IAS Target

Robert Nozick


Robert Nozick (November 16, 1938 – January 23, 2002) was a philosopher from the United States. His most famous books are Philosophical Explanations (1981), which included his counterfactual theory of knowledge, and Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), a libertarian response to John Rawls' A Theory of Justice (1971), Nozick also provided his view of utopia as one in which individuals may freely pick the laws of the community into which they enter. Other areas of his research included ethics, decision theory, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and epistemology. Invariances (2001), his final publication before his death, established his theory of evolutionary cosmology, in which he claims that invariances, and hence objectivity itself, developed through evolution across potential universes.

The theory of entitlement

As a result, Nozick's understanding of legitimate state authority differs sharply from that of Rawls and his supporters. According to Rawls, the state should have whatever powers are required to ensure that the people who are the least well-off are as well-off as they may be (though these powers must be in-line with a variety of basic rights & freedoms). This point of view is based on Rawls' theory of justice, one of whose principles is that an unequal distribution of wealth & income is acceptable only if people at the bottom are well off than they would be under any alternative distribution. Nozick's response to such arguments is that they are based on a misunderstanding of distributive justice: They define a just distribution erroneously in terms of the pattern it presents at any particular period (e.g., an equal distribution or a distribution that is unequal to some extent) or the historical circumstances surrounding its development (e.g., those who worked the hardest have more) rather than the nature of the transactions through which it is formed. Nozick believes that any distribution of "holdings", as he refers to them, is just if (and only if) it results from a reasonable distribution through legitimate procedures. One legal means is the appropriation of something that is not legally possessed in conditions when the acquisition would not be detrimental to others. The voluntary transfer of ownership of properties to someone else is a second method. A third method is to make amends for previous wrongdoings in the purchase or transfer of property. Anyone who obtains what he has by these ways, according to Nozick, is ethically entitled to it. Thus, the "entitlement" theory of justice holds that a community's distribution of holdings is equitable if (& only if) everyone in that society is entitled to what he has.

The only justified state is the minimal state

To begin, Nozick attempts to defend the minimum state against the individualist anarchist. He challenges the arguments for a larger state as well as their concept of distributive justice. According to Nozick, the only defensible state is the minimal state, which does not violate individual rights since its tasks are confined to protecting persons from the force, theft, fraud, and contract enforcement. He establishes two prerequisites for a state:
  • an adequate monopoly of power in a certain region, and
  • the state's provision of protection within its territorial boundaries. When conflicts arise and legal action is required, Nozick advises that people create "mutual protection organizations" to defend themselves and exercise their right to rectification. Under such a system, all members of the organization are "on-call" to defend and enforce the rights of other members, which means that everyone is constantly "on-call," and any member may seek protection from any other member or member. This poses the issue of whether everyone in the actual world is prepared to be "on-call". You don't have to be a cynic to disagree with this concept, but any description of human nature in any scenario would serve to disagree with this fictitious Good Samaritan character, which is very unscrupulous of human nature and conduct. According to Nozick, there may be numerous protective associations in the same geographical region at first. When clients from multiple agencies disagree and the agencies cannot agree on how to fix the issue, they will also disagree. As a result of such a struggle, a natural monopoly will emerge over time. Within a geographical area, there will eventually be only one protective association: the "dominant protective association ". The emergence of the "dominant protective association" raises concerns that Nozick is encouraging conflict rather than presenting a pragmatic solution. The hypothesis also fails to specify whether this dominating protective relationship would be private or public and if it would charge individuals a fee or be free of charge. Nozick, ironically, does not analyze how the state arises. According to him, self-interest in his condition of nature will eventually give rise to the state. A critical mind would reject this premise, questioning how, if at all, self-interest could give rise to a state even if one were to defer to this involuntarily for the sake of argument, would it not result in chaos and conflict similar to the events that lead to the evolution of the dominant protective association, albeit with a much greater magnitude of chaos and conflict before the evolution of the state that Nozick indicated?
As per "justice in transfer", a person who obtains a holding justly in transfer from other who is entitled to that holding is entitled to that holding, i.e. how ownership & possession of property can subsequently be transferred from one person to other, provided the transfer is just & the individual is entitled to the holding (buy, gift, & so on). Most obviously, Nozick has failed to provide an explicit description of what he intended by the term "justice" in "justice in transfer". Is justice to be taken in its broadest sense, or does it have a specific meaning in terms of "justice in transfer"? There may be instances of transfer in which one party believes it was a just transfer while the other party believes it was unjust on them and that they would not have conceded to the transfer if they had not been the weaker of the two parties given the dominant party's increasing influence to keep everyone quiet. Nozick comes well short of providing a solution in such a case.

Justice in rectification:

Justice in rectification refers to previous injustices that can be corrected as a result of failing to fairly apply the preceding two principles correctly, i.e. failure to apply principle (a) or (b) can be repaired using this principle.
Nozick's theory of justice in holdings raises various difficulties, such as whether the term justice here refers simply to legal justice or if it encompasses other types of justice, such as social justice and economic justice, among others. This raises the question of whether the meaning of justice is consistent across the entitlement theory and its three sub-divisions, or if the meaning of justice is unique to each subdivision of the entitlement theory. According to the preceding, Nozick may have sought to redefine "redistribution" and replace it with "entitlement theory", however, this has resulted in a slew of unanswered concerns.

