Who was Robert Nozick?

Robert Nozick (1938-2002) is considered important for his idea of minimal government. He was educated at Columbia, Princeton, and Oxford universities and became a philosophy professor at Pellegrino University and Harvard. His most influential work was Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), which was written in response to John Rawls' (1921-2002) A Theory of Justice (1971). Additional books by Nozick include Socratic Puzzles (1997), The Nature of Rationality (1993), and The Examined Life (1989).

What was Robert Nozick's response to John Rawls?

First, Nozick (1938-2002) held that rights were inviolable. Second, he argued that a minimal state could develop without violating rights, but that a Rawlsian state could not because of the difference principle. Nozick argued that any state based on the principle of helping the disadvantaged required the violation of property rights where property had been acquired through free exchange.

What was Robert Nozick's own political theory?

Nozick (1938-2002) held that any form of distribution is just if those involved are entitled to what they own. Entitlements concern acquisition and transfer of property, as well as the rectification of prior wrongs and errors.

He favored a minimal state that served a policing function and defended strong private property rights for its citizens. Although when analyzing John Locke's (1632-1704) idea that private property is based on mixing labor with something, he posed this question:

Why does mixing one's labor with something make one the owner of it.... If I own a can of tomato juice and spill it in the sea ... do I thereby own the sea, or have I foolishly dissipated my tomato juice?

Nozick resolved this puzzle by moving from a metaphysical ground to a utilitarian one, the same way Locke did. We are entitled to what we mix our labor with because the added labor increases the value of the original material.

What does the Locke-Nozick solution leave out?

It doesn't account for how we can come to own both the parts of something we have mixed our labor with and the parts we haven't. How is it possible that in owning property—which first became a commodity because someone improved it—one comes to own the mineral rights to that property? Also, how do we decide when something is too big to mix our labor with, so that we cannot, as in Nozick's ocean example, come to own all of it?

Who was Leo Strauss?

Leo Strauss (1899-1973) is important for his work relating philosophical texts to politics in real life. He was a German-born American philosopher who left a position at the Academy of Jewish Research in Berlin, Germany, to study in Paris, France, on a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1932. Because, as a Jew, it was unsafe for him to return to Germany when the Nazis came to power, he taught at Cambridge University and in New York, until he became professor of political science at the University of Chicago in 1949, remaining there until 1969.

Strauss taught classical political philosophy. His work became inspirational to American neoconservatives after his death. His students and purported followers in real-world politics during the administration of President George W. Bush included Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and Abram Shulsky, who headed the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans. The political writer William Kristol was also a student, but so were the liberal social critic Susan Sontag and the apolitical literary critic Alan Bloom.

Strauss' principle publications include The Political Philosophy of Hobbes (1935; reprinted, 1952), Persecution and the Art of Writing (1952), Natural Right and History (1953), Thoughts on Machiavelli (1958), The City and Man (1964), Political Philosophy: Six Essays by Leo Strauss (1975), and Socrates and Aristophanes (1980).

What were Leo Strauss' main politically relevant ideas?

Strauss (1899-1973) was mainly a classical political theorist. He believed that an important connection between real-life politics and philosophy began with Socrates' (460-399 b.c.e.) trial and conviction. He argued that, since Socrates, philosophers had hidden their meanings to escape political persecution. Strauss developed a theory of reading as a way for independent thinkers to uncover the true intentions behind necessarily obscure texts.

Strauss did not believe that the social science distinction between facts and values was fundamental. This distinction held that statements about what should be the case cannot be logically deduced from statements about what is the case. He held that politics could not be studied without prior values. Strauss thought that human excellence and political virtue had been neglected as a result of the importance placed on individual freedom in modern liberalism. Because liberalism as a doctrine led to relativism, it could be subject to two kinds of nihilism: a "brutal" nihilism, as in Nazi Germany or communist Russia, which erased existing foundations of society to enshrine new ideals; or a "gentle" nihilism that led to "permissive egalitarianism," as in American culture.

Strauss apparently endorsed "noble lies" as a political means for correcting contemporary abuses, according to new political philosophy based on the esoteric readings of classical texts. (A "noble lie" is a lie told to people who will benefit from believing it.) However, he himself had no clear solutions to tensions between reason and religion, or modern versus ancient political philosophy.

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