Philosophical Explanations

Philosophical Explanations

Philosophical Explanations is a wide-ranging metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical treatise written by Robert Nozick and published in 1981.

The Parthenon Model and non-coercive philosophy

Nozick makes a case for a "Parthenon" model of philosophical ambition rather than a "tottering tower", and advocates an explanatory mode of philosophical activity rather than an argumentative/coercive one. [Nozick, pp. 4ff, "Coercive Philosophy"] Parthenon activity pursues various philosophical projects like so many architectural columns, only afterwards attempting to build a roof. The tottering tower makes every project depend on a more fundamental one, reaching bedrock in something like Descartes' "cogito." The explanatory mode aims at exploring possibilities rather than establishing proofs, gathering and ranking a basketful of more or less illuminating theories rather than nailing down (and nailing others to) "The One True Theory." [Nozick, p. 18ff, "Philosophical Pluralism"]

The Closest Continuer Schema and Reflexive Self-Awareness

Nozick's work on personal identity in "Philosophical Explanations" marks a watershed between "Anarchy, State and Utopia" and his subsequent writing. Comparing personal identity to things that can change and even split, like the Vienna Circle, [Nozick, p. 33ff] rather than an immutable guarantor of identity such as Descartes' " Res Cogitans", Nozick holds that personal identity through time is a process of constructive self-synthesis. The self-synthesis begins early in a human life with the development of the capacity for reflexive self-reference, the sort of reference to a given self that only that self can achieve. (Not "that one" or even "this one" but rather something like "this very one".) There is no preexisting I. Rather the I is synthesized or delineated around an early act of reflexive self-referring, an act without a doer in which a doer first comes to exist, a thought without a thinker in which a thinker comes to exist. [Nozick, p. 71ff, "Reflexive Self-Reference"] This process is constructive in that dimensions may then be added ("This body belongs to me") and weighted ("Continuation of a normal human form is very important to me"), and a metric for closeness may be determined ("A body without limbs would not be close enough to be me"). Additions or deletions of dimensions, changes of weightings, and changes in the metric are possible throughout life; there is no requirement that they be the same for any two lives. Each of us is to a considerable extent a self-definer. (He sums this up at one point as follows: "...I synthesize myself by specifying, for me, dimensions and metric within a closest-continuer schema, and also view myself as filling in a place-holder and reflexively specifying my own identity over time by specifying the metric in the dimensional space...." [Nozick, p. 108] )

Branching and Ties

The Closest-Continuer theory deals satisfactorily with many science-fiction scenarios about branching, in which a person-trunk branches or forks into close and less close continuant branches (virtuous Star Trek captains and evil ones, say, as a result of transporter malfunction). The person-branch who is the same person as the person-trunk is going to be the closest continuer (the most virtuous among the captain-branches, presumably). The theory begins to buckle when attention is turned to Ship-of-Theseus cases in which the branches are tied for closeness. Then there is no closest continuer, so (it seems) the original person is dead. It's hard to see such a double success as a lethal failure, however, so critics of the Closest-Continuer theory like Derek Parfit prefer a different judgment: What's important about personal identity persists in such cases, but the concept of personal identity ceases to be applicable. Nozick replies that he does not view a tie as like death: "I am no longer here, yet it is a good enough realization of identity to capture my care which attaches to identity. (So apparently we can have a good enough realization of a concept without that concept strictly applying.)" [Nozick, p. 68]

The Platonic Mode

He calls this caring in the Platonic mode, and seeing actuality through Platonic glasses: You care about your personal identity and you transfer this care to your personal identity's best instantiated realization. [Nozick, p. 62ff, "Ties and Caring"] (Such care contrasts with looking first at C's best instantiated realization in order to decide how much to care. [Nozick, p. 47ff, "Structuring Philosophical Concepts"] ) He suggests that the striving to transcend the limits of your current self, especially evident when seeing actuality through Platonic glasses and caring about a tie, has to do with finding meaning in one's life. "Connecting with that later continuer is a way of not sinking into oblivion." [Nozick, p. 66] It seems then that the Platonic mode of seeing things is at work not only in hypothetical cases of branching but also in a normal human life, wherein it permits the current reflexively self-aware self to transcend the moment. In this case however the Closest Relative mode of structuring concepts is applicable and the concept of personal identity strictly applies, as understood by the Closest-Continuer theory.

