Ideas of Robert Nozick, by Theme

[American, 1938 - 2002, Born in New York. Professor at Harvard University.]

green numbers give full details    |    back to list of philosophers    |     unexpand these ideas    |    
3. Truth / A. Truth Problems / 3. Value of Truth
I do not care if my trivial beliefs are false, and I have no interest in many truths
     Full Idea: I find that I do not mind at all the thought that I have some false beliefs (of US state capitals), and there are many truths I do not care to know at all (total grains of sand on the beach).
     From: Robert Nozick (The Nature of Rationality [1993], p.67)
     A reaction: A useful corrective to anyone who blindly asserts that truth is the supreme human value. I would still be annoyed if someone taught me lies about these two types of truth.
3. Truth / E. Pragmatic Truth / 1. Pragmatic Truth
Maybe James was depicting the value of truth, and not its nature
     Full Idea: We might see William James's pragmatic view that truth is what works as depicting the value of truth, and not its nature.
     From: Robert Nozick (The Nature of Rationality [1993], p.68)
     A reaction: James didn't think that he was doing this. He firmly says that this IS truth, not just the advantages of truth. Another view is that pragmatists are giving a test for truth.
11. Knowledge Aims / A. Knowledge / 4. Belief / c. Aim of beliefs
Maybe knowledge is belief which 'tracks' the truth
     Full Idea: Nozick suggests that knowledge is just belief which 'tracks the truth' (hence leaving out justification).
     From: report of Robert Nozick (Philosophical Explanations [1981]) by Michael Williams - Problems of Knowledge Ch. 2
13. Knowledge Criteria / C. External Justification / 4. Tracking the Facts
A true belief isn't knowledge if it would be believed even if false. It should 'track the truth'
     Full Idea: Nozick says Gettier cases aren't knowledge because the proposition would be believed even if false. Proper justification must be more sensitive to the truth ("track the truth").
     From: report of Robert Nozick (Philosophical Explanations [1981], 3.1) by Jonathan Dancy - Intro to Contemporary Epistemology 3.1
     A reaction: This is a bad idea. I see a genuine tree in my garden and believe it is there, so I know it. That I might have believed it if I was in virtually reality, or observing a mirror, won't alter that.
18. Thought / A. Modes of Thought / 5. Rationality / a. Rationality
In the instrumental view of rationality it only concerns means, and not ends
     Full Idea: On the instrumental conception of rationality, it consists in the effective and efficient achievement of goals, ends, and desires. About the goals themselves it has little to say.
     From: Robert Nozick (The Nature of Rationality [1993], p.64)
     A reaction: [He quotes Russell 1954 p.viii as expressing this view] A long way from Greek logos, which obviously concerns the rational selection of right ends (for which, presumably, reasons can be given). In practice our ends may never be rational, of course.
Is it rational to believe a truth which leads to permanent misery?
     Full Idea: If a mother is presented with convincing evidence that her son has committed a grave crime, but were she to believe it that would make her life thereafter miserable, is it rational for her to believe her son is guilty?
     From: Robert Nozick (The Nature of Rationality [1993], p.69)
     A reaction: I assume there is a conflict of rationalities, because there are conflicting ends. Presumably most mothers love the truth, but most of us also aim for happy lives. It is perfectly rational to avoid discovering a horrible family truth.
Rationality needs some self-consciousness, to also evaluate how we acquired our reasons
     Full Idea: Rationality involves some degree of self-consciousness. Not only reasons are evaluated, but also the processes by which information arrives, is stored, and recalled.
     From: Robert Nozick (The Nature of Rationality [1993], p.74)
     A reaction: I defend the idea that animals have a degree of rationality, because they can make sensible judgements, but I cannot deny this idea. Rationality comes in degrees, and second-level thought is a huge leap forward in degree.
Rationality is normally said to concern either giving reasons, or reliability
     Full Idea: The two themes permeating the philosophical literature are that rationality is a matter of reasons, or that rationality is a matter of reliability.
     From: Robert Nozick (The Nature of Rationality [1993], p.64)
     A reaction: Since a clock can be reliable, I would have thought it concerns reasons. Or an unthinking person could reliably recite truths from memory. There is also the instrumental view of rationality.
22. Metaethics / B. Value / 1. Nature of Value / f. Ultimate value
Freedom to live according to our own conception of the good is the ultimate value
     Full Idea: Nozick says that the freedom to lead our lives in accordance with our own conception of the good is the ultimate value, so important that it cannot be sacrificed for other social ideals (e.g. equality of opportunity).
     From: report of Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974]) by Will Kymlicka - Contemporary Political Philosophy (1st edn) 4.2.b.ii
     A reaction: Clearly this ultimate value will not apply to children, so this view needs a sharp dislocation between children and adults. But some adults need a lot of looking after. Maybe we ALL need looking after (by one another)?
23. Ethics / E. Utilitarianism / 2. Ideal of Pleasure
If an experience machine gives you any experience you want, should you hook up for life?
     Full Idea: Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired ...such as writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. ...Should you plug into this machine for life?
     From: Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974], 3 'Experience')
     A reaction: A classic though experiment which crystalises a major problem with hedonistic utilitarianism. My addition is a machine which maximises the pleasure of my family and friends, to save me the bother of doing it.
24. Political Theory / B. Nature of a State / 1. Purpose of a State
A minimal state should protect, but a state forcing us to do more is unjustified
     Full Idea: A minimal state, limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on, is justified; any more extensive state will violate persons' rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is unjustified.
     From: Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974], Pref)
     A reaction: This has some plausibility for a huge modern state, where we don't know one another, but it would be a ridiculous attitude in a traditional village.
