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

Class notes: Nozick

The following notes correspond roughly to what we cover, including at least a portion of what I put on the board or the screen, in class. In places they may be more or less comprehensive than what we actually cover in class, and should not be taken as a substitute for your own observations and records of what goes on in class.

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  1. preface
    1. taking rights as given (p. ix.3)
    2. justification of only a minimal state (p. ix.5); libertarianism (p. ix.8)
    3. counter-intuitive implications (p. x.7)
  2. chapter 1: “Why State-of-Nature Theory?”
    1. political philosophy
      1. p. 5.2: Nozick says ‘minimax’; presumably he means ‘maximin’?
      2. main question: Why state-of-nature theory? (p. 3.7)
      3. answer: We want to know whether any state at all (and, if so, what kind) would morally permissibly arise from a situation of anarchy, in order to know whether any state (and, if so, what kind) is better than none. (p. 5.7)
    2. explanatory political theory
      1. p. 6.8: aim—to provide a “fundamental” explanation of the political in terms of the nonpolitical
      2. p. 7.5: aim specified—to “sho[w] how a political situation would arise out of a nonpolitical one”
      3. An explanation does not have to be correct to be illuminating (p. 8.2; see also p. 9.1).
  3. chapter 2: “The State of Nature”
    1. Locke’s “inconveniences” (pp. 11.3–12.4)
    2. protective associations
      1. mutual-protection associations (p. 12.7)
      2. division of labor; entrepreneurs selling protective services (p. 13.7)
    3. the dominant protective association
      1. the emergence of a dominant protective association (p. 16.2–8)
      2. pp. 16.9–17.1: “Out of anarchy . . . there arises something very much resembling a minimal state.”
    4. invisible-hand explanations
      1. invisible-hand explanation of the use of money (p. 18.1–7)
      2. goal: invisible-hand explanation of the state (pp. 18.9–19.1)
      3. p. 19.7: characterization of invisible-hand explanations
    5. Is the dominant protective association a state?
      1. It does not claim a monopoly on the use of force—rights enforcement (pp. 23.5–24.7).
      2. It does not protect everyone in its domain—only those who pay (pp. 24.8–25.4).
  4. chapter 3: “Moral Constraints and the State”
    1. the minimal state and the ultraminimal state
      1. the minimal state / night-watchman state as appearing redistributive (p. 26.6)
      2. the ultraminimal state: protective association that claims a monopoly on use of force but does not protect everyone (p. 26.8)
      3. comparison of (1) protective association, (2) ultraminimal state, and (3) minimal state regarding (A) claiming a monopoly on use of force and (B) protecting everyone
      4. a puzzle for the proponent of the ultraminimal state: How is not protecting everyone consistent with respect for rights? (p. 28.1)
    2. moral constraints and moral goals
      1. beginning of a long digression into the basis/foundation/justification of moral constraints
      2. “utilitarianism of rights” (p. 28.6)
      3. side constraints (p. 29.3)
      4. solution to previous puzzle: side constraints, not utilitarianism of rights (p. 30.1)
    3. why side constraints?
      1. p. 31.2: “Individuals are inviolable”
      2. pp. 32.9–33.1: no social entity resembling individual person
    4. libertarian constraints
      1. an additional side constraint “prohibit[ing] aggression against another” (p. 33.6)
      2. derived from the very existence of (any) side constraints (p. 34.2)
    5. constraints and animals
      1. implications for moral side constraints (p. 38.3)
      2. inadequacy of utilitarianism, even for animals (p. 42.3)
    6. the experience machine
      1. showing a further problem for utilitarianism, apparently
      2. showing that more may matter, in regard to animals, than their experiences (p. 45.3)
    7. underdetermination of moral theory
      1. roughly equally good accounting of our intuitions by (p. 47.4)
        1. the elitist hierarchical theory placing people in status 2
        2. the elitist hierarchical theory placing people in status 3 (the absolute-side-constraint theory)
