Tuesday, May 2, 2017

On Robert Nozick

5/2/17. I had the privilege of introducing Professor Nozick when he talked to the American Psychological Association in 1998 on Consciousness. He was an extraordinary man.


August 1998

American Psychological Association
San Francisco


 I am Steve Ceresnie, President of the Michigan Psychological Association, a long-time fan of Professor Robert Nozick, and one of the many friends of Marty Seligman.

Anyone familiar with the remarkable work of Professor Robert Nozick knows that he is no ordinary modern philosopher.   Professor Nozick tell us that “Life or living is not the kind of topic whose investigation philosophers find especially rewarding.” 

But Professor Nozick has the creativity, the guts and  the will to deal with the life, living and the massive problems of the 20th century.  He goes after fundamental questions of human existence that his colleagues ignore:

 “Are there objective ethical truths?”

"Do we have a free will?”

"Is there is meaning to life?"

 In his recent APA Monitor Presidential column, Marty Seligman laments and even says he loses sleep over how  there are so few talented academics who study the guts of human existence such as love, work, and play – and so few talented academics who bring to bear both analytic and synthetic thinking –  Marty  is not talking about our distinguished speaker --- Robert Nozick. 

In his introduction to his book The Examined Life, Professor Nozick writes and I quote:

“I want to think about living and what is important in life, to clarify my thinking---and also my life. Mostly we tend---I do too---to live on automatic pilot, following through the views of ourselves and the aims we acquired early, with only minor adjustments…”

 Later in the same paragraph he writes:

“---would you design an intelligent species so continually shaped by its childhood, one whose emotions had ho half-life and where statues of limitations could be involved only with great difficulty?”

Known by many for his early work as a “political philosopher,” Robert Nozick, the Arthur Kingsley Porter  Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University, tells us that his famous book Anarchy, State, and Utopia was written by “accident.” A fortunate accident for us I might add. He says he originally planned to write a book on free will --------but perhaps--- it wasn’t in the cards to write on free will.

Robert Nozick is the author of five books:

Anarchy, State, and Utopia (which received a National Book Award), which I mentioned, Philosophical Explanations (which received the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award of Phi Beta Kappa), The Examined Life, The Nature of Rationality, and most recently, Socratic Puzzles, published in the Spring of 1997.

He has also published stories in literary magazines including the piece “God --- A Story” which begins: “Proving God’s existence isn’t all that easy---even when you’re God. So, I ask you, how can people expect to do it?”

In the Spring of 1997, he delivered the six John Locke Lectures at Oxford University, and a revision of these lectures will be published by Harvard University with the title Objectivity and Invariance.

When you read Robert Nozick’s work, your mind is aroused by  his remarkable gift for offering elegant, witty, and playful cases and thought experiments to represent problems. 

To read his books is to imagine inviting a brilliant friend over for dinner. The following chapter headings from Robert Nozick’s books give you only a taste of the full course meal to come:

 Dying; Parents and Children; Love’s Bond; The Nature of God, the Nature of Faith; Sexuality; Creating; Love’s Bond; Emotions; Being more Real; Why Do Intellectual Oppose Capitalism; The Holocaust.

His brilliant chapter on The Holocaust--- alone--- makes the book worth reading.

You should know that we have two Presidents of APA with us today.  Robert Nozick is the President  --- the American Philosophical Association (Eastern Division). He is a member of the Council of Scholars of the Library of Congress, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, a Senior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard university, and was Christensen Visiting Fellow at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University in the Spring of 1997. He was a Cultural Adviser to the U.S. Delegation to the UNESCO Conference on World Cultural Policy in 1982.

He has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Center for the Advance Study in the Behavioral Sciences.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, educated at Columbia College and Princeton University, he has lived in Italy, Israel,  France, and England. He is married to Gjertrud Schnackenberg.

Professor Robert Nozick will speak on:

The Place of Consciousness. A discussion of the function of consciousness and the relation of conscious experience to neurophysiological process and events.

Please welcome Professor Nozick.

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