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Robert Nozick's Postition on Ethics - Essay Example

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Robert Nozick's Postition on Ethics

Thus, the main rule or the formula in terms of Mill’s utilitarian thesis is that we ought to act and make decisions on the basis that the greatest good for the greatest number is achieved. Conversely, the basic tenets of Nozick’s position on decision theory, runs as follows: Nozick argues that our decisions ought to pass a test which states that one should only will for themselves that which they were willing to have everyone else do. Phrased in other terms, we ought not to lie because we would not be living in a society where lying was manifest universally. This notion is the categorical imperative, and it is central in terms of the philosophical background for the problem of incommensurability. More importantly, it is a shift in emphasis that maintains that it is the consequences and not the intentions that matter. It will be argued that Nozick's position is incommesurable with utilitarianism on the grounds that his focus is on the consequences, and this is an extension of what he see's as the limitations of focusing on the 'intentions' of actions. Considering the consequences and the intentions of an ethical decision is incommensurable, and this is the core of Nozick's critique of utilitarianism. What is important to note in a preliminary sense, is the quantitative approach taken to decision making in both philosophical utilitarianism and in Nozick. By quantitative, it is implied in the general sense that there is a formula and a measure to decide on ethical questions. Further, there is a concern with the ‘universal’ or the ‘greater number’ in both formulas. These are all key notions which is informing the general problem of in-commensurability Consider, for example, the problems which arise when measuring the two instances provided at the outset of this analysis. Consider an instance, where an individual was in the position of having to choose between having civic virtue ‘society’ and choosing to be loyal to his friend. And, in the other instance, an individual had to choose between his dying mother and the underground resistance movement – a form of civic duty again. One can see at the outset, a number of problems. If we apply utilitarianism, then, in both examples society is the greater good. And, if we take the categorical imperative as the measure, we can see some further paradoxes as well. For example, in the Nozickian framework the individual who turns against his friend (because of utilitarianism) is a committing an act which you would not to want to will universally. And, it is the ‘universal’, at the same time, who is the primary concern as well. The problem at this point, is related to the notion of the ‘universal’ and the connection with the universal along with the concept of measuring or quantifying. It can be said that quantification is an important consideration in both utilitarianism and in the notion of the universal in Nozick. He argues that when we are examining the relationship between the individual over and against the whole, it is impossible not adequately consider some qualitative distinctions. For example, he points out that while morality is as much a general ethos which is qualitative, that is, the general principles or values which any given culture maintains, the abstract measure of ...Show more


The following will demonstrate how incommensurable, Robert Nozick's position on ethics is with utilitarianism. This paper will look at Nozick, and in turn, present a critique of his position. To understand the basis for in-commensurability, is to understand the two key philosophical approaches to moral decisions, namely, utilitarianism and Nozick's more ‘deontological’ oriented decision theory…
Author : boganlarry
Robert Nozicks Postition on Ethics
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