Nozick’s open questions

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 a minimal state is the only state consistent with Nozick’s side-constraint view of morality.

Suffice it to say that we are sufficiently intrigued by Nozick’s ambitious project to press on with our review of the rest of the book. Nevertheless, before we proceed and delve into Chapter 4, let’s pause to point out (or reiterate) all the fundamental philosophical questions that Nozick has left unanswered or under-explored thus far. Furthermore, the following open questions are relevant to Nozick’s project even if we assume (as we are prepared to do) that Nozick’s side-constraint view of morality is true:

  • Why assume a Lockean state of nature in the first place?
  • How are the promises between the members of any mutual protection groups enforced? Indeed, how can there be private protection markets at all in the absence of pro-market institutions such as property and contract law?
  • 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”?
  • 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? (By way of example, when can a pre-emptive strike, if ever, count as an act of justified self-defense?)
  • Why do “individuals” matter more to Nozick than families, clans, villages, or other such organic collective entities?

Last but not least, will Nozick provide us a better answer to the question, What is the source of his moral side constraints? Postulating a series of beautiful side constraints without providing a persuasive (non-tautological) explanation of their provenance seems like a serious philosophical blunder. In the alternative, why won’t Nozick (unlike Rawls or, for that matter, Locke!) consider the possibility of a hypothetical social contract, i.e. a contractarian approach?

Unanswered questions | symmetry magazine

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 Nozick’s open questions

  1. Abogada Guerra says:

    Haha @ Where are all the Sour Patch parents?

  2. Reblogged this on prior probability and commented:

    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 questions:

    * Why assume a Lockean state of nature in the first place?
    * 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?
    * 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”?
    * 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?
    * Why do “individuals” matter more to Nozick than families, clans, villages, or other such organic collective entities?
    * What is the source of Nozick’s moral side constraints?

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