Robert Nozick: Wikis


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Robert Nozick
Full name Robert Nozick
Born November 16, 1938(1938-11-16)
Brooklyn, New York
Died January 23, 2002 (aged 63)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic · Political
Notable ideas utility monster, Experience Machine, Justice as Property Rights, paradox of deontology, Entitlement Theory, Deductive closure

Robert Nozick (November 16, 1938 – January 23, 2002) was an American political philosopher, most prominent in the 1970s and 1980s. He is best known for his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), a libertarian answer to John Rawls's A Theory of Justice (1971). He was a professor at Harvard University and his other work involved decision theory and epistemology.


Early life and education

Nozick was born in Brooklyn, the son of a Jewish entrepreneur from Russia, and married the American poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg. Nozick died in 2002 after a prolonged struggle with cancer. His remains are interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was educated at Columbia (A.B. 1959, summa cum laude), where he studied with Sidney Morgenbesser, at Princeton (Ph.D. 1963), and Oxford as a Fulbright Scholar.

Career in philosophy and academia

Nozick was Joseph Pellegrino University Professor at Harvard University. Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), which received a National Book Award, argues among other things that a distribution of goods is just if brought about by free exchange among consenting adults and from a just starting position, even if large inequalities subsequently emerge from the process. Nozick appealed to the Kantian idea that people should be treated as ends (what he termed 'separateness of persons'), not merely as a means to some other end. Nozick here challenges the partial conclusion of John Rawls's Second Principle of Justice of his A Theory of Justice, that "social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are to be of greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society." Anarchy, State and Utopia claims a heritage from John Locke's Second Treatise on Government and tries to base itself upon a natural law doctrine. Locke only relied on natural law as God given to counteract the King of England's claim to divine right and thus claim to all the property of England. Nozick suggested, again as a critique of utilitarianism, that the sacrosanctity of life made property rights non-negotiable. This principle has served as a foundation for many libertarian pitches into modern politics. Most controversially, Nozick argued that a consistent upholding of the libertarian non-aggression principle would allow and regard as valid consensual/non-coercive enslavement contracts between adults. He rejected the notion of inalienable rights advanced by most other libertarian academics, writing in Anarchy, State and Utopia that the typical notion of a "free system" would allow adults to voluntarily enter into non-coercive slave contracts.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]



In Philosophical Explanations (1981), which received the Phi Beta Kappa Society's Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, Nozick provided novel accounts of knowledge, free will, personal identity, the nature of value, and the meaning of life. He also put forward an epistemological system which attempted to deal with both the Gettier problem and those posed by skepticism. This highly influential argument eschewed justification as a necessary requirement for knowledge.

Nozick's Four Conditions for S's knowing that P were:

(1) P is true

(2) S believes that P

(3) If it were the case that (not-P), S would not believe that P

(4) If it were the case that P, S would believe that P

Nozick's third and fourth conditions are counterfactuals. Nozick calls his theory the "tracking theory" of knowledge. Nozick believes that the counterfactual conditionals bring out an important aspect of our intuitive grasp of knowledge: For any given fact, the believer's method must reliably track the truth despite varying relevant conditions. In this way, Nozick's theory is similar to reliabilism.

Later books

The Examined Life (1989), pitched to a broader public, explores love, death, faith, reality, and the meaning of life. The Nature of Rationality (1993) presents a theory of practical reason that attempts to embellish notoriously spartan classical decision theory. Socratic Puzzles (1997) is a collection of papers that range in topic from Ayn Rand and Austrian economics to animal rights, while his last production, Invariances (2001), applies insights from physics and biology to questions of objectivity in such areas as the nature of necessity and moral value.


Nozick created the thought experiment of the "utility monster" to show that average utilitarianism could lead to a situation where the needs of the vast majority were sacrificed for one individual. He also devised the thought experiment of The Experience Machine in an attempt to show that ethical hedonism was false. Nozick asked us to imagine that "superduper neuropsychologists" have figured out a way to stimulate a person's brain to induce pleasurable experiences. We would not be able to tell that these experiences were not real. He asks us, if we were given the choice, would we choose a machine-induced experience of a wonderful life over real life? Nozick says no, then asks whether we have reasons not to plug into the machine and concludes that since it does not seem to be irrational to plug in, ethical hedonism must be false.

Unusual method

Nozick was notable for his curious exploratory style and methodological ecumenism. Often content to raise tantalizing philosophical possibilities and then leave judgment to the reader, Nozick was also notable for drawing from literature outside of philosophy (e.g., economics, physics, evolutionary biology).


See also


  1. ^ Ellerman, David, Translatio versus Concessio: Retrieving the Debate about Contracts of Alienation with an Application to Today’s Employment Contract
  2. ^ Obituary by The Daily Telegraph
  3. ^ Obituary by The Guardian
  4. ^ Obituary by The Independent
  5. ^ Philosopher Nozick dies at 63 From the Harvard Gazette
  6. ^ Robert Nozick Memorial minute
  7. ^ Robert Nozick (1938-2002) by Edward Feser
  8. ^ A summary of the political philosophy of Robert Nozick by R. N. Johnson
  9. ^ Robert Nozick, Libertarianism, And Utopia by Jonathan Wolff
  10. ^ Nozick on Newcomb's Problem and Prisoners' Dilemma by S. L. Hurley
  11. ^ Robert Nozick: Against Distributive Justice by R.J. Kilcullen
  12. ^ Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism? by Robert Nozick
  13. ^ Robert Nozick at the Open Directory Project
  14. ^ Robert Nozick, Philosopher of Liberty by Roderick T. Long


  • Cohen, G. A. (1995), Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality, Oxford UP. A widely-cited criticism of Nozick.
  • Frankel Paul, Ellen, Fred D. Miller, Jr. and Jeffrey Paul (eds.), (2004) Natural Rights Liberalism from Locke to Nozick, (Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-61514-3
  • Robinson, Dave & Groves, Judy (2003). Introducing Political Philosophy. Icon Books. ISBN 1-84046-450-X.
  • Schmidtz, David (Editor) (2002), Robert Nozick Contemporary Philosophy in Focus, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521006712
  • Schaefer, David Lewis (2008) Robert Nozick and the Coast of Utopia, The New York Sun, April 30, 2008.
  • Wolff, Jonathan (1991), Robert Nozick: Property, Justice, and the Minimal State. Polity Press.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen.

Robert Nozick (16 November 193823 January 2002) was an American libertarian philosopher and Pellegrino University Professor at Harvard University.


  • When I was 15 years old, or 16, I carried around on the streets of Brooklyn a paperback copy of Plato's Republic, front cover facing outward. I had read only some of it and understood less, but I was excited by it and knew it was something wonderful.
    • The Examined Life (1989)

Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974)

  • Individuals have rights and there are things no person or group may do to them [without violating their rights].
  • There is no social entity with a good that undergoes some sacrifice for its own good. There are only individual people, different individual people, with their own individual lives. Using one of these people for the benefit of others, uses him and benefits the others. Nothing more.
  • From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen.
  • Whoever makes something having bought or contracted for all other held resources used in the process (transferring some of his holdings for these cooperating factors), is entitled to it. The situation is not one of something’s getting made, and there being an open question of who is to get it. Things come into the world already attached to people having entitlements over them.
  • Is there really someone who, searching for a group of wise and sensitive persons to regulate him for his own good, would choose that group of people that constitute the membership of both houses of Congress?
  • Taxation of earnings from labor is on a par with forced labor. Seizing the results of someone's labor is equivalent to seizing hours from him and directing him to carry on various activities.

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