Philosophy Index

Robert Nozick

Robert Nozick (1938–2002) was an American social and political philosopher and a professor at Harvard.

Political Philosophy

Nozick's most influential work is Anarchy, State and Utopia. This 1974 book is largely a response to A Theory of Justice from John Rawls.

While Rawls sought an egalitarian view of justice that saw the government correcting arbitrary social inequalities, Nozick strongly argued that the role of a government should be minimal. All the state should be concerned with is “the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on” (“Anarchy, State and Utopia”, xi). Nozick claimed that human beings rights were so strong that the idea of a government having any power over people was highly questionable. As a result, the only thing a government ought to be able to do is to provide protection for certain individual rights from other people.

Nozick argues for a libertarian political philosophy in which people are generally free, and the government's only role, and the only reason against anarchy, is for the protection of people. Such a state would arise naturally out of anarchy, but nothing beyond this minimalist agency could be justified.

Epistemology

Nozick also contributed to epistemology with his tracking theory of knowledge. Nozick offered conditions for knowledge that deal with Gettier counterexamples to the traditional definition of knowledge by ensuring that knowledge reliably keeps track of the truth.

Selected Works

  • Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974)
  • Philosophical Explanations (1981)
  • The Examined Life (1989)

Vitals

Name: Robert Nozick
Born: November 16, 1938
Died: January 23, 2002
Degrees: B.A. (Columbia, 1959)
Ph.D. (Princeton, 1963)