      2. So how strong are the apparent side-constraints protecting humans?
    8. What are constraints based upon?
      1. mystery of connection between characteristics and constraints (p. 48.7)
      2. need for some middle term (p. 49.3)
      3. meaning of life? (p. 50.5)
      4. end of long digression into the basis/foundation/justification of moral constraints
    9. the individualist anarchist
      1. how a minimal state’s differences from a dominant protective association might give rise to objections (pp. 51.7–52.8)
      2. to be shown (p. 52.6)
        1. how a dominant protective association leads, in a morally acceptable way, to an ultraminimal state (d.p.a. plus claimed monopoly)
        2. how an ultraminimal state leads, in a morally acceptable way, to a minimal state (u.s. plus protection for everyone, even though this involves or is likely to involve redistribution)
  5. chapter 4: “Prohibition, Compensation, and Risk”
    1. independents and the dominant protective agency
      1. legitimacy of interfering with someone when he or she is likely to misenforce his or her rights (p. 56.2)
      2. key to claiming a monopoly over rights enforcement: legitimacy of interfering in risky behavior, or enforcing prohibitions on risky behavior (p. 56.8)
    2. prohibition and compensation
      1. Regard a harm as prohibited if the agent must pay something over and above enough to compensate the victim (p. 57.3).
      2. Then this question arises (p. 57.3): Are we prohibited from violating others’ rights, or just required to compensate others when we do so?
    3. Why ever prohibit?—One reason is that the requirement of paying compensation, if caught, might not be enough to deter.
    4. retributive and deterrence theories of punishment (a digression)
      1. possible failure of retributive punishment to deter (p. 61.2)
      2. objectionable equal regard to criminals and victims in utilitarian deterrence theory (p. 61.6–7)
    5. dividing the benefits of exchange
      1. a (second) problem with regarding compensation as sufficient: it’s equivalent to a bargain in which the “buyer” (the boundary crosser) gets all of the benefits, and the “seller” (the victim) just breaks even, which is “unfair and arbitrary” (p. 64.3)
      2. p. 65.1: why “cannot avoid the charge of unfairness”?
    6. fear and prohibition
      1. a (third) problem with regarding compensation as sufficient: the uncompensated fear felt by potential victims (p. 66.7, p. 68.1)
      2. an unanswered question: “Is our argument too utilitarian?” (p. 69.5)
      3. end of answer to “Why ever prohibit?”
    7. Why not always prohibit?
      1. one reason: possibly high costs of obtaining permission in advance (p. 71.9)
      2. necessary conditions for compensation to be enough:
        1. not fear-producing in the way described earlier (p. 72.6)
        2. cost of prior consent exceeds cost of posterior compensation (p. 73.2)
        3. more conditions in need of specification (p. 73.5)
    8. risk
      1. when risks of rights violations are also rights violations (p. 74.8)
      2. fairest, but impractical, solution: compensation for undergoing risk (p. 76.8)
      3. more practical: compensation for harms (p. 77.3)
    9. the principle of compensation
      1. continuing and expanding on the previous topic
      2. a (second) reason not to always prohibit: oppressiveness, for certain individuals, of prohibitions on risky activities (pp. 78.8–79.1)
      3. principle: compensate for prohibitions that disadvantage those whose actions are prohibited (pp. 82.9–83.1)—middle course between (1) compensating for slight inconveniences of prohibition and (2) not compensating at all, no matter how oppressive the prohibitions
    10. productive exchange
      1. two necessary conditions for unproductive exchange (such as blackmail)
        1. buyer is not advantaged relative to seller’s absence (p. 84.8)
        2. seller has no motive aside from the exchange itself (p. 85.2)
      2. no need for “fair” sharing of benefits when an exchange is unproductive for one party (p. 86.2)
      3. p. 86.7: “reject[ion of] the view that the prohibition of risky activities is illegitimate”
      4. p. 86.8: but not a case of compensation for border-crossing (of the sort discussed above)
      5. p. 87.7: use of this principle subsequently
  6. chapter 5: “The State”
    1. from the dominant protective association to the ultra-minimal state
      1. the ultra-minimal state
        1. what this means: a monopoly on (the en)force(ment of rights)
        2. what this doesn’t mean: protecting everyone (this is how the ultra-minimal state falls short of the state)
      2. problems with the transition to the ultra-minimal state
        1. Even if the totality of independents were dangerous, not every (or any) independent is, and the dominant protective association doesn’t have the right to single out any particular independent(s) as the one(s) to interfere with (p. 89.3).
