Robert Nozick (/ˈnzɪk/; November 16, 1938 – January 23, 2002) was an American philosopher. He held the Joseph Pellegrino University Professorship at Harvard University,[3] and was president of the American Philosophical Association. He is best known for his books Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), a libertarian answer to John Rawls' A Theory of Justice (1971), in which Nozick also presented his own theory of utopia as one in which people can freely choose the rules of the society they enter into, and Philosophical Explanations (1981), which included his counterfactual theory of knowledge. His other work involved ethics, decision theory, philosophy of mind, metaphysics and epistemology. His final work before his death, Invariances (2001), introduced his theory of evolutionary cosmology, by which he argues invariances, and hence objectivity itself, emerged through evolution across possible worlds.[4]

Robert Nozick
Nozick in 1977
Born(1938-11-16)November 16, 1938
New York City, U.S.
DiedJanuary 23, 2002(2002-01-23) (aged 63)
EducationColumbia University (BA)
Princeton University (PhD)
Oxford University
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Doctoral advisorsCarl Gustav Hempel
Main interests
Political philosophy, ethics, epistemology
Notable ideas
Utility monster, experience machine, entitlement theory of justice, Nozick's Lockean proviso,[1] Wilt Chamberlain argument, paradox of deontology,[2] deductive closure, Nozick's four conditions on knowledge, rejection of the principle of epistemic closure

Personal life edit

Nozick was born in Brooklyn to a family of Jewish descent. His mother was born Sophie Cohen, and his father was a Jew from a Russian shtetl who had been born with the name Cohen and who ran a small business.[5]

Nozick attended the public schools in Brooklyn. He was then educated at Columbia College, Columbia University (A.B. 1959, summa cum laude), where he studied with Sidney Morgenbesser; Princeton University (PhD 1963) under Carl Hempel; and at Oxford University as a Fulbright Scholar (1963–1964). At one point, he joined the Young People’s Socialist League. In addition, at Columbia he founded the local chapter of the Student League for Industrial Democracy, which in 1960 changed its name to Students for a Democratic Society.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in 1959, he married Barbara Fierer. They had two children, Emily and David. The Nozicks eventually divorced; Nozick later married the poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg.

Nozick died in 2002 after a prolonged struggle with stomach cancer.[6] He was interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Career and works edit

Political philosophy edit

For Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) Nozick received a National Book Award in the category Philosophy and Religion.[7] There, Nozick argues that only a minimal state limited to the narrow functions of protection against "force, fraud, theft, and administering courts of law"[8] could be justified, as any more extensive state would violate people's rights. For Nozick, a distribution of goods is just if brought about by free exchange among consenting adults from a just starting position, even if large inequalities subsequently emerge from the process.

Nozick challenged the partial conclusion of John Rawls's Second Principle of Justice of his A Theory of Justice, that "social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are to be of greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society." Anarchy, State, and Utopia claims a heritage from John Locke's Second Treatise on Government and seeks to ground itself upon a natural law doctrine, but differs with Locke in several ways. Nozick appealed also to the Kantian idea that people should be treated as an end in themselves (what he termed 'separatedness of persons'), not merely as a means to an end.

Most controversially, and unlike Locke and Kant, Nozick argued that consistent application of self-ownership and non-aggression principle[9] would allow and regard as valid consensual or non-coercive enslavement contracts between adults. He rejected the notion of inalienable rights advanced by Locke and most contemporary capitalist-oriented libertarian academics, writing in Anarchy, State, and Utopia that the typical notion of a "free system" would allow adults to voluntarily enter into non-coercive slave contracts.[10][11][12][13]

Epistemology edit

In Philosophical Explanations (1981), which received the Phi Beta Kappa Society's Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, Nozick provided novel accounts of knowledge, free will, personal identity, the nature of value, and the meaning of life. He also put forward an epistemological system which attempted to deal with both the Gettier problem and those posed by skepticism. This highly influential argument eschewed justification as a necessary requirement for knowledge.[14]: ch. 7 

Nozick gives four conditions for S's knowing that P (S=Subject / P=Proposition):

  1. P is true
  2. S believes that P
  3. If it were the case that (not-P), S would not believe that P
  4. If it were the case that P, S would believe that P

