Hooks on rights?

Nozick takes a short detour in the seventh section of Chapter 8 of ASU (pp. 262-265), where he makes a conjecture about the structure of rights to engage in relationships with others. At one point, Nozick states (p. 264): “Rights to engage in relationships and transactions have hooks on them, which must attach to the corresponding hook of another’s right that comes out to meet theirs.” Moreover, according to Nozick (ibid., emphasis in original): “Adults normally will have the right to [establish] a relationship with any other consenting adult who has this right, but the right may be forfeited in punishment for wrongful acts.” This conjecture, however, generates a number of intractable problems:

  • Where do these hooks come from? Do different rights have different hooks?
  • What about “exit rights”? That is, what happens when one person wants to exit a relationship?
  • Do these hooks have a statute of limitations or otherwise expire if the underlying right goes unused?
  • Why are these hooks conditional on whether the rights-holder has committed a wrongful act?
  • In any case, who has the right to cut off these hooks; that is, who gets to impose punishments for wrongful acts? Doesn’t such punishment presuppose a state or some level of coercion?
  • Why are these rights (with or without hooks) limited to adults; i.e. what rights do children have?
  • And given all these complications, does this “hooks on rights” theory violate Occam’s Razor, i.e. the theoretical precept that explanations should be kept as simple as possible?
  • Even if the idea of “hooks on rights” were sufficiently simple as to pass Occam’s test, is Nozick’s theory nonsense on stilts (with apologies to Jeremy Bentham; see quote below)?

For my part, I searched the literature to see if I could find some scholarly commentary on Nozick’s theory of “hooks on rights,” but I found nothing. (Try googling “hooks on rights” for yourself.) Suffice it to say, it would require a book-length treatment to answer the above follow-up questions in any systematic fashion. In the meantime, we will proceed with our review of Chapter 8 of ASU in our next post.

Image result for nonsense on stilts

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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