        2. The principle of fairness doesn’t give a group the right to coerce an individual, as the example of the public-address system shows (p. 93.6).
        3. The natural-rights tradition gives very little guidance about procedural rights, though it does hold “that one may . . . defend oneself against being handled by unreliable or unfair procedures” (p. 101.4)
      3. making the transition
        1. Since “a person may resist, in self-defense, if others try to apply to him an unreliable or unfair procedure of justice” (p. 102.7), individuals in a protective association may empower it to do this on their behalf (p. 102.8).
        2. p. 105.3: ”The protective agency may treat the unreliable enforcer of justice as it treats any performer of a risky action” (p. 105.3).
        3. The protective agency may treat the unreliable enforcer of justice in this way even when the unreliable enforcer of justice happens to be getting it right (p. 107.3), and this claim does not depend on any procedural rights of the (guilty) person being punished (p. 107.8).
      4. the establishment of a de facto monopoly (p. 109.5)
    2. from the ultra-minimal state to the state
      1. protecting independents
        1. The protective agency owes protection to independents in exchange from prohibiting them from doing their own rights-enforcing (p. 110.8).
        2. To support this service, it may require such individuals to pay it the monetary costs of self-help enforcement that they would have incurred if they had been permitted to engage in self-help enforcement (p. 112.7).
      2. redistribution
        1. What the agency collects from independents may not be sufficient to cover the cost of the service (pp. 112.9–113.1).
        2. This means that there is a redistributive element (p. 114.2).
        3. But this is not fundamentally redistributive; it is based on the principle of compensation (p. 114.4).
      3. end of the explanation; note that it is an invisible-hand explanation (p. 119.9)
  7. chapter 6: “Further Considerations on the Argument for the State”
    1. big question: We have seen that it is o.k. to forbid others to punish you with an unreliable procedure, on the grounds that it’s dangerous for you when others engage in such conduct. Does this mean it’s also o.k. to prohibiting others from joining another protective association, or keeping another protective association from getting very strong, on the grounds that it’s dangerous for you when these things happen, too? (p. 125.7)
    2. answer: No—“We have put forth a principle which excludes prohibiting actions not wrong in themselves, actions that merely facilitate or make more likely the commission of other wrongs dependent upon other wrong decisions the agent has not made (yet)” (p. 129.6).
  8. chapter 7: “Distributive Justice”
    1. preliminaries
      1. transition: Nozick now moves into part II of the book. The first part was devoted to justifying the minimal state; the second part is devoted to showing that no state more elaborate than the minimal one is justified.