Structuring Philosophical Concepts

Nozick imbeds the Closest Continuer theory in a theory of how philosophical concepts like" personal identity" can be structured. [Nozick, p. 47ff, "Structuring Philosophical Concepts"]
# Intrinsic Abstract Structural. A concept C's holding means that an abstract structural description involving only monadic predicates holds. Example: Personal identity is is an intrinsic feature of a person, the soul.
# Relational. X falls under concept C just in case X stands in a certain relationship R to "another, sometimes earlier, thing of a specified sort". Example: Personal identity as analyzed in terms of spatiotemporal continuity, or psychological continuity. (Relational rather than monadic predicates are required by 2.)
# Closest Relative. To the relational view is added the condition that nothing else is as closely related under R to that other thing. Example: The closest continuer theory of personal identity. (Quantification is required by 3.)
# Global. Something satisfies C only if it stands closest in R to a specified y, and also is a part of any wider thing that stands closer in R to y than do other comparably wide things. Example: Any acceptable theory not only must fit the evidence as well as any alternative, but also must be part of any wider theory of more inclusive phenomena that fits the evidence more closely than any alternative to it. (Quantification over wider entities is required by 4.)
# Closest Instantiated Relation. This adds to 1-4 that there is no other instantiated relation R' which comes closer to the concept C than R does. Example: In cases where there is no closest continuer R but rather a tie R' such that the concept of personal identity does not strictly apply, one should (in the Platonic mode; see above) adopt the Closest Instantiated Relation view 5 instead of the Closest Continuer view 3. (Quantification over relations is required by 5.)


Nozick realizes that the closest-continuer schema doesn't focus especially on personal identity but rather on a general framework for identity through time. He tackles the special features of the self, notably its reflexive self-awareness, beginning at the linguistic level in the use of indexicals like 'I' as opposed to proper names or definite descriptions. His account of reflexive self-reference leads to the conclusion that sentences containing 'I', 'me', 'my', or 'mine' (I-statements) are derivable from non-I-statements, specifically in terms of the more general reflexive self-referring phrase 'this very': 'the producer of this very token.' Dismissing as inadequate Kripke-style rigidity or referring to the same thing in all possible worlds, he opts for a feature that a subject of reference has "that is bestowed in that very act of reference". One refers "from the inside" in reflexive self-reference. He proposes that the most adequate linguistic formulation is, 'this very reflexive self-referrer'.ref>Nozick, p. 74]

To be an I or self is to have the capacity for reflexive self-reference. He hypothesizes (it doesn't follow from the linguistic points he's made about how the term 'I' refers) that selves are essentially selves, "that anything which is a self could not have existed yet been otherwise." [Nozick, p. 78] He explores this hypothesis by asking how reflexive self-knowledge is possible, dispensing with the suggestion that this is a special mode of relating to ourselves as objects, or a dispositional account, or a brute-fact account, or an account in which the self places itself into its reflexive self-referrings.

The Self as a Fichtetious object

He stalks a better answer by proposing that entification, the classifying which produces entities, "takes place in one fell swoop, rather than in the stages of tranverse followed by longitudinal". [Nozick, p. 85] An informative entification brings together a diversity that it unifies, maximizing the sum of the degrees of organic unity over the entities it classifies. With these remarks about classification in hand, and with some trepidation, he speculates that "the I is delineated, is synthesized" around an act of reflexive self-referring. [Nozick, p67ff, "Self-Synthesis"] The entity I comes to exist in the act of synthesis. (He asks at this point, "Can the rabbit be pulled out of the rabbit?....Can the self really be a Fichtetious object?" [Nozick, p. 89] ) A current synthesis does not determine the precise character of a later synthesis, but it can affect what happens later as a (non-binding) precedent, and "thereby syntheses at different times can mesh into a larger continuing entity," a currently synthesized self including past self-stages in accordance with the closest continuer and closest predecessor schema. [Nozick, p. 89] The idea that reference is to an independently preexisting and bounded entity is an illusion. Nozick's Fichtetious theory explains why selves are essentially selves: they are synthesized by reflexive self-reference and around it qua something having it. He acknowledges the counter-intuitiveness of speaking of acts without independently existing agents, but he juxtaposes this with our willingness to hold that Descartes can reach only "thinking is going on" and not "I think".