Trump's Rights

In general, Nozick believes that persons are born with essential individual rights. Individual rights are important, and no system is required to create moral balance. He opposes all end-result theories, that is, distributive theories like Rawls' theory of justice. Nozick instead adopts the 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant's principle of "individual inviolability", which cannot be violated as a means to achieve particular ends, implying that the significance of each person's possessions of self-ownership is that people should not be used as resources or a means to an end, which is exactly what Rawls proposes to do. It is unacceptable to treat people as if they have no value or to sacrifice one person for the sake of another. He contends that our acts are constrained by the rights of others.
According to Nozick, the "classical liberal" perspective is that people's freedom to manage their bodies and actions is a property right, a right of self-ownership. He also argues for his entitlement theory, which holds that people can obtain and keep the property on an uneven basis as long as it was gained properly in the first place. Thus, if someone acquired a property lawfully, any interference with his possessions, such as taxation, would be a violation of his rights. According to Nozick, a redistributive system infringes on that right by making others "part owners of you, granting them a property interest in you". As a result, a redistributive society establishes "participatory ownership by others of people and their acts and labor". As a result, he claims that taxing labor income is "on par with forced labor.

Do Nozick's rights hold up?

Elliot regards Nozick's concept of individual rights as arbitrary. His definition of a person is separated from others, with the region between the individual and the perimeter of the cordon signifying inviolable individual rights rejects the idea of inviolable individual rights as open to challenges by positing extenuating circumstances justifying other persons disposing of the things in a certain manner notwithstanding the owner's lack of agreement. Furthermore, it appears from Nozick's statement that individual rights are derived from property rights but not the other way around. One may argue that Nozick's rights are based only on property rights, ignoring other essential rights like privacy, freedom of expression, and free speech, among others. The same criticism may be leveled at Nozick's theory that Bernard William has leveled about utilitarianism: it considers humans as ciphers—as channels through which activities are carried out without regard for moral meaning. The only moral evil in Nozick's universe, according to Hart, is the violation of rights. According to Hart, the outcomes of Nozick's theory would be comparable to those of utilitarianism, in which few people enjoy happiness and the majority enjoys very little.

The entitlement perspective and the financial system in its most basic form

Furthermore, Nozick claims that "from the standpoint of entitlement, (production and redistribution) are not two independent concerns". As Stein cynically observes, people can therefore sell themselves into slavery, presumably in exchange for food, and the state should enforce those contracts. Nozick, according to Stein, fails to tackle the suffering that may occur under his system as a result of famine, enslavement, and heinous debt collection techniques. Nozick would approve loan arrangements in which the creditor has the power to do cruel things if the debtor does not or cannot pay. Perhaps Shakespearean Shylock's claim to take a pound of flesh from Antonio would be legal in Nozick's false universe. One might envision what kind of financial system would be used if Nozick's financial system became law. This would imply the growth of individualism and the collapse of mankind to a weird, illogical, & unprincipled financial and economic system that only benefits wealthy individuals, companies, and other similar entities.

To what degree does a call for libertarian rights make sense?

Rawls, according to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, does not endorse unconditional property rights as part of a libertarian entitlement, although Nozick does. Individual liberties, including the rights to property ownership, free commerce, free transfer, and free inheritance, according to Nozick, must be secured for a fair society, and the institutions required for these rights are necessary for justice. Unfortunately, Nozick is content to leave issues in the hands of these institutions rather than pushing for any reform based on result evaluation. "What if the collective of what are thought to be legitimate institutions create bad effects for the individuals in that society without really breaching their immediate concerns, such as the provision of libertarian rights?" Sen asks. It may be demonstrated that the economic and political factors that cause even massive famines can do so without infringing anyone's libertarian rights. Sen maintained Nozick's knowledge of the dangers that his system may lead to, where he proceeded to suggest a potential exception to the circumstance in which the system advocated by him, with total precedence of libertarian rights, would lead to "catastrophic moral horror". Nozick does, however, leave open the question of whether these side limits reflecting rights are absolute, or if they should be ignored to avoid "catastrophic moral horror", and if so, what the ensuing structure would look like, which Nozick normally avoids. Nozick places an overabundance of emphasis on the self-evident value of liberty. Unfortunately, "Nozick may not move toward equality of utility (as James Meade does) or equality of basic good holdings" (as John Rawls does), but Nozick does require equality of libertarian rights—that no one individual should have any greater claim to liberty than anybody else". Nozick's individual rights theory is a fallacy of an imaginary individualistic world that differs dramatically from the actual world that we live in, which consists of community, society, and a larger being, the state. Although Nozick ultimately succumbed to the concept of a minimum state rather than choosing for anarchy, It begs the issue of whether any action done by the fundamental state against the person would not be considered an infringement on the "inviolable individual rights" that Nozick advocates. Sen expresses it succinctly: "inflexible emphasis on rigorous and very demanding norms does not give the concept of justice it's due".


Nozick's concern about his rights could provide egotistical joy to him and others at the expense of many individuals, most likely the community, which is non-existent in their world of "individuals". According to Nozick, talking about the "common good" of human beings is merely a technique of hiding the fact that an individual is being used to benefit another. Nozick defines rights to liberty as providing the individual authority over certain decisions, and each person is free to use his or her rights as he or she sees fit. However, there is no assurance of any conclusion; it is merely a right to choose one's use of action. Nozick made the mistake of prioritizing freedom circumstances for single people rather than addressing freedom conditions for all individuals, i.e. the society as a whole. It is baffling that Nozick fails to see that when addressing the overall well-being of a society or community, goodness and positivity include "all persons" in that society or community. Such erroneous beliefs may have caused him to criticize redistribution ideas, particularly Rawls' theory, which attempts to benefit society as a whole while not ignoring the poor and oppressed. As a result, such individualist capitalist systems are not desired in a society already plagued by hunger, poverty, famine, and misery.