. Wealth redistribution plays a huge role in his version of freedom, which means a larger role for government. This is a form of need-based justice that focuses specifically on making sure that everyone is actually in a position to achieve their basic needs. So Rawls serves the utilitarian ideal and that no one may be left behind and makes wealth imbalance be strictly controlled into society. In theory this idea works. There’s a problem in this practice though. This means everyone is getting what they need which in theory sounds fair, but in reality favors people in need and puts those less in need at a disadvantage. This form of freedom is actually unfair to those who have gotten the most wealth through hard work. For example a heroin addict may consume tremendous resources. There are methadone clinics to establish and hospital stays to cover. Homeless shelters need to be constructed. All that is expensive and the money must come from somewhere. There will always be those that abuse the system. This brings society to a stand-still and holds everyone back. People cannot move ahead unless the poorest of the poor do. The bottom 1% can hold the rest to infinite ransom. Rawls liberty is mostly taken to be negative liberty.

20th century American philosopher Robert Nozick disagreed with John Rawls’ idea of freedom. To demonstrate why he disagreed, Nozick created an experiment about professional basketball. Wilt Chamberlain, probably the most famous athlete of his day decided that he’d only play under certain conditions. He states he will only play if tickets for games he plays in costs 25 cents more than tickets for games he doesn’t play in. As well Chamberlain will be paid $100,000 more than the other players. He is popular, so more people will show up for games he is playing in even with the extra price. Since he is the draw he is entitled to ask for more money than his teammates. Nozick argues we cannot and should not try to even out the naturally uneven playing field. We may start out with unequal amounts of wealth but were each entitled to the stuff we have, provided we didn’t steal it or obtain it unjustly. So if you are Chamberlain, you are more than entitled to have and want more stuff even if the other players don’t have it. He’s freedom to have more does not cause the others to have less or restrict their freedom to achieve wealth. If his talent at basketball leads to a mass amount of wealth while others go hungry, that’s not his fault. Nozick’s liberty can also be taken as negative liberty.

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Although both Rawls and Nozick’s freedom are considered negative liberty they can be easily differentiated. Rawls believes in a large role for government, especially with the job of redistribution of wealth whereas Nozick’s only role for government would be police protection of private property and legal enforcement of laws and contracts. The other major difference is Rawls believes in his difference principle which is founded on two principles. First, no one is left behind and the less fortunate will receive more whereas the better off will receive less and second everyone has equal opportunity. Nozick however, disagrees completely believes this is unfair to those who are better off. Imagine working your way up from the bottom and finally reaching a point where you’ve amounted a mass of wealth just for someone to take it from you because another member of society was lazy, uneducated and needed a home paid for by the government. Now, you have to pay much more just to carry this member of society and your life’s work becomes much less. For this reason I believe much more in the freedom and ideology Robert Nozick has presented. I do not believe the better off should be punished just for being better off. I believe the less well-off should not hold the better off back. You do not decide how much you have when you start in life but you can definitely decide and work for how much you end with.

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