Nozick’s Wilt Chamberlain Argument


Nozick's famous Wilt Chamberlain argument is an attempt to show that patterned principles of just distribution are incompatible with liberty. He asks us to assume that the original distribution in society, D1 is ordered by our choice of patterned principle, for instance Rawls's Difference Principle. Wilt Chamberlain is an extremely popular basketball player in this society, and Nozick further assumes 1 million people are willing to freely give WC 25 cents each to watch him play basketball over the course of a season (we assume no other transactions occur). Wilt now has $250,000, a much larger sum than any of the other people in the society. The new distribution in society, call it D2, obviously is no longer ordered by our favored pattern that ordered D1. However Nozick argues that D2 is just. For if each agent freely exchanges some of his D1 share with WC and D1 was a just distribution (we know D1 was just, because it was ordered according to your favorite patterned principle of distribution), how can D2 fail to be a just distribution? Thus Nozick argues that what the Wilt Chamberlain example shows is that no patterned principle of just distribution will be compatible with liberty. In order to preserve the pattern which arranged D1, the state will have to continually interfere with people's ability to freely exchange their D1 shares. For any exchange of D1 shares explicitly involves violating the pattern that originally ordered it.