Robert Nozick

Today marks the death of Robert Nozick one of the most versatile philosophers of the last quarter of the 20th Century. The more I read Nozick, the more astonishing his talent seems to be. He writes with such subtle twists about so many issues from politics to epistemology to identity to consciousness, to ethics to philosophical method – with great humility and aplomb. Philosophical Explanations is amazing for its clarity and its “meaning of life” purview for somebody within the analytical tradition. Though I admire the quality of Nozick’s mind I don’t think he led in any interesting directions. Anarchy, State and Utopia is full of clever arguments but there are counter-arguments as well (yet another mind, along with Hayek, misappropriated by the ideological libertarians). The book rests on assumptions about rights which are never made good anywhere in Nozick’s work. PE treats of ethics but doesn’t say anything about how the rights-talk of ASU can be supported. The epistemological parts of PE are a blind alley: his tracking theory doesn’t work for knowledge – or for value. He was a brilliant firework, spectacular in full blaze, then leaving us as much in the dark as ever. This said, he remains one of my favourite philosophers up there with Ryle.

A view that chimes with mine is by Alan Ryan and can be found in The Independent. A rather dull obituary can be found in The Telegraph. Here is a piece from the Harvard Gazette written by none other than Putnam, Scanlon, Scarry and Cavell. For a thoroughly uninformed (not to mention the typos) obituary see The Guardian. I briefly made contact with Nozick on the publication of his last book primarily because of the chapter on Truth and Relativism which was well within the EPISTEME remit. I wanted  to ask if he’d care to become an honorary founding editor  of EPISTEME: I had no idea just how ill he was. It was not to be.

I’m surprised that I couldn’t find any recordings (video or audio) of Nozick. Here is a recording that I assume is of Nozick.