University of Kansas, Spring 2004
Philosophy 555: Justice and Economic Systems

Class notes: Nozick, chapters 8–10

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. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)