John Rawls opens his influential A Theory of Justice (1971) with a proposition he regards as beyond dispute: “In a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.” Robert Nozick begins Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) with an equally firm proposition: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights). So strong and far-reaching are these rights they rise the question of what, if anything, the state and its officials may do.” These two premises are somewhat different in content, and they lead to radically different prescriptions. Rawls would allow rigid social control to secure as close an approach as possible to the equal distribution of society’s rewards. Nozick sees the ideal society as one governed by a minimal state, empowered only to protect its citizens from force and fraud, and with unequal distribution of rewards wholly permissible. Rawls rejects the meritocracy; Nozick accepts it as desirable except in those cases where local communities voluntarily decide to experiment with egalitarianism. Like everyone else, philosophers measure their personal emotional responses to various alternatives as though consulting a hidden oracle.
Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1978, pp. 5-6