Nozick's third and fourth conditions are counterfactuals. He called this the "tracking theory" of knowledge. Nozick believed the counterfactual conditionals bring out an important aspect of our intuitive grasp of knowledge: For any given fact, the believer's method (M) must reliably track the truth despite varying relevant conditions. In this way, Nozick's theory is similar to reliabilism. Due to certain counterexamples that could otherwise be raised against these counterfactual conditions, Nozick specified that:

  1. If P weren't the case and S were to use M to arrive at a belief whether or not P, then S wouldn't believe, via M, that P.
  2. If P were the case and S were to use M to arrive at a belief whether or not P, then S would believe, via M, that P.
  3. [15]

A major feature of Nozick's theory of knowledge is his rejection of the principle of deductive closure. This principle states that if S knows X and S knows that X implies Y, then S knows Y. Nozick's truth tracking conditions do not allow for the principle of deductive closure.

Later books edit

The Examined Life (1989), pitched to a broader public, explores love, death, faith, reality, and the meaning of life. According to Stephen Metcalf, Nozick expresses serious misgivings about capitalist libertarianism, going so far as to reject much of the foundations of the theory on the grounds that personal freedom can sometimes only be fully actualized via a collectivist politics and that wealth is at times justly redistributed via taxation to protect the freedom of the many from the potential tyranny of an overly selfish and powerful few.[16] As a kind of compromise, Nozick suggests that citizens who are opposed to wealth redistribution that funds programs they oppose should be able to opt out of funding them by giving the same amount of money—plus a 5% surcharge—to alternative government-approved charities.[17]

However, Jeff Riggenbach has noted that in an interview conducted in July 2001, Nozick said he had never stopped self-identifying as a libertarian. Roderick Long reported that in his last book, Invariances,

[Nozick] identified voluntary cooperation as the 'core principle' of ethics, maintaining that the duty not to interfere with another person's 'domain of choice' is '[a]ll that any society should (coercively) demand'; higher levels of ethics, involving positive benevolence, represent instead a 'personal ideal' that should be left to 'a person's own individual choice and development.' And that certainly sounds like an attempt to embrace libertarianism all over again. My own view is that Nozick's thinking about these matters evolved over time and that what he wrote at any given time was an accurate reflection of what he was thinking at that time.[18]

Furthermore, Julian Sanchez reported that "Nozick always thought of himself as a libertarian in a broad sense, right up to his final days, even as his views became somewhat less 'hardcore.'"[19]

Nozick’s 1993 book, The Nature of Rationality, (1993) presents a theory of practical reason that attempts to embellish notoriously spartan classical decision theory. His Socratic Puzzles (1997) collected years of papers that range in topic from Ayn Rand and Austrian economics to animal rights. Dag Herbjørnsrud claims that "social ties are deeply interconnected with vital parts of Nozick's later philosophy" and argues that these two books are a development of The Examined Life.[20]

Nozick's final production, Invariances (2001), applies insights from physics and biology to questions of objectivity in such areas as the nature of necessity and moral value.

Utilitarianism edit

Nozick created the thought experiment of the "utility monster" to show that average utilitarianism could lead to a situation where the needs of the vast majority were sacrificed for one individual. He also wrote a version of what was essentially a previously known thought experiment, the experience machine, in an attempt to show that ethical hedonism was false. Nozick asked us to imagine that "superduper neuropsychologists" have figured out a way to stimulate a person's brain to induce pleasurable experiences.[14]: 210–11  We would not be able to tell that these experiences were not real. He asks us, if we were given the choice, would we choose a machine-induced experience of a wonderful life over real life? Nozick says no, then asks whether we have reasons not to plug into the machine and concludes that since we desire to be really impressed by things and not just feel something pleasurable, it does not seem to be rational to plug in, hence ethical hedonism must be false.

