Nozick on theories of punishment

I am reblogging part 19 of my in-depth review of Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” (ASU). The post below covers the fourth subsection of Chapter 4 of ASU (pp. 59-63). Here, Nozick presents an extended digression into retributive and deterrence models of punishment and identifies some problems with both models. (Either way, Nozick’s central question is still left answered: should wrongful acts be prohibited, i.e. punished as crimes, or should they be punished as torts, i.e. allowed so long as compensation is paid to the victim?)

prior probability

We are now ready to resume our review of Anarchy, State, and Utopia. The fourth subsection of Chapter 4 (pp. 59-63) contains an extended digression into retributive and deterrence theories of punishment. Nozick takes a probabilistic approach to punishment (pp. 59-60), an approach which is music to our ears: “A person’s option of crossing a [moral] boundary is constituted by a (1 – p) chance of gain G from the [wrongful] act, where p is the probability he is apprehended, combined with the probability p of paying various costs of the act [if caught].” According to Nozick (p. 60), these costs include C, the payment of compensation to the victim; D, the emotional costs to the wrongdoer of being caught and tried; and E, the financial costs of getting caught and going to trial. As Nozick notes (p. 60): “Prospects for deterrence look dim if…

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Digression: Nozick’s relevance to legal theory

Robert Nozick > H.L.A. Hart

I am reblogging part 18 of my extended review of Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia.” The post below consists of a personal digression explaining why Nozick should be essential reading for legal scholars.

prior probability

Before we press on with our review of Nozick’s masterpiece Anarchy, State, and Utopia (ASU), we want to say a few words on why Nozick is worth reading and why we are so excited about Nozick’s ideas, especially Chapter 4 of ASU, despite the many criticisms of Nozick’s work we have made thus far. Recall from our previous post Nozick’s distinction between “Compensation Systems” (consisting of moral boundaries that can be crossed so long as compensation is paid) and “Prohibition Systems” (consisting of moral boundaries protected by strict prohibitions against any non-consensual boundary crossings). Doesn’t this distinction look a lot like the existing legal distinction between civil liability and criminal liability?! That, in a nutshell, is why we are so fascinated by ASU, for Nozick is actually trying to answer a hard theoretical and practical question in law: Why are some harmful acts crimes, while others are mere torts

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How to enforce moral borders: compensation or prohibition?

I am reblogging part 17 of my review of Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia.” The post below covers the third section of Chapter 4 of ASU (pp. 58-59), where Nozick presents two different ways of enforcing moral boundaries — what I call “Compensation Systems” and “Prohibition Systems”.

prior probability

The third subsection of Chapter 4 of Anarchy, State, and Utopia (pp. 58-59) narrows down and reformulates the problem of enforcing moral boundaries in terms of two hard questions (p. 59): (i) why not allow or permit boundary crossings so long as the boundary crosser is required to pay full compensation to his victim? Or in the alternative, (ii) why not strictly prohibit all non-consensual boundary crossings, regardless of the boundary crosser’s willingness or ability to pay full compensation to his victim? (For future reference, let’s call all compensation-based schemes or permissive methods of enforcing moral boundaries “Compensation Systems” and all paternalistic, prohibitive, or punishment systems “Prohibition Systems“.) As Nozick notes, if we were to favor a “Compensation System” of enforcing moral boundaries, two related problems will arise. One is the problem of measurement: how should harms or boundary crossings be measured and priced? The other…

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TikTok Tuesday: Vibe Check

I am interrupting my Nozick series to share this fun TikTok:

@pjhowardiv

SOME PASSED THE VIBE CHECK & SOME DIDN’T 😭🤝. PT. 2? FR33 DOORDASH IN BIO 🍔🍕🍟. #fypシ #foryou #fyp #viral

♬ original sound – TK
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Two views of moral border crossings

I am reblogging part 16 of my in-depth analysis of Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia.” The post below reviews the second section of Chapter 4 of ASU (pp. 57-58), my favorite part of Nozick’s magnum opus thus far. Here, Nozick paints a geometrical picture of moral boundaries and sets the stage for developing a “reciprocal” view of moral boundary crossings — a novel view of morality that I will further explore in future posts in this series.

prior probability

The second subsection of Chapter 4 is only two pages long (pp. 57-58), but it deserves our careful attention for several reasons: (i) One reason is Nozick’s geometric visualization of morality. As Nozick puts it (p. 57): “an area in moral space” or moral boundary surrounds every individual. (ii) Another reason is that Nozick raises (yet again!) a fundamental question, an inquiry so important that it will take up the rest of Chapter 4. Specifically, Nozick poses a subtle query about the nature of this geometric moral boundary. Should the moral line surrounding each person be treated as an impenetrable wall — one that others are forbidden to transgress — or merely as a suggestion or default position — a moral line that others are permitted to step over so long as they compensate the person whose moral boundary has been crossed? (Before proceeding, it’s worth noting that this fundamental…

