Nozick’s non-aggression principle

I am reblogging part 11 of my in-depth review of Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” (ASU). The post below covers the fourth section of Chapter 3 of ASU, where Nozick justifies his non-aggression principle. As I explain below, however, Nozick’s reasoning appears to be circular. According to Nozick, individuals have rights — rights that must always be respected under the side constraint view — because they have “separate lives”, i.e. because they are individuals! Also, what about children? Non-human animals? All Nozick has done (thus far) is to assume the primacy of the individual over the family or the animal kingdom or other collective. More fundamentally, Nozick doesn’t define (at least not yet) what constitutes “aggression” or otherwise demarcate the outer limits of the non-aggression principle beyond physical harm, except to to make an exception for self defense.

prior probability

In our previous post, we reviewed the third subsection of Chapter 3 in which Nozick makes a strong case for preferring moral side constraints over moral end states. In the fourth subsection (pp. 33-35), Nozick will focus on the libertarian principle of non-aggression. Here, he reiterates his normative conclusion in favor of side constraints (p. 33, “The root idea [is] that there are different individuals with separate lives and so no one may be sacrificed for others …”) and then finally gets around to identifying the source of his premise that individuals have rights and the content of these rights! According to Nozick, individuals have rights just because they are individuals (“individuals with separate lives”), and further, this tautological moral fact (individuals are individuals) thus imposes a Kantian duty on all to not harm others. Or in Nozick’s words (p. 33), “the existence of moral side constraints …leads to…

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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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