Philosophical method edit

Nozick was notable for the exploratory style of his philosophizing and for his methodological ecumenism. Often content to raise tantalizing philosophical possibilities and then leave judgment to the reader, Nozick was also notable for drawing from literature outside of philosophy (e.g., economics, physics, evolutionary biology).[21]

Invariances edit

In his 2001 work, Invariances, Nozick introduces his theory of truth, in which he leans towards a deflationary theory of truth, but argues that objectivity arises through being invariant under various transformations. For example, space-time is a significant objective fact because an interval involving both temporal and spatial separation is invariant, whereas no simpler interval involving only temporal or only spatial separation is invariant under Lorentz transformations. Nozick argues that invariances, and hence objectivity itself, emerged through a theory of evolutionary cosmology across possible worlds.[22]

Popular culture edit

In the 23rd episode of HBO's show The Sopranos, a eyewitness to one of Tony Soprano's crimes is seen at home reading Anarchy, State, and Utopia, by Robert Nozick. Dani Rodrik uses Bo Rothstein's view to point out that the TV show runners take a position in the debate by how they showed the eyewitness reacting to finding out the man they pointed out as the culprit of the crime he saw was actually the local mafia boss, immediately after the book appears on screen[23].

Bibliography edit

  • Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) ISBN 0-631-19780-X
  • Philosophical Explanations (1981) ISBN 0-19-824672-2
  • The Examined Life (1989) ISBN 0-671-72501-7
  • The Nature of Rationality (1993/1995) ISBN 0-691-02096-5
  • Socratic Puzzles (1997) ISBN 0-674-81653-6
  • Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World (2001/2003) ISBN 0-674-01245-3

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ Mack, Eric (May 30, 2019). "Robert Nozick's Political Philosophy". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University – via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  2. ^ "How can a concern for the non-violation of C [i.e. some deontological constraint] lead to refusal to violate C even when this would prevent other more extensive violations of C?": Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, Basic Books (1974), p. 30 as quoted by Ulrike Heuer, "Paradox of Deontology, Revisited", in: Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics. Oxford University Press (2011).
  3. ^ "Robert Nozick, 1938-2002". Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, November 2002: 76(2).
  4. ^ Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers, Volume 1, edited by John R. Shook, Thoemmes Press, 2005, p.1838
  5. ^ "Professor Robert Nozick". Daily Telegraph. 2002. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  6. ^ For biographies, memorials, and obituaries see:
  7. ^ "National Book Awards – 1975" Archived September 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. National Book Foundation. Retrieved March 8, 2012.
  8. ^ Feser, Edward. "Robert Nozick (1938—2002)". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  9. ^ Nozick, Robert (1974). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Basic Books. p. 34. In this subsection, Nozick makes a case for forceful self-defence, which he explicitly states being compatible with non-aggression principle.
  10. ^ Ellerman, David (September 2005). "Translatio versus Concessio: Retrieving the Debate about Contracts of Alienation with an Application to Today's Employment Contract" (PDF). Politics & Society. Sage Publications. 35 (3): 449–80. doi:10.1177/0032329205278463. S2CID 158624143. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  11. ^ A summary of the political philosophy of Robert Nozick by R. N. Johnson Archived February 4, 2002, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Jonathan Wolff (October 25, 2007). "Robert Nozick, Libertarianism, And Utopia"
  13. ^ Nozick on Newcomb's Problem and Prisoners' Dilemma by S. L. Hurley Archived March 1, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ a b Schmidtz, David (2002). Robert Nozick. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-00671-6.
  15. ^ Keith Derose, Solving the Skeptical Problem
  16. ^ Metcalf, Stephen (June 24, 2011). "The Liberty Scam: Why even Robert Nozick, the philosophical father of libertarianism, gave up on the movement he inspired". Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  17. ^ Nozick, Robert (1989). "The Zigzag of Politics", Chapter XXV of The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-72501-3
  18. ^ Riggenbach, Jeff (November 26, 2010). "Anarchy, State, and Robert Nozick". Mises Daily. Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  19. ^ Julian Sanchez, "Nozick, Libertarianism, and Thought Experiments".
  20. ^ Herbjørnsrud, Dag (2002). Leaving Libertarianism: Social Ties in Robert Nozick's New Philosophy. Oslo, Norway: University of Oslo.
  21. ^ Williams, Bernard. "Cosmic Philosopher". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  22. ^ Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers, Volume 1, edited by John R. Shook, A&C Black, 2005, p.1838
  23. ^ Rodrik, Dani (September 5, 2009). "Tony Soprano and Robert Nozick". Dani Rodrik's weblog.

Further reading edit

External links edit