      2. relevance of distributive justice: Although distributive justice is an interesting topic in its own right, Nozick’s reason for considering it is that considerations of distributive justice are frequently given in justification of a state more elaborate than a minimal one, and he wants to show that such considerations do not succeed in justifying a state more elaborate than a minimal one (p. 149.6)
    2. theories of distributive justice
      1. the entitlement theory (p. 153.2)
      2. current time-slice principles (p. 154.3)
      3. end-state principles—a superset of current time-slice principles (p. 155.6)
      4. historical principles—a superset of entitlement principles (p. 155.9–156.1)
      5. patterned principles—some historical principles (pp. 155.9–156.1), plus some end-state ones (p. 156.7)
    3. problems with patterned principles
      1. how liberty upsets patterns (p. 163.4)
      2. patterned principles and families (p. 167.4)
      3. patterned principles’ necessitating redistributive activities (p. 168.8)
    4. problems with redistribution
      1. violation of rights (p. 168.9)
      2. akin to forced labor (p. 169.8)
      3. unfairness of taxing labor income but not free time (p. 170.5)
      4. shift from classical-liberal self-ownership to property rights in other people (p. 172.7)
      5. inconsistency in collecting taxes but allowing emigration? (p. 173.8)
    5. acquisition and the Lockean proviso
    6. some questions from Nozick to Rawls
      1. Why is the the subject matter of distributive justice be the total social product, rather than the cooperative surplus (the total social product minus the sum of the individuals’ non-cooperative outputs)? (p. 185.2)
      2. Why isn’t the entitlement theory as good for the cooperative case as for the non-cooperative case? (p. 186.3)
      3. Why focus on the worst-off group, instead of on the worst-off individual? (p. 190.7)
      4. Why take the regard a subjunctive statement about what it would take for the poor to be better off as warranting an indicative statement about who’s keeping the poor from being better off? (p. 191.7)
      5. Why ignore intra-group cooperation when measuring the benefits of general cooperation? (p. 193.4)
      6. Why is the difference principle a more reasonable basis of cooperation than its opposite? (194–195.4)
    7. two further complaints from Nozick, about Rawls
      1. Because the parties in the original position could choose only end-state principles, not any historical principles, Rawls’s use of the original position prejudges a huge issue (p. 202.3).
      2. It is objectionable, as a matter of method, that Rawls disallows testing his principles in micro-situations (p. 206.3).
    8. the natural lottery
      1. two arguments that Nozick imagines Rawls might be offering (p. 216.3)
        1. the positive argument—showing that the distributive effects of the natural lottery ought to be nullified
        2. the negative argument—rebutting some arguments concluding that the distributive effects of the natural lottery ought not to be nullified
      2. the positive argument—several versions, the most plausible (for attribution to Rawls) of which begs the question (according to Nozick) by assuming equality as norm to govern interactions (p. 224.2)
      3. the negative argument—unable (according to Nozick) to rebut the claim that people are entitled to things that legitimately flow from things to which they are entitled (p. 226.2)
  9. chapter 8: “Equality, Envy, Exploitation, Etc.”
    1. equality (and equality of opportunity)
      1. Williams’s argument for equality (p. 233.8) and Nozick’s reply (p. 234.3)
      2. Nozick and his wife and the other suitor (p. 237.6)
      3. Nozick’s main objection to a general right to certain things—“The particular rights over things fill the space of rights, leaving no room for general rights” (p. 238.8)
    2. envy (and self-esteem)
      1. “People generally judge themselves by how they fall along the most important dimensions in which they differ from others” (p. 243.4).
      2. “These considerations make one somewhat skeptical of the chances of equalizing self-esteem and reducing envy by equalizing positions along that particular dimension upon which self-esteem is (happens to be) importantly based” (p. 244.5).
      3. “principle of conservation of envy” (p. 245.3)
    3. exploitation (and meaningful work)
      1. How can inefficient meaningful work be sustained? (p. 248.5)
        1. less pay for workers
        2. higher prices for consumers
        3. prohibitions on non-meaningful work
      2. “The important point is that there is a means of realizing the worker-control scheme that can be brought about by the voluntary actions of people in a free society” (p. 252.6).
      3. Why don’t workers start their own firms? (p. 255.3–7)
      4. “A person’s choice among differing degrees of unpalatable alternatives is not rendered nonvoluntary by the fact that others voluntarily choose and acted within their rights in a way that did not provide him with a more palatable alternative” (pp. 263.9–264.1).
    4. etc.
      1. “[I]t would violate moral constraints to compel people who are entitled to their holdings to contribute against their will” (p. 268.5).