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The problem of independents (in Anarchy, State, and Utopia)

I am reblogging part 15 of my review of Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia.” The post below covers the first of ten sections of Chapter 4 of ASU, where Nozick poses “the problem of independents” — a problem that could potentially derail Nozick’s entire libertarian project. To the point, how should a private protection racket deal with non-members? On the one hand, non-members or “independents” retain their natural rights to punish anyone who violates their rights, but at the same, what if the rights-violator belongs to a private protection association himself? Who wins?

prior probability

Nozick (pictured below) presents an important theoretical problem in the first subsection of Chapter 4: the problem of independents, or how should a private protection racket deal with non-members? Additionally, Nozick raises a further theoretical problem in a footnote (p. 55): What happens if a non-member’s land is completely surrounded by land owned by members of a protection racket? How can the non-member leave his land to make a living without trespass, i.e. without violating the natural rights of his neighbors? See, for example, Parcel “L” pictured below. (For what it’s worth, Nozick says that he will address the surrounding-person problem in Ch. 7.)

Recall from previous chapters that, according to Nozick, people in a state of nature will establish “mutual protection associations” to protect their natural rights and that these protection rackets will compete with each other for clients until there are just few dominant agencies left, via…

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Science Sunday

Before I resume my review of Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia, I want to share an observation about the meaning of “science” with my loyal followers. To the point, science is not just about answers or absolute certainty; it’s also about the formulation of hypotheses or “Popperian conjectures” — or in plain English, science is about coming up with good guesses that then can be tested or proven wrong. By way of example, via @alexandrosM, here are 14 hypotheses or possible answers to the following question, Why don’t we have a more potent Delta-targeting vaccine right now? (Hat tip: the Amazing Tyler Cowen.)

Do climate scientists understand the scientific method? | Utopia, you are  standing in it!
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Pencil Art

Pictured below are multiple miniature works of “pencil art” by Dalton Ghetti, who is originally from Brazil. Mr Ghetti refuses to work with a magnifying glass and only uses three tools: a razor blade, a sewing needle, and a sculpting knife. More details about Ghetti and his miniature works of art are available here and here (hat tip: @pickover).

alphabet carved into pencils The Most Incredible Miniature Pencil Art [20 pics]

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Is politics a branch of moral philosophy?

I will resume my in-depth review of Robert Nozick’s magnum opus on Monday morning; in the meantime, I want to share two remarkable sentences from page 6 of Anarchy, State, and Utopia and one of my favorite Nozick quotations of all time:

Moral philosophy sets the background for, and boundaries of political philosophy. What persons may and may not do to one another limits what they may do through the apparatus of the state.

Is Nozick right about this? Is politics a branch of moral philosophy? What about law?

American Institute for Economic Research on Twitter: ""How much room do  individual rights leave for the state?" Happy birthday to Robert Nozick!  Harvard University professor, American libertarian philosopher, and author  of 'Anarchy,
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Nozick’s open questions

I am reblogging part 14 of my in-depth review of Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia.” The post below concludes my review of Chapter 3 of Nozick’s magnum opus with the following series of questions:

  1. Locke versus Hobbes. Why assume a Lockean state of nature in the first place?
  2. Enforcement of promises in the state of nature. How are promises between the members of a mutual protection group enforced? Indeed, how can there be private protection markets at all in the absence of pro-market institutions such as property law and contract law?
  3. Scope of the non-aggression principle. What are the contents of Nozick’s side constraints? If the contents of such side constraints consist of simple rules such as “do not harm others” or “do not commit any acts of aggression against others,” how do we define the concepts of “harm” or “aggression”?
  4. Scope of the self-defense exception. What exceptions should we (must we?) carve out from these side constraints? In particular, if the only justified exception is self-defense, what is the scope of this exception?
  5. Individuals versus families. Why do “individuals” matter more to Nozick than families, clans, villages, or other such organic collective entities?
  6. Last question. What is the ultimate source of Nozick’s moral side constraints?

prior probability

Nozick ends Chapter 3 of Anarchy, State, and Utopia by drawing up a tantalizing road map of the rest of his philosophical project (p. 53, emphasis in original):

“The remainder of Part I … attempts to justify the minimal state. In Part II, we argue that no state more powerful or extensive than the minimal state is legitimate or justifiable …”

As a result, Part I of the book (Chapters 1 to 6) corresponds to a world of stateless anarchy–a world of private protection rackets with each one dominant on its own turf–and the remainder of Part I (Chapters 4, 5, and 6) will explain how, in Nozick’s own words (p. 52), “the transition from [private protection rackets] to a minimal state must morally occur.” Next, Part II of ASU (Chapters 7, 8, and 9), which corresponds to the world of the classical liberal nightwatchman state, will argue that such…

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