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Notes on Nozickian Libertarianism

Notes on Nozickian Libertarianism

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Published by stampit
Robert Nozick (November 16, 1938 – January 23, 2002) was an American philosopher, and professor at Harvard University. 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. He was a prominent American political philosopher in the 1970s and 1980s. He did additional but less influential work in such subjects as decision theory and epistemology. His Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) was a libertarian answer to John Rawls's A Theory of Justice, published in 1971. He 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.
Robert Nozick (November 16, 1938 – January 23, 2002) was an American philosopher, and professor at Harvard University. 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. He was a prominent American political philosopher in the 1970s and 1980s. He did additional but less influential work in such subjects as decision theory and epistemology. His Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) was a libertarian answer to John Rawls's A Theory of Justice, published in 1971. He 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.

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Published by: stampit on Aug 18, 2009
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Political and Social PhilosophyPhil. 213R. N. Johnson
I. THE ENTITLEMENT THEORY
 
Nozick's Entitlement Theory is based on the idea that only free market exchanges respectpeople as equals--for him, as "ends in themselves". Indeed, even if a free market did not, forinstance, produce the most overall well being on Nozick's view, it would be justified. According toNozick, the theory consists of three principles:1. Transfer principle:Holdings (actually) freely acquired from others who acquired themin a just way are justly acquired.2. Acquisition principle: Persons are entitled to holdings initially acquired in a just way(according to the Lockean Proviso).3. Rectification principle: Rectify violations of 1 or 2 by restoring holdings to theirrightful owners, or a "one time" redistribution according to the Difference Principle.
 
If people's current holdings are justly acquired, then the transfer principle alone determineswhether subsequent distributions are just. Consequently, any taxation over the amount required topreserving institutions of just transfer, acquisition and rectification--that is, preservingentitlements--according to Nozick, are unjust.
 
II. THE WILT CHAMBERLAIN ARGUMENT
 
The Wilt Chamberlain example is supposed to show intuitively that no "patterned" theory of just distribution is defensible: Any distribution which results from free exchanges between personsentitled to their holdings must be just. But free exchanges will always disrupt any favoredpatterned of distribution. If we have legitimately acquired something, we can dispose of it as wesee fit, whatever pattern of distribution results. Some will flourish, some will starve, and this will inturn affect the chances of offspring, etc. But these results, though perhaps undesirable, are notunjust.1. Let D1 be a distribution according to your favorite pattern for society S, in whicheach person has Rn holdings. Let S have 1 million members.2. If D1 is just, then each is entitled to Rn.3. If each is entitled to Rn, then each may dispose of Rn as she sees fit.4. Wilt Chamberlain is a member of S.5. Therefore Wilt Chamberlain has Rn.6. Suppose each person in S freely contributes .25 of her Rn to Wilt.7. Therefore, in the resulting distribution D2, Chamberlain has Rn +$250,000 andevery other member of society has Rn-.25.8. The distribution in D2 will now * D1.9. But D2 resulted from a just initial distribution plus free exchanges.10. So D2 is just, but violates the pattern that determined D1.
 
3, of course, is uestion-bein. Nozick has not reall allowed an favored initial
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distribution principle in determining D1, but only those apportioning absolute rights to property.That is how he is able to argue that any resulting distribution, e.g., D2, from free exchanges must just. But whether people have absolute rights over their shares is what is in question. Does Nozickhave an argument for 3?
 
II. THE SELF-OWNERSHIP ARGUMENT
Yes, he does, the Self-Ownership Argument. Put more simply, the Chamberlain argument is:
 
1. D1 is just according to your favored pattern of distribution (stipulation).2. If D1 is just, then each has an absolute right to her holdings.3. If each has such a right, then any D2 which arises from D1 plus free exchanges is just.4. D2 will be random with regard to any pattern of distribution.5. Therefore, for any pattern of distribution in D1, any new pattern D2 derived from D1plus free exchanges will be just.
 
The problem we noted above was that premise 2 is question-begging: Why should we thinkthat if a distribution is just, it entails absolute rights over holdings? This is where theself-ownership argument comes in.
 