Explanatory Self-Subsumption

Against the conventional wisdom that explanation is irreflexive, Nozick makes a case for explanatory self-subsumption, via quantification theory, of the most fundamental laws. He expands on Kant's strategy of deriving content from form. A principle P could be explanatorily fundamental and explain itself if it presented a characteristic C that all laws possess, in virtue of which they are true. But P itself has the characteristic C. So P is true. Again:

P: any lawlike statement having characteristic C is true.
P is a lawlike statement with characteristic C.
Therefore P is true.
He thinks such explanatory self-subsumption is the best among very few options. Either there is an infinite explanatory chain, or else there is a finite chain that ends in unexplainable facts or self-subsuming laws with the form P. The latter moderates the brute-fact quality of the endpoint. A self-subsumable principle isn't brute because it can be explained.

Inegalitarian Theories

Inegalitarian theories partition states into those requiring explanation and those neither needing nor admitting of explanation. The question 'why is there something rather than nothing?' presupposes an inegalitarian theory in which nothingness is the natural state. He speculates that nothingness could contain a force whereby something is produced, perhaps a very powerful force towards nothingness that other forces have to overcome. With every indication of warming to his topic, he introduces the verb "to nothing" to denote what this nothingness force does to things as it makes or keeps them nonexistent. Then nothingness might nothing itself. "(See how Heideggerian the seas of language run here!) Nothingness, hoisted by its own powerful petard, produces something." [Nozick, p. 123] Alternatively, an inegalitarian theory might take fullness of existence as the natural state, so that the actual situation deviates from fullness because of special forces acting.

Egalitarian Theories

Nozick begins to explore egalitarian theories by considering a partitioning of the world into a state of nothingness and many states which are ways for there to be something. Assuming equal probability for each state and randomness about which obtains, it is simply very likely that there is something. However he moves on because this application of the principle of indifference from probability theory assumes that the natural state for a possibility is nonrealization and that being realized has to be explained by special factors (such as random factors in this case). One way to reach a fully egalitarian theory is to maintain the fecundity principle that all possibilities are realized.

Fecundity and parallel universes

For the fundamental laws and initial conditions C of the universe, the answer to the question "Why C rather than D?" is that both C and D independently exist in parallel universes (including the universe where nothing exists). Nothing is left dangling as a brute fact. The principle of fecundity extends the idea of scientific laws that are invariant with respect to all differentiable coordinate transformations. Lorentz transformations deny special status to particular portions of actuality (absolute position, absolute time, etc.). The principle of fecundity extends this, denying special status to actuality itself. Furthermore it explains itself through self-subsumption and quantification theory. The fecundity principle F states, "For any p, if p states that some realm of possible worlds obtains, then p is true." But F is just such a p as it describes. It follows from this fact, via quantification theory, that F is true.

Limiting the Universes

Nozick accepts reasons for limiting full fecundity in a principle LF that limits the possible worlds to a particular sort S. LF says that our actual world is of sort S, and LF itself states a possibility of sort S. Also the sort S will specify some high degree of explanatory unity, such as all worlds being governed by the same basic natural laws. (Compare the Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, such as David Deutsch's "multiverse" hypothesis.) LF will not be arbitrary if it satisfies the deepest possible invariance principle I.

Self-Subsumption and Reflexive Self-Reference

Nozick concludes by linking explanatory self-subsumption to reflexive self-reference, in order to explain why one version of LF holds rather than others that might hold.The apparent insufficiency of its holding in virtue of its holding, which would have been true of any of the others if they had held, marks the fundamental principle as reflexive: A reflexive fundamental principle will hold merely in virtue of holding, it holds true 'from the inside'.

Knowledge and Skepticism

"Philosophical Explanations" addresses many knotty issues, among them the problem of how to define "knowledge" in the wake of the work of Edmund Gettier, who had offered convincing counter-examples to the classical Platonic definition.

