Rights as Side Constraints and the Minimal State 
Rights as Side Constraints and the Minimal State
by Yale / Ian Shapiro
Video Lecture 14 of 25
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Date Added: June 18, 2011

Lecture Description

Professor Shapiro dives more deeply into Robert Nozick's theory of the minimal, or night watchman, state. This formulation is not redistributive, nor does it consider rights as goals, but rather as side-constraints on what we can do. In other words, Nozick's is a deontological, not teleological, approach. However, the Achilles' heel of this formulation is the incorporation of independents, based on a system of compensation. Some people will opt not to enter into our hypothetical social contract, but for the dominant protective association to protect its members from the fear of these independents, they must be forced to incorporate. Nozick thinks that if members could compensate the independents for this rights violation, it would legitimize the state. Unfortunately, no one has ever solved the puzzle of compensation without some interpersonal comparison of utility. But another way to salvage Nozick's account is with the Kantian dictum "ought entails can," meaning that since independents cannot be tolerated, it cannot be an obligation not to violate their rights. But what if the independents could compensate the members for their fear? And couldn't this compensation model be used to justify the welfare state as well? Isn't the value of consent, in which Nozick's account is rooted, completely violated here?

Reading assignment:
Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, chapter 4
Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, chapter 5, 8-10 [optional]

Course Index

Course Description

This course explores main answers to the question, "When do governments deserve our allegiance?" It starts with a survey of major political theories of the Enlightenment—Utilitarianism, Marxism, and the social contract tradition—through classical formulations, historical context, and contemporary debates relating to politics today. It then turns to the rejection of Enlightenment political thinking. Lastly, it deals with the nature of, and justifications for, democratic politics, and their relations to Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political thinking. Practical implications of these arguments are covered through discussion of a variety of concrete problems.

Course Structure:
This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2010.

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