Nozick’s open questions

Nozick ends Chapter 3 of Anarchy, State, and Utopia (ASU) by drawing up a tantalizing road map of the rest of his philosophical project; to wit, he concludes thus (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 (Chs. 1-6) corresponds to a world of stateless anarchy–a world of private protection rackets with each one dominant on its own turf–and in the rest of Part I (Chs. 4-6), Nozick will explain how, in his words (p. 52), “the transition from [private protection rackets] to a minimal state must morally occur.” Next, in Part II of ASU (Chs. 7-9), which corresponds to the world of the classical liberal nightwatchman state, Nozick will argue that such a minimal state is the only state consistent with his (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 ASU. 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?

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Image credit: Jason Pike

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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1 Response to Nozick’s open questions

  1. Abogada Guerra says:

    Haha @ Where are all the Sour Patch parents?

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