A Heap of Slavery

Nozick’s Tale of the Slave is online. You should go read it (it’s short) before continuing this post.



heap of slaves Okay, welcome back. Although the story ends with a question I think it’s clear that the intended answer is “none of them,” and that the sequence of cases is meant to be a kind of argument for that conclusion.

It’s important to see, then, that Nozick’s argument is not merely a Sorites argument.

A Sorites argument has the structure “A isn’t different enough from B to belong to a different category; B isn’t different enough from C to belong to a different category … and so on … so all the instances A through Z must belong to the same category.” Thus a pile of three pebbles isn’t a heap; a pile of four pebbles isn’t different enough from a pile of three pebbles to be categorised differently – so no number of pebbles can ever be large enough to count as a heap.

Although there’s philosophical disagreement as to how to describe exactly what’s gone wrong, that kind of argument is clearly fallacious; so if that’s all that Nozick’s argument were doing it wouldn’t be very impressive. But I think there’s a more charitable way of understanding the argument – namely that in each transition from one case to the next we are meant to recognise that the essence of slavery has not been affected – that slavery isn’t at all about how kindly or cruelly one is treated, for example. In a Sorites, each stage is a bit more heaplike than the next, whether it gets all the way to heaphood or not; but – Nozick wants us to see – each stage of his story is not any more freedomlike.

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6 Responses to A Heap of Slavery

  1. TGGP November 9, 2008 at 10:51 pm #

    Julian Sanchez was supposed to put up a Nozick page but I don’t think he ever got around to it.

    Off-topic, but I remember reading Murray Rothbard’s contrarian take on the hard-hat riots. He portrayed the construction workers and Wall Street guys as parasites suckling off the state, whereas most have portrayed them as producerist “real Americans” in contrast to the good-for-nothing hippies. I can’t find it anywhere now though. Do you know where he wrote that?

  2. Administrator November 10, 2008 at 2:27 am #

    The only discussion I could find was this. Is that the one?

    By “most” I guess you mean “most on the right”?

  3. Black Bloke November 10, 2008 at 4:07 am #

    That’s the one I thought of when I read his comment.

    “God Bless the Establishment”

  4. TGGP November 10, 2008 at 8:30 pm #

    Even liberals seem kind of ashamed of their wealth and distance from the working class, as the Old Left had practically deified the proletariat.

  5. TGGP November 10, 2008 at 8:40 pm #

    I’m thinking of a different piece by him. Most people only mention the “hard-hats”, he points out that they were joined by suit-and-briefcase types from Wall Street. He argues that the state pays for infrastructure/public-works and jacks up the stock market or finance (especially during war) so they have a sort of class-interest in the Establishment.

  6. smallylerned November 17, 2008 at 8:37 am #

    Hi Roderick, great to see another philosophy post!

    The Sorities Paradox is something that makes me feel dizzy whenever I try to think about it. Can you recommend any good essays? Or even just give me the solution in 25 words or less 😉

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