Robert Nozick

Biography of Robert Nozick

Robert Nozick (November 16, 1938 – January 23, 2002) was an American political philosopher, most prominent in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a professor at Harvard University. He is best known for his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), a libertarian answer to John Rawls's A Theory of Justice (1971). His other work involved decision theory and epistemology.

Personal life

Nozick was born in Brooklyn, the son of a Jewish entrepreneur from the Russian shtetl who had been born with the name of Cohen. Nozick was married to the poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg. He died in 2002 after a prolonged struggle with stomach cancer. He is interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Career and works

Nozick was educated at Columbia (A.B. 1959, summa cum laude), where he studied with Sidney Morgenbesser, and later at Princeton (Ph.D. 1963), and Oxford as a Fulbright Scholar (1963–1964).

For Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) Nozick received a National Book Award in category Philosophy and Religion. There he argues that a distribution of goods is just if brought about by free exchange among consenting adults and from a just starting position, even if large inequalities subsequently emerge from the process. Nozick appealed to the Kantian idea that people should be treated as ends (what he termed 'separateness of persons'), not merely as a means to some other end. Nozick thus challenged the partial conclusion of John Rawls's Second Principle of Justice of his A Theory of Justice, that "social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are to be of greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society." Nozick suggested, as a critique of Rawls and utilitarianism, that the sacrosanctity of life made property rights non-negotiable, such that an individual's personal liberty made state policies of redistribution illegitimate. This principle has served as a foundation for many right-libertarian arguments in modern politics. Anarchy, State and Utopia claims a heritage from John Locke's Second Treatise on Government and seeks to ground itself upon a natural law doctrine, but reaches some importantly different conclusions from Locke himself in several ways. Most controversially, Nozick argued that a consistent upholding of the non-aggression principle would allow and regard as valid consensual or non-coercive enslavement contracts between adults. He rejected the notion of inalienable rights advanced by Locke and most contemporary capitalist-oriented libertarian academics, writing in Anarchy, State and Utopia that the typical notion of a "free system" would allow adults to voluntarily enter into non-coercive slave contracts.

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