Nozick offers a review of the (already in 1981 abundant) literature on this subject and then suggests his own solution, called the "Truth-Tracking" view. Nozick argues that "p" is an instance of knowledge when:
#"p" is true
#S believes "p"
#if "p" were not true, S would not believe "p"
#if "p" were true, S would believe "p"

In other words, Nozick replaces Platonic "justification" with subjunctive conditionality. Some implications of this replacement are brought out in [] .

Variation and Adherence

The distinctive features of the Truth-Tracking view are 3 and 4, the latter being the variation condition and the former the adherence condition. The knower's belief "would" vary with the truth-value of "p" (variation), and, given "p", the knower "would" believe that "p" (adherence). Implicit in the Truth-Tracking view is that the knower uses a method in coming to believe that "p". He might have arrived at the belief that not-"p" using a different method, but that shouldn't count against his knowing that "p" in the way that he did. So a full statement of the conditions would modify 2: "S believes, via method or way of coming to believe M, that p". Conditions 3 and 4 are similarly changed.

Knowledge of necessary truths

Nozick doesn't require a distinction between "empirical" truths and necessary truths in order to make tracking work. Assuming truths of mathematics are necessarily true, the variation condition drops out and tracking reduces to 4: "If "p" were true and S were to use method M to arrive at a belief whether (or not) "p", then S would believe, via M, that "p"." Most of us most of the time believe mathematical statements on authority or hearsay, and in these cases our tracking the truth reduces to whether the particular channel via which we learn it, such as reading a book, preserves tracking. Because the theory of subjunctives and methods hasn't been specified precisely, there is some leeway to deal with hard cases, such as those in which a person has some false beliefs about the process via which he comes to believe that "p" — he doesn't know that his belief has been induced by brain damage, etc. [See cases (a) through (f), p. 190f, "Cases and Complications"]

The skeptic

Nozick's programmatic idea that philosophy should be non-coercive is nicely illustrated by the relationship he establishes with philosophy's perennial "skeptic." Unlike those who attempt to prove that skepticism is false, he aims to explain how knowledge is possible, especially given the possibility that we are dreaming or floating in a tank. The Truth-Tracking account does this by asserting that its subjunctive conditionals differ from entailments, or in other words by holding that knowledge is not closed under logical implication. My knowing that "p" entails that I am not dreaming, but knowing's variation condition alludes only to those not-"p" worlds that are closest to the actual world (or "the not-"p" neighborhood of the actual world"). [Nozick, p. 199, "Skeptical Possibilities"] The dreaming hypothesis is not in this neighborhood; it describes a remote possible world, not a world nearby to the actual world. He summarizes his position as follows: "Knowledge is a real factual relation, subjunctively specifiable, whose structure admits our standing in this relationship, tracking, to "p" without standing in it to some "k" which we know "p" to entail." [Nozick, p. 209] I know that I am at my desk, even though I don't know that I am not a brain in a vat.

Free Will

When human beings become agents through reflexive self-awareness, theyexpress their agency by having reasons for acting, to which theyassign weights. Choosing the dimensions of one's identity is a specialcase, in which the assigning of weight to a dimension is partlyself-constitutive. But all acting for reasons is constitutive of theself in a broader sense, namely, by its shaping one's character andpersonality in a manner analogous to the shaping that law undergoesthrough the precedent set by earlier court decisions. Just as a judgedoes not merely apply the law but to some degree makes itthrough judicial discretion, so too a person does not merely discoverweights but assigns them; one not only weighs reasons but also weightsthem. Set in train is a process of building a framework for futuredecisions that we are tentatively committed to.

Assigning weight and indeterminism

The life-longprocess of self-definition in this broader sense is construed
indeterministically by Nozick. The weighting is "up to us" in thesense that it is undetermined by antecedent causal factors, eventhough subsequent action is fully caused by the reasons one hasaccepted. He compares assigning weights in this deterministic sense to"the currently orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics",following von Neumann in understanding a quantum mechanicalsystem as in a superposition or probability mixture of states, whichchanges continuously in accordance with quantum mechanical equationsof motion and discontinuously via measurement or observation that"collapses the wave packet" from a superposition to a particularstate. Analogously, a person before decision has reasons withoutfixed weights: he is in a superposition of weights. Theprocess of decision reduces the superposition to a particular statethat causes action.

