Giving Nozick a taste of his own medicine

Continuing with my in-depth analysis of Roberty Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia”, I am reblogging Part 25 of my review, which covers the last subsection of Chapter 4 of Nozick’s book (pp. 84-87). There, Nozick explores the problem of threats, including blackmail. The problem with Nozick’s analysis, however, is that he fails to see the reciprocal nature of the problem of blackmail. Moreover, thus far, four chapters into Nozick’s book, we have very little to show for our efforts. I am still waiting for Nozick to tell us what rights individuals actually have in the state of nature and how such rights are to be enforced when they collide. I will nevertheless press on and proceed to Chapter 5 of “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” in the next day or two.

prior probability

Nozick valiantly tries (alas, without success) to solve the stubborn problems of blackmail and criminal threats in the last subsection of Chapter 4 (pp. 84-87) of Anarchy, State, and Utopia. How? By drawing a distinction between positive-sum, value-producing “productive exchanges” (in which both parties are made better off by the exchange) and negative-sum, value-destroying “non-productive exchanges” (in which only one of the parties is made better off by the exchange). Although this familiar game-theoretic distinction is intuitively appealing, it is not of much help in the case of blackmail. After all, just because a victim of blackmail may feel betrayed and exploited by a blackmailer’s threat to reveal the victim’s secrets, the victim does, in fact, receive something of value if he pays the blackmailer: the latter’s silence. Worse yet, Nozick neglects the reciprocal nature of the blackmail problem: if the blackmail victim had not engaged in disgraceful conduct…

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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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