University of Kansas, Spring 2003
Philosophy 555: Justice and Economic Systems

Paper Topics / Test Questions—Nozick

Your assignment is either to write a paper or to take a test on Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia. There will be a similar assignment for the third book of the course. The analogue of whichever option you don’t pick for this assignment is what you’ll have to do for the next one.

I. Paper

Anarchy, State, and Utopia is rich in contentious claims—some of them directly relevant to Nozick’s overall aims, others confessedly tangential. The paper assignment is to write a paper of about six pages (of double-spaced, 12-point type) focusing on one of Nozick’s significant claims and developing the most effective objection to it that you can. In order to succeed on this assignment, you must understand that you will be graded not only on the effectiveness of your objection, but also on the significance of the claim to which you offer your objection. In choosing a claim to critique, then, you must strike a balance between (1) choosing a claim that is easy to refute, but that is also quite trivial, and (2) choosing a claim that is undeniably significant, but that is also very hard to refute.

In order to fulfill the two main requirements of this assignment, you might well want to structure your paper in the following way.

  1. First, describe the claim that Nozick makes that will be the object of your critique. This could probably be done in a short opening paragraph.
  2. Second, explain why this claim is significant to Nozick’s theory. You might explain, for example, that if the claim with which you’re concerned turns out to be objectionable, then there will turn out to be problems with Nozick’s account of one of the following; this could probably be done in a page or so.
  3. Third, explain why the claim you have identified, and whose significance for Nozick’s theory you have established, is objectionable. This will require arguments, and should occupy the bulk of your paper.

One mistake to avoid is attempting a general criticism of any of the above components of Nozick’s theory. For although such a paper would obviously have no trouble with the “significance” criterion, it would surely falter on the “effectiveness” criterion, since each of the above issues is too broad to be dealt with effectively in a six-page paper. (That is why I say to pick a narrower claim as the object of your critique, and then explain how that narrower claim is an essential, or at least necessary, element in a larger component that is obviously significant). The opposite sort of mistake, of course, is to offer a criticism of something so minute or peripheral that it lacks significance. The demands of significance and effectiveness tend to oppose each other; so, as I said above, part of your job is to strike a balance between the two.

There are two due dates for this paper:

  1. The first due date is for peer commenting on papers. On Wednesday, April 16, you will meet with two of your classmates, and the three of you will read and comment on each other’s papers. (You will do this during class, unless your group agrees on another time, and at a place to be chosen by your group—except not in our classroom, since some of your classmates will be taking the test then, as described below.) You should have your classmates read as final and polished a version of your paper as you can manage, so that you can get feedback on your best work.
  2. The second due date is for turning in the final version of your paper to me. Final copies of papers will be due in class on Friday, April 18. Be sure to indicate, on your paper, which of your classmates commented on it.

In writing your paper you are welcome to use resources beyond those used in class, but you do not need to do so. For additional suggestions about writing philosophy papers generally, see my “Guidelines for Writing a Philosophy Paper.”

II. Test

The test will be given in class on Wednesday, April 16, and will consist of 100 points’ worth of the following questions. There may also be a bonus question or two, not listed here. Please bring a blue book.

  1. (20 points:) Summarize Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Keep this brief—no more than, say, one sentence per chapter or two, presented so that collectively your paragraph (or maybe two) describes the overall trajectory (not necessarily many of the details) of the whole book.
  2. (10 points:) What are the essential elements of the natural-rights doctrine that Nozick takes for granted as the foundation of his theory?
  3. (10 points:) In what way is state-of-nature theory both justificatory and explanatory, according to Nozick?
  4. (20 points:) How does Nozick imagine a dominant protective association arising, and in what two respects does it fall short of being a minimal state?
  5. (10 points:) What is a side constraint? How does a theory that regards rights in terms of side constraints differ from what might be called a “utilitarianism of rights”?
  6. (20 points:) How does Nozick distinguish between acts for which compensation is required and acts that are prohibited? What are two of the three reasons Nozick cites to explain why some acts are prohibited?
  7. (10 points:) What is the basic idea that justifies the dominant protective association in assuming the functions of an ultraminimal state?
  8. (10 points:) What is the basic idea that justifies an ultraminimal state in assuming the functions of a minimal state? (Be sure to mention the principle of compensation in your answer.)
  9. (20 points:) By way of what arguments does Nozick imagine that considerations of distributive justice might be claimed, by some, to justify a more-than-minimal state? Why, according to Nozick, do such arguments fail?
  10. (10 points:) What does Nozick say in response to Rawls’s claim that the difference principle is a basis on which the better off could reasonably expect to attain the willing cooperation of the worse off?
  11. (10 points:) What does Nozick mean when he says, “The particular rights over things fill the space of rights, leaving no room for general rights” (p. 238)?
  12. (20 points:) By way of what arguments does Nozick imagine that the idea of exploitation might be claimed, by some, to justify a more-than-minimal state? Why, according to Nozick, do such arguments fail?
  13. (10 points:) Describe the series of examples that Nozick uses to cast doubt on the legitimacy of a more-than-minimal state.
  14. (20 points:) What is Nozick’s conception of utopia? How, according to Nozick, does the minimal state provide a “framework” for utopia?