Unpredictability and discretion

This picture might better be understood as aboutunpredictability rather than indeterminism, since the currentlyfavored many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics isdeterministic. (At any rate it's probably an overstatement to regard von Neumann's wave-packet-collapse view as the current orthodoxy. [] ) Then the unpredictability might be due to the fact thatthe background field of more or less inchoate reasons that the agentfixes is insufficient by itself, without that fixing, to determineaction. But the process as a whole would be deterministic. The tellinganalogy, as suggested above, would not be to the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics but rather judicialdiscretion: A judge does not in "hard cases" discover the law butrather makes it, according to Hart's theory of judicialdiscretion; similarly the agent in character-forming decisions doesnot discover his reasons but rather fixes their weight. Neitherjudicial nor personal agency need be construed indeterministically. [See Michael Bratman's essay "Nozick on Free Will" in the Schmdtz collection]

Foundations of Ethics

At this point in the book (Chapter Five) Nozick turns to the foundations of ethics, seeking to find ethical facts and what makes them hold true. He dismisses nihilism, subjectivism, and relativism. He introduces the dual role of value: My value fixes what behavior should flow from me; your value fixes which behavior should flow toward you. Value manifests itself as a push and as a pull. Either there is ethical harmony, when the push is at least as great as the pull, or perhaps we are just stuck with a gap. He associates moral push with Plato and Aristotle, and the Greek tradition generally; and moral pull with the Jewish tradition.

Ethical Push

The task of the theory of ethical push is to show "that and how" we are better off being moral: "Ordering feasible lives by their moral quality ipso facto orders them by how well off I would be in leading them." [Nozick, p. 404] Though the status and validity of the moral pull do not rest upon the moral push, there is a "value cost" to immoral behavior: The sanction is a value sanction. As for the immoral person who does not care about value, "Not all penalties are felt....his getaway attempt itself has a value cost." [Nozick, p. 409]

The Valuable Self and Organic Unity

Nozick thinks that Plato's vision is right, but that it's a mistake to squeeze this into the view that being moral serves what a person "feels" to be his self-interest. It is our perception of value that Plato evokes. This value is intrinsic value, not its instrumental or means-end value. He hypothesizes an intrinsic value dimension D that underlies value rankings like his, where animals are generally more valuable than plants (but a mouse isn't more valuable than an 88-year-old redwood), plants are generally more valuable than rocks, etc. He looks to aesthetics to uncover the dimension D, finding it in (degree of)" unity in diversity", or organic unity. He notes that his standard of organic unity will take into account "magnitude and importance" so that it "will not favor Flaubert over Tolstoy", and that the diversity unified by a work needn't all be present in the work, "as shown by Picasso line drawings". [Nozick, p. 416] He admits that there is no formal measure of his standard, only an intuitive and rough notion. He takes it to be compatible with the existence of other particular values peculiar to specific realms, such as sensuous color quality in paintings, feelings of satisfaction or pleasure, etc. He assumes that such outlier values are of small effect and that organic unity is the basic dimension of value, suggesting that its explanatory value for 60 to 90 percent of cases would secure it as such. [Nozick, p. 419]

The Structure of Value

Aggregation by itself doesn't increase organic unity, so, writing intrinic value as V and conglomeration by a plus sign, we get [Nozick, p. 423]
V(X + Y) ≤ V(X) + V(Y)
The simplest additive function pertains to wholes and allows the value of the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. Writing organic unity as O,
V(X) = O(X) + Σ V(parts of X)
His theory is noncommital about whether there are atoms of value. It is compatible with the creation of value ex nihilo, out of nothing of intrinsic value. Following the terminology of logicians in model theory, Nozick proposes that values are abstract structures and that things having a particular value are realizations of the corresponding structure. Just as models are realizations of abstract structures, things with value are models of the value. The abstract structure's realization is important because it creates additional organic unity. It brings along isomporphism, "a tight unifying relationship". (However, degree of organic unity isn't necessarily preserved by isomorphism, as suggested by comparing a phonograph record of a performance with the performance itself.)

