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Unformatted text preview: terest doesn’t solve a thing; this is not a
The idea that political relations originate in contract or
agreement has been applied in several ways. In
Plato’s Republic Glaucon suggests that justice is but a
pact among rational egoists.
Thomas Hobbes developed this idea to analyze the
nature of political power. Given the predominantly selfnature
centred nature of humankind, government is
necessary for society. Government’s role is to stabilize
By exercising enforcement powers, government
provides each with the assurance that everyone else
will abide by cooperative rules, thereby making it
rational for all to cooperate.
To fulfill this stabilizing role, Hobbes argued that it is
rational for each individual to agree to authorize one
person to exercise absolute political power.
Neo-Hobbesians eschew absolutism and apply the
theory of rational choice to argue that rules of justice,
perhaps even all morality, can be construed in terms
of a rational bargain among self-interested individuals.
of 78 Contractanianism
John Locke, working from different premises than
Hobbes, appealed to a social compact to argue for a
constitutional government with limited powers.
All men are born with a natural right to equal freedom,
and a natural duty to God to preserve themselves and
the rest of mankind.
No government is just unless it could be commonly
agreed to form a position of equal freedom, where
agreement is subject to the moral constraints of
natural law. Absolutism is unjust according to this
Rousseau developed egalitarian features of Locke’s
view to contend for a democratic constitution.
The Social Contract embodies the General Will of
society, not the unconstrained private wills of its
The General Will wills the common good, the good of
society and all of its members.
Only by bringing our individual wills into accord with
the General Will can we achieve civic and moral
In this century, John Rawls has recast natural rights
theories of the social contract to argue for a liberal
egalitarian conception of justice.
Contractualism has its historical roots in the work of
Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant.
Contractualists emphasize the fundamental equality of
persons in rationally justifying our moral and political
Contemporary defenses of contractualism, most
notably John Rawls A Theory of Justice and T.M.
Scanlons What We Owe to Each Other, have been
frameworks that provide workable, systematic
alternatives to consequentialism
Contractualism Contractarianism takes moral principles to result from
rationally self-interested bargaining, contractualism see
the relevant agreement as governed by a moral ideal of
Kant maintains that anyone subject to the moral law must
be able to be regarded also as ‘giving the law’. only thus
can the moral law be thought of as a common law for a
community of free moral agents, subject only to laws they
Moral principles of rights are not rules that individuals
would prescribe and attempt to gain acceptance for, from
their different individual perspectives, bargaining out of
self-interest. They are rather rules individuals would
prescribe (and agree to) from a common perspective as
one free and equal persons among others.
Contractualism John Rawl suggest that principles of justice are those it
would be rational to choose in an ‘original position’ behind
a ‘veil of ignorance’ regarding any features that individuate
different persons or their societies. In particular the
choosing parties must be ignorant of their individual
resources, abilities, talents, gender, race , socioeconomic
position and their own interests or individual values.
A second contractualist approach can be motivated by
thinking about what it is to make a claim on someone as
an equal (put yourself in my shoe). In developing such an
approach T. M. Scanlon assumes a community whose
members wish to be able to justify their conduct to each
other by principles that others could not reasonably reject,
insofar as they also have this aim (mutually accountable
community of equals).
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- Fall '12
- The American