Nozick on risk and natural rights

I am reblogging part 23 of my review of Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia”, which covers the eighth subsection of Chapter 4 of Nozick’s magnum opus (pp. 73-78). Here, Nozick addresses the problem of risk — specifically, how should we classify activities that generate only a small risk of moral boundary crossings? (Again, the choice will be between prohibition and some form of compensation rule; two more subsections to go before we finish Chapter 4 of ASU!)

prior probability

Nozick identifies a “serious problem” (his words, not ours) for the natural rights tradition in the eighth subsection of Chapter 4 (pp. 73-78): the problem of risk. (Hey, what about “uncertainty” as opposed to risk?) From a moral perspective, how should we classify activities that generate only a small risk of moral boundary crossings? Every human activity, no matter how benign its motivation or useful its consequences, carries some risk of injury to self and to others, and yet, as Nozick correctly states (p. 75): “It is difficult to imagine a principled way in which the natural rights tradition can draw the line to fix which probabilities impose unacceptably great risks upon others.” (By the way, doesn’t this criticism also apply to Nozick’s point about fear earlier in the chapter?) For his part, Nozick presents on pp. 75-76 three possible ways of dealing with such small-risk activities in a (Lockean)…

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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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