The Function of Value

Nozick hypothesizes a function of value, which is to be pursued, maintained, contemplated, valued. He specifies a class V (for valuing) of verbs that state this function, a class that includes: care about, accept, support, affirm, encourage, protect, guard, praise, seek, embrace, serve, be drawn toward, be attracted by, etc. The function of values for us is that we are to V them. [Nozick, p. 430] Doing so makes us more valuable, partially explaining the force of the phrase 'we are to'.

A person who tracks bestness (who seeks value) can't simply "maximize" on the value dimension. There is an ineradicable pluralism of values, so creativity and individuality are required in the way we realize values. An individual's weighting of values in free choice reflects the pluralist nature of the realm of values.

Ethical Pull

The theory of ethical pull must specify "the moral basis", the characteristic in virtue of which a moral claim is exerted on us by others. It must also explain how this characteristic constrains the behavior of others towards the possessor of the characteristic. The moral basis must be something valuable. Nozick volunteers "being an I": the self as reflexively self-conscious (see above), adding that the self must be a value seeker. What is wanted is a self seeking value. This gives rise to the basic fundamental principle of the moral pull: "Treat someone (who is a value-seeking I) as a value-seeking I." [Nozick, p. 462] Such treatment requires contouring or shaping one's behavior to the other, by analogy with an artisan who adapts his action to the variational details of his particular materials.


Ethical responsiveness responds to the basic moral characteristic as valuable. It isn't simply a matter of following rules, but moral principles against murder, coercion, manipulation, and lying are valid summaries of what responsiveness demands. There is however a general principle calling for responsiveness to value as such, with "intricate implications for animals, trees, ecological systems, and so on". [Nozick, p. 472] Moral progress consists partly in coming to see features as calling for ethical response. If one's basic moral characteristic of being a value-seeking individual includes weighting values in free choice (see above), then being responsive to this characteristic will be required in order to respect a person's autonomy. He classifies responsiveness to value along with knowledge (on his tracking account) as belonging to a more general category of responsive connection to the world. The intrinsic value of responsiveness is not a primitive or special fact, but instead it follows from value as degree of organic unity.

An analogy between ethical and scientific judgment

Nozick defends an analogy between ethical and scientific judgment. The right-making and wrong-making characteristics of action correspond to the different dimensions along which a scientific theory can be evaluated, and the outweighing and overriding between sets of moral features correspond to the overall evaluation and comparison of theories.

A multi-level balancing structure

He maintains that a multi-level balancing structure sensitive to weighting structures the moral pull and delineates the form of responsiveness better than simpler balancing structures and far better than straightforward maximizing or deontological structures. He suggests that this structure will be a teleological framework within which deontological concerns will be given weight in a process that aims at maximizing the good.The four-layer structure of ethics that he develops in "The Examined Life" articulates what he has in mind by a multi-level balancing structure. There are lingering problems for this maximizing picture about balancing the action done against the world's resulting state. (These problems get addressed in The Nature of Rationality.)


Although Nozick holds that the sanction for immoral conduct is a value sanction rather than something necessarily experienced, he turns to the traditional question whether morality and self-interest coincide, distinguishing various possibilities. One of these results from an inquiry in which neither morality nor self-interest is fully specified in advance, becoming fully specified only in the course of investigation, a course that might take one far from the original conceptions. He imagines a process in which a person is transformed, perhaps in an iterated process, by leading his best life by his lights while also leading as moral a life as is compatible with this best life and reflecting philosophically about bestness and morality. He may be changed by this process, in which case it is repeated. The Platonic thesis is that eventually the two notions will stabilize and become identical (or necessarily coincident, or subjunctively coextensive). Similar iterations might apply to objective value, so that the person comes to think that his best life is his most valuable life. Another process would lead to similar convergence of morality and value.

Development and Transformation of the Self

Harmonious hierarchical development transforms the lower by the higher, as in the pleasure that an altruist takes in good deeds. But also the higher is rendered less ethereal and less desiccated by its connection with the more elemental. Such development removes or drastically diminishes the divergence between self-interest and morality. Nozick endorses a modified Aristotelian theory that we are best off (most valuable) if we exercise and bring to flourishing our most valuable characteristics. Value-seekers are value reagents (in the language of chemistry), and as such they have a cosmic role to realize value, which by itself is "inert", by infusing it into the material and human realm.

