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Robert Nozick et le bon combat

Robert Nozick et le bon combat

4 minutes
September 9, 2010

March 2002 -- "Whoever makes something, having bought or contracted for all other held resources used in the process…is entitled to it. The situation is not one of something's getting made, and there being an open question of who is to get it. Things come into the world already attached to people having entitlements over them…. Those who start afresh to complete 'to each according to his ____' treat objects as if they appeared from nowhere, out of nothing."

I first read that passage in a book manuscript that was circulating in the Princeton University philosophy department in 1974. It reminded me of the words Ayn Rand put in the mouth of her hero in Atlas Shrugged :

"[I]ndividuals are ends and not merely means; they may not be sacrificed or used for the achieving of other ends without their consent. Individuals are inviolable."

-Robert Nozick

"The socialist society would have to forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults."  Nozick

Though he made ample use of economic theory in this critique, he wrote primarily from a moral point of view. Like Rand, he enraged the Left by denying them the moral high ground—and he did so with great wit. "The socialist society," said Nozick, "would have to forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults." In a discussion of the income tax as a device for redistribution, he argued that "taxation of earnings from labor is on a par with forced labor." On one issue after another, he punctured the political idealism of those who wanted government to pursue their vision of utopia; he did it by showing that any such program uses coercion to violate individual autonomy.

In the world of academic philosophy, Nozick became the most prominent advocate of libertarianism, the theorist with whom every other viewpoint had to contend. This was not because his case for freedom was fundamentally original. Many of the arguments he used can be found in the long tradition of classical liberalism, from John Locke in the seventeenth century to Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand in our own era. The reason for Nozick's prominence was principally that he cast the arguments in the method and style of analytic philosophy, the approach that dominates academic philosophy in English-speaking countries.

As the name suggests, analytic philosophers consider their job to be the close and detailed analysis of issues. They prize philosophical dissection: subtle distinctions, rigorous arguments, precise formulations of positions. Nozick was a master of this approach. He handled the scalpel of analysis with a speed and dexterity that awed his colleagues, even when they didn't like his views. And indeed, his book did much to clarify issues of distributive justice and the nature of the conflict between libertarians and egalitarians.

But the goal of close analysis creates occupational hazards. Analytic philosophers are often insensitive to the wider context of the issues they deal with and unwilling—or unable—to examine their own fundamental assumptions, concepts, and methods. As a result, they tend to take for granted the current state of play in their specialist domains, treating complex, derivative concepts and assumptions as axiomatic. Nozick was no exception.

This was nowhere clearer, to me at least, than in an early article he wrote criticizing Rand's moral and political philosophy. Nozick more or less completely failed to come to grips with Rand's theory, spinning his wheels in an effort to break apart her integrated view of human life and values. In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, the shortcoming of his method was most evident in his failure to explain why individuals are ends in themselves and why they are inviolable; his statement of the principle was about as far as he went. Nozick did not accept Rand's explanation that individuals are ends in themselves because life is metaphysically an end in itself, the fundamental value that each person seeks to realize. But he did not offer any alternative.

Nevertheless, Anarchy, State, and Utopia is a genuine classic in the literature of freedom. Robert Nozick fought the good fight with intellectual brilliance, moral idealism, and personal courage. Everyone else engaged in that fight owes him a large debt of gratitude.

This article was originally published in the March 2002 issue of
Navigator magazine, The Atlas Society precursor to The New Individualist.

David Kelley


David Kelley

David Kelley est le fondateur de l'Atlas Society. Philosophe professionnel, enseignant et auteur de best-sellers, il est l'un des principaux défenseurs de l'objectivisme depuis plus de 25 ans.

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David Kelley Ph.D
About the author:
David Kelley Ph.D

David Kelley founded The Atlas Society (TAS) in 1990 and served as Executive Director through 2016. In addition, as Chief Intellectual Officer, he was responsible for overseeing the content produced by the organization: articles, videos, talks at conferences, etc.. Retired from TAS in 2018, he remains active in TAS projects and continues to serve on the Board of Trustees.

Kelley est un philosophe professionnel, un enseignant et un écrivain. Après avoir obtenu un doctorat en philosophie à l'université de Princeton en 1975, il a rejoint le département de philosophie du Vassar College, où il a enseigné une grande variété de cours à tous les niveaux. Il a également enseigné la philosophie à l'université de Brandeis et a donné de nombreuses conférences sur d'autres campus.

Les écrits philosophiques de Kelley comprennent des travaux originaux sur l'éthique, l'épistémologie et la politique, dont beaucoup développent les idées objectivistes en profondeur et dans de nouvelles directions. Il est l'auteur de L'évidence des sensun traité d'épistémologie ; Vérité et tolérance dans l'objectivismesur les questions relatives au mouvement objectiviste ; Unrugged Individualism : La base égoïste de la bienveillanceet L'art du raisonnementun manuel d'introduction à la logique largement utilisé, qui en est aujourd'hui à sa cinquième édition.

M. Kelley a donné des conférences et publié sur un large éventail de sujets politiques et culturels. Ses articles sur les questions sociales et les politiques publiques ont été publiés dans Harpers, The Sciences, Reason, Harvard Business Review, The Freeman, On Principle et ailleurs. Dans les années 1980, il a fréquemment écrit pour Barrons Financial and Business Magazine sur des sujets tels que l'égalitarisme, l'immigration, les lois sur le salaire minimum et la sécurité sociale.

Son livre A Life of One's Own : Individual Rights and the Welfare State (Une vie à soi : les droits individuels et l'État-providence) est une critique des prémisses morales de l'État-providence et une défense des alternatives privées qui préservent l'autonomie, la responsabilité et la dignité de l'individu. Son intervention dans l'émission spéciale "Greed" de John Stossel sur ABC/TV en 1998 a suscité un débat national sur l'éthique du capitalisme.

Expert internationalement reconnu de l'objectivisme, il a donné de nombreuses conférences sur Ayn Rand, ses idées et ses œuvres. Il a été consultant pour l'adaptation cinématographique de Atlas Shruggedet rédacteur en chef de Atlas Shrugged : Le roman, les films, la philosophie.


Principaux travaux (sélectionnés) :

"Concepts et natures : A Commentary on The Realist Turn (by Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl)," Reason Papers 42, no. 1, (Summer 2021) ; Ce compte-rendu d'un livre récent comprend une plongée profonde dans l'ontologie et l'épistémologie des concepts.

Les fondements de la connaissance. Six conférences sur l'épistémologie objectiviste.

"La primauté de l'existence" et "L'épistémologie de la perception", The Jefferson School, San Diego, juillet 1985.

"Universals and Induction", deux conférences aux congrès du GKRH, Dallas et Ann Arbor, mars 1989

"Skepticism", Université de York, Toronto, 1987

"The Nature of Free Will", deux conférences au Portland Institute, octobre 1986

"The Party of Modernity", Cato Policy Report, mai/juin 2003 ; et Navigator, novembre 2003 ; un article largement cité sur les divisions culturelles entre les points de vue pré-moderne, moderne (Lumières) et post-moderne.

"I Don't Have To"(IOS Journal, volume 6, numéro 1, avril 1996) et "I Can and I Will"(The New Individualist, automne/hiver 2011) ; des articles d'accompagnement sur la concrétisation du contrôle que nous avons sur nos vies en tant qu'individus.

Idées et idéologies
Philosophie politique