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 2. Anarchism
Individual rights are so strong that the state and its officials must be very limited in power
     Full Idea: Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights). So strong and far-reaching are these rights that they raise the question of what, if anything, the state and its officials may do.
     From: Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974], Pref)
     A reaction: This claim appears to be an axiom, but I'm not sure that the notion of 'rights' make any sense unless someone is granting the rights, where the someone is either a strong individual, or the community (perhaps represented by the state).
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 6. Liberalism / c. Liberal equality
States can't enforce mutual aid on citizens, or interfere for their own good
     Full Idea: A state may not use its coercive apparatus for the purposes of getting some citizens to aid others, or in order to prohibit activities to people for their own good or protection.
     From: Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974], Pref)
     A reaction: You certainly can't apply these principles to children, so becoming an 'adult' seems to be a very profound step in Nozick's account. At what age must we stop interfering with people for their own good. If the state is prohibited, are neighbours also?
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 6. Liberalism / g. Liberalism critique
My Anarchy, State and Utopia neglected our formal social ties and concerns
     Full Idea: The political philosophy represented in Anarchy, State and Utopia ignored the importance of joint and official symbolic statement and expression of our social ties and concern, and hence (I have written) is inadequate.
     From: comment on Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974], p.32) by Robert Nozick - The Nature of Rationality p.32
     A reaction: In other words, it was far too individualistic, and neglected community, even though it has become the sacred text for libertarian individualism. Do any Nozick fans care about this recantation?
25. Social Practice / A. Freedoms / 4. Free market
If people hold things legitimately, just distribution is simply the result of free exchanges
     Full Idea: If we assume that everyone is entitled to the goods they currently possess (their 'holdings'), then a just distribution is simply whatever distribution results from people's free exchanges.
     From: report of Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974]) by Will Kymlicka - Contemporary Political Philosophy (1st edn) 4.1.b
     A reaction: If people's current 'legitimate' holdings are hugely unequal, it seems very unlikely that the ensuing exchanges will be 'free' in the way that Nozick envisages.
25. Social Practice / C. Rights / 4. Property rights
Property is legitimate by initial acquisition, voluntary transfer, or rectification of injustice
     Full Idea: Nozick identified three ways in which people can acquire a legitimate property holding: initial acquisition, voluntary transfer, and rectification (of unjust transfers).
     From: report of Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974]) by Adam Swift - Political Philosophy (3rd ed) 1 'Nozick'
     A reaction: I think it is a delusion to look for justice in the ownership of property. You can't claim justice for buying property if the money to do it was acquired unjustly. And what rights over those who live on the land come with the 'ownership'?
Nozick assumes initial holdings include property rights, but we can challenge that
     Full Idea: Nozick assumes that the initial distribution of holdings includes full property-rights over them, ..but our preferred theory may not involve distributing such particular rights to particular people. ...The legitimacy of such rights is what is in question.
     From: comment on Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974]) by Will Kymlicka - Contemporary Political Philosophy (1st edn) 4.1.c
     A reaction: [somewhat compressed] All of these political philosophies seem to have questionable values (such as freedom or equality) built into their initial assumptions.
Can I come to own the sea, by mixing my private tomato juice with it?
     Full Idea: If I own a can of tomato juice and spill it in the sea so that its molecules mingle evenly throughout the sea, do I thereby come to own the sea?
     From: Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974], p.175)
     A reaction: This is a reductio of Locke's claim that I can own land by 'mixing' my labour with it. At first glance, mixing something with something would seem to have nothing to do with ownership.
How did the private property get started? If violence was involved, we can redistribute it
     Full Idea: How did these natural resources, which were not initially owned by anyone, come to be part of someone's private property? ...The fact that the initial acquisition often involved force means there is no moral objection to redistributing existing wealth.
     From: comment on Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974]) by Will Kymlicka - Contemporary Political Philosophy (1st edn) 4.2.b
     A reaction: [He cites G.A. Cphen 1988 for the second point] Put like this, Nozick's theory just looks like the sort of propaganda which is typically put out by the winners. Is there an implicit threat of violent resistance in his advocacy of individual rights?
If property is only initially acquired by denying the rights of others, Nozick can't get started
     Full Idea: If there is no way that people can appropriate unowned resources for themselves without denying other people's claim to equal consideration, then Nozick's right of transfer never gets off the ground.
     From: comment on Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974]) by Will Kymlicka - Contemporary Political Philosophy (1st edn) 4.2.b.i
     A reaction: The actual history of these things is too complex to judge. Early peoples desperately wanted a lord to rule over them, and their lord's ownership of the land implied the people's right to live there. See Anglo-Saxon poetry.
Unowned things may be permanently acquired, if it doesn't worsen the position of other people
     Full Idea: One may acquire a permanent bequeathable property right in a previously unowned thing, as long as the position of others no longer at liberty to use the thing is not thereby worsened.
     From: Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974], p.178), quoted by G.A. Cohen - Are Freedom and Equality Compatible? 2
     A reaction: Cohen attacks this vigorously. His main point is that Nozick has a very narrow view of what the acquisition should be compared with. There are many alternatives. Does being made unable to improve something 'worsen' a person's condition?
Maybe land was originally collectively owned, rather than unowned?
     Full Idea: Why should we not regard land as originally collectively owned rather than, as Nozick takes for granted, owned by no one?
     From: comment on Robert Nozick (Anarchy,State, and Utopia [1974], p.178) by G.A. Cohen - Are Freedom and Equality Compatible? 2
     A reaction: Did native Americans and Australians collectively own the land? Lots of peoples, I suspect, don't privately own anything, because the very concept has never occured to them (and they have no legal system).