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The Turing Test: Who Can Successfully Explain Robert Nozick?

Bryan Caplan writes:

The Ideological Turing Test, : In his FiveBooks interview with the Browser, Paul Krugman seems to suggests an analogous test.  According to Krugman, liberals have the ability to simulate conservatives, but conservatives lack the ability to simulate liberals.... It's easy to scoff at Krugman's self-congratulation, but at the meta-level, he's on to something. Mill states it well: "He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that."  If someone can correctly explain a position but continue to disagree with it, that position is less likely to be correct.... I'd add that we should compare people in the same field: Rand's inability to explain Keynesian economics would be no more telling than Krugman's inability to explain Nozickian political philosophy.  (Of course, if Krugman could correctly explain Nozickian political philosophy, that would be fairly impressive)...

I would maintain that only liberals can successfully explain Nozickian political philosophy--certainly I have never met a believer in Nozickianism who can do so, and I expect never to do so.

Why? Well, let me sketch out the logic of Robert Nozick's argument for his version of catallaxy as the only just order. It takes only fourteen steps:

  1. Nobody is allowed to make utilitarian or consequentialist arguments. Nobody.
  2. I mean it: utilitarian or consequentialist arguments--appeals to the greatest good of the greatest number or such--are out-of-order, completely. Don't even think of making one.
  3. The only criterion for justice is: what's mine is mine, and nobody can rightly take or tax it from me.
  4. Something becomes mine if I make it.
  5. Something becomes mine if I trade for it with you if it is yours and if you are a responsible adult.
  6. Something is mine if I take it from the common stock of nature as long as I leave enough for latecomers to also take what they want from the common stock of nature.
  7. But now everything is owned: the latecomers can't take what they want.
  8. It gets worse: everything that is mine is to some degree derived from previous acts of original appropriation--and those were all illegitimate, since they did not leave enough for the latecomers to take what they want from the common stock of nature.
  9. So none of my property is legitimate, and nobody I trade with has legitimate title to anything.
  10. Oops.
  11. I know: I will say that the latecomers would be poorer under a system of propertyless anarchy in which nobody has a right to anything than they are under my system--even though others have gotten to appropriate from nature and they haven't.
  12. Therefore they don't have a legitimate beef: they are advantaged rather than disadvantaged by my version of catallaxy, and have no standing to complain.
  13. Therefore everything mine is mine, and everything yours is yours, and how dare anybody claim that taxing anything of mine is legitimate!
  14. Consequentialist utilitarian argument? What consequentialist utilitarian argument?

To be able to successfully explain Nozickian political philosophy is to face the reality that it is self-parody, or perhaps CALVINBALL!

Hence if any Nozickian believer ever grasps the structure of the argument well enough to successfully explain it, they thereby cease to be a Nozickian believer. Nozickian believers are thus, in a sense, incapable of passing the Turing Test...