Socratic Puzzles

Article excerpt

NOZICK, Robert. Socratic Puzzles. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997. viii + 400 pp. Cloth, $35.00--This collection of essays, all previously published, offers selections from the life work of Robert Nozick. The essays range widely both temporally, from 1969 to 1995, and topically, from an analytic study of coercion to thoughts on Socrates' profession of ignorance, to short "philosophical fictions." The themes and approaches will be familiar to those who know anything of Nozick's work. More than half the book is taken up by formal, analytic studies of topics of social, political, and moral significance. Questions about how we might decide between competing individual preferences, or what strategies of decision making are the most rational and/or effective, or even how we come to judge certain actions immoral, are treated with remarkable precision and the maximum amount of formal, symbolic aid. Indeed, the occasional page packed with little but probability matrices, set theory, and the like makes for slow and somewhat typographically intimidating reading. Yet in Nozick's hands these tools are well used, and offer to the patient reader both clarity and convincingness to a degree not likely to be available in another format. In fact, I think the formal essays offer the further advantage of being relatively self-contained, and thus fully accessible to anyone with sufficient education to read them (which, admittedly, means having at least some formal logic and/ or probability theory). In contrast, some of the less formal work ("Experience, Theory, and Language," for instance, on Quine's epistemology) relies on the reader having a great deal of philosophical education and experience. Here to be capable of reading the essay is not sufficient for understanding it; one must also have read a good deal of Quine, and maybe some Hilary Putnam and B. …


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