      2. Thidwick, the big-hearted moose (p. 269.5)
  10. chapter 9: “Demoktesis”
    1. main question of chapter: “Is there some way to continue our story of the origin of the (minimal) state from the state of nature to arrive, via only legitimate steps which violate no one’s rights, at something more closely resembling a modern state?” (p. 276.7)
    2. consistency and parallel examples (methodology)
      1. “But first something must be said about the difficulties in convincing someone to change his evaluation of a case by producing a parallel example” (p. 277.2). Here Nozick suggests that his strategy for getting us to change our opinion (about the justness of something resembling a modern state) is going to be a strategy of providing an example of a state that we would agree is unjust, and then challenging us to explain the grounds on which we call the first one just while admitting that the second is unjust.
      2. But this strategy is hard to pull off: the closer the example, the less likely it is to trigger a different reaction from us; the farther away the example, the less likely it is to seem to require consistent judgments (p. 277.3).
      3. Because of the difficulties of the strategy of coming up with a single parallel example, one (Nozick) may resort to a more sophisticated strategy: that of presenting a chain of examples. For Nozick’s purposes, this would involve presenting an example of a state that is plainly unjust, and then connecting it with what is often claimed to be just by a series of cases that are imperceptibly different from the first (p. 277.2).
      4. Nozick tries to defend his approach from an objection that someone might make from the perspective of philosophy of science (pp. 278.2–279.7). We do not need to worry about this.
      5. Nozick asks us not to let our judgment of the first example in a chain of reasoning be contaminated by what we know is coming: that is, not let it be influenced by our desire to have our judgment in regard to it match the judgment we know we have in regard to the example at the end of the chain of reasoning (p. 279.8).
    3. deriving the more-than-minimal state—chain of examples referred to earlier (pp. 290.9–292.2)
  11. chapter 10: “A Framework for Utopia”
    1. a stable association
      1. definition of a stable association (p. 299.6)—intended by Nozick to be a very desirable situation (p. 299.6)
      2. “in every stable association, each person receives his marginal contribution” (p. 302.4)
    2. four routes to it
      1. the first two parts of the book (especially the first part)
      2. differences among people (p. 309.9); “Utopia will consist . . . of many different and divergent communities in which people lead different kinds of lives under different institutions” (p. 312.1)
      3. impossibility of all goods’ being realized simultaneously; differing opinions among people as to what trade-off is best (p. 312.6)
      4. advantages of filter devices over design devices (p. 317.2)
    3. the framework as utopian common ground
      1. “We have argued that even if there is one kind of community that is best for each and every person, the framework set out is the best means for finding out the nature of that community” (p. 318.5).
      2. “the arguments for the framework offered and mentioned here are even more potent when we drop the (false) assumption that there is one kind of society best for everyone” (p. 318.8).
    4. community and nation
      1. “Though the framework is libertarian and laissez-faire, individual communities within it need not be, and perhaps no community within it will choose to be so” (p. 320.9).
      2. “Wherein lies the difference between a community and a nation that makes the difference in the legitimacy of imposing a certain pattern upon all of its members?” (p. 321.7)
      3. “The difference seems to me to reside in the difference between a face-to-face community and a nation” (p. 322.5).
    5. communities which change
      1. “Anyone may start any sort of new community” (p. 324.5).
      2. “Modifying an already existing community is held to be a different matter” (p. 324.6).
      3. “Having described this solution to the problem, we see that it is unnecessary” (p. 324.7).
    6. total communities
      1. “We might imagine a society in which all work together to achieve a common highest goal” (p. 325.6).
      2. “But the structure itself is diverse; it does not itself provide or guarantee that there will be any common goal that all pursue jointly” (p. 325.7).
    7. how utopia works out—“There is the framework of utopia, and there are the particular communities within the framework” (p. 332.6)
    8. utopia and the minimal state—“This morally favored state . . . we now see is the one that best realizes . . . utopian aspirations” (p. 333.7)