Nozick’s Wilt Chamberlain Argument

What is Nozick’s Wilt Chamberlain Argument?

The Wilt Chamberlain argument by philosopher Robert Nozick is like a thought puzzle that makes us think about who gets what in society and if that’s fair or not. It asks if letting people freely trade money or things leads to an unfair situation where some people end up with a lot more than others. Nozick tells us about Wilt Chamberlain, a super famous basketball player, to see if it’s right or wrong for him to end up with lots of money just because tons of people are happy to pay to watch him play.

Imagine everyone getting a slice of pie that’s the same size, but then a few people decide to give their slices to someone who entertains them. Is it fair that the entertainer ends up with a giant pie? That’s what Nozick’s Wilt Chamberlain argument is about. It questions if everyone agreeing to this makes it okay, even if it messes up the equal pie slices.

The argument is like questioning a rule at the playground where everyone must share toys equally. If one kid is so good at a game that everyone gives him their toys as a ‘thank you’ for playing, should the teacher step in and make everything equal again? Nozick would say no, because all the kids chose to give their toys away, and the teacher shouldn’t interfere.

Key Arguments

  • Nozick says if we all agree on how to divide money fairly, but then everyone chooses to give some of it to Wilt Chamberlain because he’s an awesome basketball player, Chamberlain will end up with a lot more money than the rest.
  • Even though this new pile of money doesn’t match the fair division we started with, it was made by everyone’s own choices, so Nozick doesn’t see it as unfair.
  • He believes people should be able to use their talents or money as they want, without someone stepping in to rearrange things.

Answer or Resolution

Nozick suggests we might have to accept that when people freely exchange goods or money, it can make patterns of who has what change in ways some think are unfair. But if every single trade or choice along the way was fair, then the end result should be fair too, even if it’s not equal.

Major Criticism

Critics point out that Nozick’s idea only works if we start off on equal footing, but usually, we don’t. They say the real world’s starting point is often unfair with some people having way more due to history or luck, making the argument shaky from the get-go.

Others feel that Nozick doesn’t think enough about our duty to help each other, especially when it’s not about fair trades but about helping those who are in a tough spot through no fault of their own.

Practical Applications

While Nozick’s puzzle is mainly for sparking deep thinking, it does connect to real political and economic views, like those of people who believe in very little government messing with how we use our money or talents.

  • When talking about taxes that aim to even out wealth, some will invoke Nozick’s argument saying that since the money was earned fairly, the government shouldn’t redistribute it just to make things equal.
  • The argument also supports the idea that once you own something fairly, it’s yours to do with as you please, without someone else saying what you can or cannot do with it.
  • In charity, Nozick would say it’s best when people choose to give, not because they’re forced to.

Why is it Important

Understanding Nozick’s argument helps us think about the balance between our freedom to choose and the need for fairness in society. It can make us question when and how it’s right for the government or others to step in and change things.

For the average person, it’s about understanding why sometimes things don’t seem equal and thinking about what kind of fairness we really want. Do we care more about free choice or making sure everyone ends up with the same amount? Or maybe something in between?

Related Topics

Other ideas that relate to Nozick’s Wilt Chamberlain argument and can help us understand it better include:

  • Libertarianism: A political philosophy that says people should be as free as possible, especially in how they use their money and property.
  • John Rawls’ Theory of Justice: A different view that says society should be set up to help the least well-off, which often means adjusting who has what.
  • Meritocracy: The idea that people should get ahead based on their abilities and effort, not because of unfair advantages.
  • Redistributive Taxation: A way of tweaking taxes so that those with more wealth help support those with less, aiming for a more equal society.


Nozick’s Wilt Chamberlain argument is about much more than just a basketball player making loads of cash; it’s a deeper look at fairness and choice in our lives. It asks if we’re okay with some people having a lot just because others freely gave it to them. It’s an important part of how we think about justice, and even as young people, we can grasp these big questions and think about what they mean for our world.

Summing up, Nozick’s thought puzzle isn’t about making things simple, but it’s all about getting us to think about the complex ways we decide what’s fair and free in the world we share. It’s not just for philosophers—it’s a conversation every one of us can join in on, shaping our society for the better.