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The Moral Problem and Nozick's Theory of Value

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Gyges of Lydia finds the RingThe moral problem was first clearly articulated by Glaucon in Plato’s The Republic. It can be summed up with a simple question: Why be moral? If I always do the right thing, will I be rewarded? Are people really motivated to do good? Glaucon was doubtful. He recounted the myth of the Ring of Gyges to support his point. Imagine you were given a magical ring that rendered you invisible. Under the cloak of invisibility would you not — like the shepherd in the myth — do all manner of evil? Philosophers have struggled with the problem over the years. Some argue that doing the right thing is its own reward. Some argue that we should do the right thing lest we risk the wrath of God. Others pose more abstruse and technical solutions, claiming that doing the right thing is essential if we are to be rationally consistent. In his book Philosophical Explanations, Robert Nozick proposes a unique answer to the question: he argues that if we don’t do the right thing then we live less valuable lives. To support this he develops an odd theory of what it means to live a valuable life. I find this theory intriguing and I haven’t seen many people discuss it.* So, in what follows, I want to summarise and evaluate its key features. I won’t be overly critical — indeed, I find Nozick’s defence of it to be almost too sketchy and programmatic to enable much criticism — but I will try to give a reasonable account of its main aspects. This requires me to condense 50 pages of Nozick’s text into a short article. I’ll try my best. I will proceed as follows. First, I will look at Nozick’s critique of other solutions to the moral problem, specifically the inconsistency/rational contradiction solutions. His comments on this are, in my view, illuminating and worth sharing. Second, I will outline his theory of value — the organic unity theory — and explain how he justifies it. Third, I will consider the merits of this theory and how it is supposed to solve the moral. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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