Can the Unjust be Rectified


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 ones rights or just acquisitions. As long as
one does not interfere with anothers life and intrinsic
rights then no one else shall interfere with anothers 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 fraternitys 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). 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 everyones 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 organizations private
property?
For Rawls, the first principle comes before the second,
This 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 Nozicks 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). 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 Nozicks essay comes
to the surface here, the notion that each person is free
from any interference concerning the pursuit of ones own
life (p. 209).
It seems, according to the above-mentioned authors
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 ones 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 Universitys unjust mistake?