Nozick on punishment and anti-punishment

Part 36 of my epic review of Robert Nozick, which covers the last two subsections of Chapter 6 (pp. 137-467), formally concludes my review of Part I of “Anarchy, State, and Utopia.” In summary, Nozick’s thesis in Part I of his magnum opus has both descriptive and normative components. The descriptive part of Nozick’s thesis is that a plethora of protection rackets will spring up in the state of nature until one of them becomes the dominant one, monopolizing the right to punish and settle disputes about the scope of one’s rights. By contrast, the normative part of his thesis is that this dominant protection racket is morally required to pay compensation for any disadvantages imposed on others, though he fails to explain how such disadvantages are to be measured or monetized. My concluding questions for Nozick are below:

1. What is the moral baseline for deciding when someone has suffered a disadvantage?
2. How are conflicts between neighboring protection rackets resolved?
3. What role do families play in your Lockean state of nature?

Note that I have raised many of these same queries before (see here, for example), and further note that Nozick fails to provide satisfactory answers to them.

prior probability

The last two subsections of Chapter 6 (pp. 137-146) contain an extended digression on the problem of punishment and the possibility of “anti-punishment” (my term) via preventive detention in “resort detention centers”, one of my favorite Nozickian thought experiments thus far. More to the point, Nozick identifies some serious problems with Locke’s state-of-nature theory:

  • Don’t all persons (not just the victim) have the right to punish wrongdoers in the state of nature?
  • What happens when people disagree about the content or scope of their rights?
  • How much compensation must be paid to persons who are prevented from exercising their rights?

Nozick’s answer to the first two questions is the dominant protection association. Once a protection agency becomes the dominant one in a territory, it (the agency) will monopolize the right to punish and will settle disputes about the scope of one’s rights. Nozick, however, glosses over the possibility of conflict…

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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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