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.
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 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, at Princeton (Ph.D. 1963), and Oxford as a Fulbright Scholar.
Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), which received a National Book Award, argues among other things 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 here challenges 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." Anarchy, State and Utopia claims a heritage from John Locke's Second Treatise on Government and tries to base itself upon a natural law doctrine. Locke only relied on natural law as God-given to counteract the King of England's claim to divine right and thus claim to all the property of England. Nozick suggested, again as a critique of utilitarianism, that the sacrosanctity of life made property rights non-negotiable. This principle has served as a foundation for many libertarian pitches into modern politics. Most controversially, Nozick argued that a consistent upholding of the libertarian non-aggression principle would allow and regard as valid consensual/non-coercive enslavement contracts between adults. He rejected the notion of inalienable rights advanced by most other 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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