Fact and Value

Values could enter into the very definition of what a fact is, or values might enter into the process of knowing a fact. These possibilities for circumventing the fact-value chasm see values as presupposed by facts. A third possibility gives them coordinate status: The same processes that carve facts out of the undifferentiated, unconceptualized stuff also carve out values. So let O be the deep cognitive process via which we structure the world, operating on an inchoate undifferentiated X, yielding a realm of differentiated, delineated, and structured facts F. Then
The most dramatic form of the third possibility is that
Nozick doesn't see a candidate for the separate stuff X (he doesn't consider forms of neutral monism like William James' "pure experience"), so he interprets the third possibility as a two-stage sequence.

Kantian Structuring

Nozick notes the possibility of a fundamental principle of ethics, "You ought to follow principles with feature F", that is self-subsuming (see above). He also considers the possibility of Kantian structuring for ethics, a status similar to the synthetic apriori in the First Critique. As a special case, Kantian structuring might apply for ethical facts, but not for the other facts, explaining our sense that there is something more subjective about the ethical truths. The Kantian structuring could be induced by something basic and inescapable, like being an I. On the view that the I synthesizes and structures itself so as to maximize organic unity around self-reflexive intentional activity, the boundaries of the self and the dimensions along which it projects itself are not metaphysically given, so among its characteristic processes could be this Kantian structuring.

The Basis of Value

Nozick spots five possibilities for our relation to values.
# Nihilism. There are no values or true ought statements.
# Realism (or Platonism). Values exist and have their character independently of our choices and attitudes.
# Idealism (or Creationism). Values exist, but their existence and character are dependent on us.
# Formationism (or Romanticism). Values exist independently of us, but inchoately. We determine their precise character.
# Realizationism. We determine that values exist, but their character is independent of us.
He favors realizationism. (Compare Popper's notion of World Three.) We bring value to our universe by our reflexive choice that there be value. This provides an "internalist strand" in the theory of value, since value will have some connection with a person's motivations. If "moral realism" is the view that moral value is entirely mind-independent, realizationism isn't a form of moral realism. Neither is formationism. Or realizationism and formationism could be viewed as borderline cases of moral realism.

Philosophy and the Meaning of Life

After some humorous anecdotes Nozick settles down to study the meaning of life by distinguishing different senses and kinds of meaning, in order to assess their relevance.
# Meaning as external causal relationship.
# Meaning as external referential or semantic relation.
# Meaning as intention or purpose.
# Meaning as lesson.
# Meaning as personal significance, importance, value, mattering.
# Meaning as objective meaningfulness.
# Meaning as intrinsic meaningfulness.
# Meaning as total resultant meaning (1-7)

Arriving at the idea of a meaningful life as a life exhibiting a pattern that transparently exemplifies a positive lesson, he finds that we can still "stand outside" that life and see it as signifying nothing. Death is in tension with our lives having meaning, but on the other hand leaving behind significant traces makes for meaningfulness. "The narrower the limits of a life, the less meaningful it is." [ Benatar, page 81.] There needn't be a connection to meaning beyond those limits. Connection to value is enough. He proposes the term "" to denote what we care about in our lives: that they have value and meaning. You can also just make something up and make up facts and its a phylosophy.

ee also

*"Anarchy, State, and Utopia" (1974/2001) ISBN 0-631-19780-X
*"The Examined Life" (1989) ISBN 0-671-72501-7
*"The Nature of Rationality" (1993/1995) ISBN 0-691-02096-5
*"Socratic Puzzles" (1997) ISBN 0-674-81653-6
*"" (2001/2003) ISBN 0-674-01245-3



  • Benatar,David, editor. "Life, Death, and Meaning: Key Philosophical Readings on the Big Questions". 2004: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Nozick, Robert. "Philosophical Explanations". 1981: Harvard University Press.
  • Schmidtz, David (ed). "Robert Nozick". 2002: Cambridge University Press

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