The laws of nature

Chapter 2 of Anarchy, State, and Utopia is divided into five separate subsections. Here, we will review the first of these five subsections (pp. 10-12), where Nozick summarizes Locke’s description of the state of nature and identifies three practical problems or “inconveniences” that could arise in a state of nature. According to Locke, the state of nature (i.e. absence of civil government) is governed by two natural laws. The first natural law is that “no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, health, or possession” (p. 10), while the second natural law is the law of retribution. Specifically, if a person in the state of nature harms another person, the injured party has a moral right to punish the transgressor. But as Nozick correctly notes, these two laws of nature produce several “inconveniences.” One inconvenience is that men in the state of nature “will [tend to] overestimate the amount of harm … they have suffered” (p. 11), and this self-serving behavior, in turn, will lead to blood feuds or endless cycles of retaliation. (We call this inconvenience “the Hatfield and McCoy problem.”) Another inconvenience is the lack of credible commitment in the state of nature. In the words of Nozick (p. 12): “Any method a single individual might use … to bind himself into ending his part in a feud would offer insufficient assurance to the other party.” (After all, there are no courts or other legal institutions to enforce contracts.) Yet another inconvenience of the state of nature is that “a person may lack the power to enforce his [moral] rights” (id.). Specifically, “he may be unable to punish or exact [retribution] from a stronger adversary who has violated them” (id.). (We call this third inconvenience the “Pablo Escobar problem.”)

Image result for blood feuds

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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2 Responses to The laws of nature

  1. Pingback: Nozick’s protective associations (and two untestable conjectures) | prior probability

  2. Reblogged this on prior probability and commented:

    I am reblogging part 4 (see below) of my extended review of Nozick. Here, we proceed into Chapter 2 of “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” — a chapter which has five sections. In the first section, Nozick identifies two natural laws that operate in the state of nature: the non-aggression principle — “no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, health, or possession” (p. 10) — and the law of retribution, i.e. if a person in the state of nature harms another person, the injured party has a moral right to punish the transgressor. The problem with these two laws, however, is that there are no courts in the state of nature to determine what constitutes “harm” — so acts of private retribution will often produce endless cycles of violence. Also, what about the laws of kinship? Isn’t the family the source of the state and of natural law?

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