The self-ownership argument is based on the idea that human beings are of unique value. Itis one way of construing the fundamental idea that people must be treated as equals. People are"ends in themselves". To say that a person is an end in herself is to say that she cannot be treatedmerely as a means to some other end. What makes a person an end is the fact that she has thecapacity to choose rationally what she does. This makes people quite different from anything else,such as commodities or animals. The latter can be used by us as mere means to our ends withoutdoing anything morally untoward, since they lack the ability to choose for themselves how they willact or be used. Human beings, having the ability to direct their own behavior by rational decisionand choice, can only be used in a way that respects this capacity. And this means that peoplecan't be used by us unless they consent.
 
The paradigm of violating this requirement to treat people as ends in themselves is thusslavery. A slave is a person who is used as a mere means, that is, without her consent. That is, aslave is someone who is owned by another person. And quite obviously the reverse of slavery isself-ownership. If no one is a slave, then no one owns another person, and if no one owns anotherperson, then each person is only owned by herself. Hence, we get the idea that treating people asends in themselves is treating them as owning themselves.
 
The Self-ownership argument tries to show that redistributive taxation is equivalent to usingpeople as mere means, that is, not consistently with their self-ownership, since it uses themwithout their consent:1. If people are ends in themselves, then they may not be used without their consent.2. If they may not be used without their consent, then they own themselves.3. If people own themselves, then they own their talents and abilities.4. If they own their talents and abilities, then they own the products of their talents andabilities.5. Patterned redistribution allows some people to own the products of others' talentsand abilities.6. Therefore, patterned redistribution allows some people to own other people, and sodoes not treat them as ends in themselves.
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The basic idea here is that one doesn't really own oneself if others have a legitimate claimover what one produces by one's talents. And if only I have a legitimate claim over the products ofmy talents, then I have absolute property rights over them. Hence, Nozick argues for absoluteproperty rights on the basis of the fact that people are ends in themselves. And distributiveschemes such as Rawls', which allows people the products of their talents only to the extent thatthey benefit the less talented treats people as mere means to the enhancement of the lesstalented.
 
III. ABSOLUTE PROPERTY RIGHTS AND SELF-OWNERSHIP
 
Put simply, Nozick argues that if we own ourselves absolutely, then we own what weproduce absolutely. But redistributive taxation takes some of what we produce without our consentand gives it to others. So redistributive taxation is inconsistent with self-ownership, and so isunjust. But does absolute self-ownership really imply absolute ownership over the products ofone's talents?
 
No. Free market exchanges involve much more than simply ourselves and our talents andabilities. We exchange houses, cars, TVs and so on, all of which are not entirely the products ofour talents and abilities. For they are made in part of natural resources as well, and naturalresources are not the products of our talents and abilities. Every commodity, except labor iself, isthe outcome at least two items, human powers and natural resources. For instance, a house ismade by human talents and abilities; but it is made out of wood, bricks and land as well. So evensupposing that we have absolute control over our own talents and abilities, it would not imply thatredistributive taxation is inconsistent with self-ownership, since we do not have absolute controlover resources as well. So if libertarianism is justified in terms of self-ownership, it requires inaddition the help of some view about how we come to have ownership over the resources on whichwe exercise our talents and abilities.
 
Of course, if we freely exchange for a resource over which someone has absolute rights,perhaps we can have absolute rights over it. But recall that on Nozick's view, I am entitled towhatever has been transferred to me by someone who had legitimate title over it. The legitimacy ofmy entitlement is thus dependent on the legitimacy of the previous owner's entitlement. If she wasnot entitled to it, then the transfer to me, no matter how free, does not entitle me to it. Forinstance, I may buy a car from someone for a price we both agree on. But I will still not be entitledto it if it was stolen. Hence, our entitlements are all dependent on the legitimacy of the entitlementof previous owners, and theirs on those previous to them, and so on. This general concern raisesthe following dilemma from G.A. Cohen:
 
1. The acquisition of most natural resources was by force.2. Either force made the acquisition illegitimate or not.3. If it did, then governments may now rightfully confiscate and redistribute it.4. If it did not, then governments may now rightfully confiscate it and redistribute it.5. Hence, either way, if force was the source of the initial acquisition, then governmentsmay rightfully redistribute current holdings.
 
Nozick takes the first horn of the dilemma: Governments may confiscate and redistribute allholdings that were acquired by force, that is, unless we can restore holdings to their rightfulowners (e.g., Native Americans).
 
But what about the very first person to acquire a given resource, as opposed to someonedown the line who forced another to give it up. What would make the initial acquisition of theholding legitimate? If the initial acquisition is legitimate, then all subsequent free exchanges are
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