When I arrived in the fall of 1969, there was a philosophy course listed in the catalog entitled “Capitalism.” And the course description was “a moral examination of capitalism.” Of course, for most students, then, it would be taken for granted that a moral examination would be a moral condemnation of capitalism. But that’s not what I intended. We were going to read critics of capitalism. But we were also planning to read defenses of capitalism, and I was going to construct some of my own in the lectures. Some of the graduate students in the philosophy department knew what ideas I held, and they weren’t very happy about a course being taught in the department defending those ideas. Now it was true that there was another course in the department on Marxism by someone who was then a member of the Maoist Progressive Labor Party and students did not object to that. But still some students objected to my giving a lecture course on capitalism. I remember early in the fall (I guess I was scheduled to give the course in the spring term), a graduate student came to me at a departmental reception we had, and said, “We don’t know if you’re going to be allowed to give this course.” I said “What do you mean, not allowed to give this course?” He said, “Well, we know what ideas you hold. We just don’t know whether you will be allowed to give the course.” And I said, “If you come and disrupt my course, I’m going to beat the shit out of you!”
Robert Nozick, in Albert Zlabinger, ‘An Interview with Robert Nozick’, Libertarian Review (December, 1977), p. 15
One might hold that nothingness as a natural state is derivative from a very powerful force toward nothingness, one any other forces have to overcome. Imagine this force as a vacuum force, sucking things into nonexistence or keeping them there. If this force acts upon itself, it sucks nothingness into nothingness, producing something or, perhaps, everything, every possibility.
Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981, p. 123
Inner experiences are not the only things that matter, but they do matter. We would not plug into an experience machine, but we would not plug into an anesthetizing machine either.
Robert Nozick, ‘Emotions’, in The Examined Life, New York, 1989, p. 90
The capitalist ideal of free and voluntary exchange, producers competing to serve consumer needs in the market, individuals following their own bent without outside coercive interference, nations relating as cooperating parties in trade, each individual receiving what others who have earned it choose to bestow for service, no sacrifice imposed on some by others, has been coupled with and provided a cover for other things: international predation, companies bribing governments abroad or at home for special privileges which enable them to avoid competition and exploit their specially granted position, the propping up of autocratic regimes—ones often based upon torture—that countenance this delimited private market, wars for the gaining of resources or market territories, the domination of workers by supervisors or employers, companies keeping secret some injurious effects of their products or manufacturing processes, etc.
Robert Nozick, ‘The Ideal and the Actual’, in The Examined Life, New York, 1989, p. 280
It is a puzzle how so many people, including intellectuals and academics, devote enormous energy to work in which nothing of themselves or their important goals shines forth, not even in the way their work is presented. If they were struck down, their children upon growing up and examining their work would never know why they had done it, would never know who it was that did it. They work that way and sometimes live that way, too.
Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981, p. 578
Now, let us hear another story. A man goes to India, consults a sage in a cave and asks him the meaning of life. In three sentences the sage tells him, the man thanks him and leaves. There are several variants of this story also: In the first, the man lives meaningfully ever after; in the second he makes the sentences public so that everyone then knows the meaning of life; in the third, he sets the sentences to rock music, making his fortune and enabling everyone to whistle the meaning of life; and in the fourth variant, his plane crashes as he is flying off from his meeting with the sage. In the fifth version, the person listening to me tell this story eagerly asks what sentences the sage spoke.
And in the sixth version, I tell him.
Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981, pp. 573-574
I finished my doctoral dissertation when I was very young, at about the age of twenty-three. I thought I wanted to direct my philosophical work to questions that I really cared to answer. This is going to sound strange because one assumes that one will work on things that one cares to answer, but there are a lot of intellectually intriguing questions in philosophy: puzzles, paradoxes, little things that one can think about, especially in the Anglo-American analytic tradition, which were there for their own sake. I had a little imaginary experiment I haven’t thought about since then: if I were working on certain topics for two years, and if I were in an automobile accident that caused me to be in a coma, and then, when I came out of the coma, was told that somebody had solved this problem, but that it had been done in such a difficult way that I would have to spend a year of my life trying to understand the solution, would I still be interested in it?
Robert Nozick, in Giovanna Borradori (ed.), The American Philosopher: Conversations with Quine, Davidson, Putnam, Nozick, Danto, Rorty, Cavell, MacIntyre and Kuhn, Chicago, 1994, p. 77
[Moral] intuitions would fit the earlier social situations of people in hunter-gatherer societies, that is, the social conditions in which the evolutionary selection that shaped our current intuitions took place. (Would justifying norms by such intuitions make them relative to the conditions of hunter-gatherer societies?) How much weight should be placed upon such intuitions? Since they were instilled as surrogates for inclusive fitness, being correlated with it, why not now go directly to calculations of inclusive fitness itself? Or why not, instead, calculate what intuitions would be installed by an evolutionary process that operated over a longer period in which current social conditions held sway, and then justify our moral beliefs by their confluence with those (hypothetical) intuitions, ones better suited to our current situation than the intuitions we have inherited? Or why stay with intuitions instilled by evolution rather than ones instilled by cultural processes, or by some other process we currently find attractive? (But what is the basis of our finding it attractive?)
Robert Nozick, Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2001, pp. 388-339
Does life have meaning? Are there objective ethical truths? Do we have free will? What is the nature of our identity as selves? Must our knowledge and understanding stay within fixed limits? These questions moved me, and others, to enter the study of philosophy. I care what their answers are. While such other philosophical intricacies as whether sets or numbers exist can be fun for a time, they do not make us tremble.
Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981, p. 1
Those retributive theories that hold the punishment somehow should match the crime face a dilemma: either punishment fails to match the wrongness of the crime and so doesn’t retribute fully, or it matches the wrongness of the crime and so is unjustified.
Robert Nozick, Anarcy, State, and Utopia, New York, 1974, p. 60
Philosophy begins in wonder. It never ends.
Robert Nozick, Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2001, p. 301