Nozick on rights and moral goals versus moral constraints

I am reblogging part 9 (see below) of my in-depth review of Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” (ASU), which explores the second section of Chapter 3 of ASU, where Nozick draws yet another distinction — a distinction between “moral goals” and “moral constraints” or between a goal-directed view of morality and a rights-based view of morality. For now, whichever view of morality one prefers, I have two questions for readers of Nozick: (1) how are we supposed to choose between these two approaches to morality, i.e. between “end states” and “rights”? And (2) what about trade offs? In other words, how much of our “rights” are we prepared to sacrifice in order to achieve a particular end state, or vice versa, how much of an ideal “end state” are we willing to forego in order to vindicate our rights?

prior probability

In the first subsection of Chapter 3, which we reviewed in our previous post, Nozick drew a distinction between two types of libertarian government–minimal states and ultraminimal states–and identified a foundational moral problem with each type of state. Here, we will review the second subsection of Chapter 3 (pp. 28-30), where Nozick reformulates the age-old moral problem of “ends” versus “means” in terms of moral goals and moral constraints. In brief, according to Nozick, there are two ways of applying morality to our actions. One way is by setting a moral goal G or morally attractive “end state” that we hope to achieve. Although this goal-directed view of morality emphasizes ends, Nozick adds a new wrinkle to this approach. According to Nozick, our moral goal or end state need not be the traditionally utilitarian or consequential one of maximizing utility or happiness; it could just as well…

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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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