Nozick on punishment and anti-punishment

The last two subsections of Chapter 6 (pp. 137-146) are very much worth reading, especially for libertarian theorists like us. These pages contain an extended digression on the problem of punishment and the possibility of “anti-punishment” (our term) via preventive detention in “resort detention centers”, one of our favorite Nozickian thought experiments thus far. More to the point, Nozick identifies some serious problems with Locke’s state-of-nature theory:

  • Don’t all persons (not just the victim) have the right to punish wrongdoers in the state of nature?
  • What happens when people disagree about the content or scope of their rights?
  • How much compensation must be paid to persons who are prevented from exercising their rights?

Nozick’s answer to the first two questions is the dominant protection association. Once a protection agency becomes the dominant one in a territory, it (the agency) will monopolize the right to punish and will settle disputes about the scope of one’s rights. Nozick, however, glosses over the possibility of conflict among protection associations in adjoining territories. With respect to the compensation question, although Nozick considers the two extremes of “no compensation” and “full compensation”, he falls back onto his principle of compensation: it is morally required that compensation be made for any disadvantages imposed on others. (See, for example, the paragraph on the bottom page 143.) Alas, Nozick does not specify how such “disadvantages” are to be measured or monetized.

We are now done with Part I of Anarchy, State, and Utopia. We are attending a conference in Athens, Georgia this weekend, so we will jump into Part II of ASU next week.

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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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