III - Contractarianism as a political morality

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Contractarianism initially made its mark, in the seventeenth century, as a sort of theory of everything in ethics. But gradually philosophers became convinced that there were resources available outside contractarianism for settling important moral questions—for instance, ideas of human rights and the moral equality of persons. Then Rawls revived contractarianism with a more modest aim—namely, as a theory of justice. But even this agenda for contractarianism has been called into question, most notably by G.A. Cohen, who contends that we have other tools at our disposal for identifying the true conception of justice. So the question remains: how should contractarianism be construed if it is to provide answers to questions that cannot be answered in some other way? In my essay I offer a very simple answer: contractarianism should be construed as a political morality. I arrive at this answer by starting with contractarianism as a theory of everything and paring away the unappealing layers of contractarianism so understood. I begin by describing what contractarianism is. Then I dispense with contractarianism as a theory of state legitimacy, as a theory of interpersonal morality, and as a theory of justice. Finally, I distinguish political morality from the other already-mentioned areas of morality, and argue that contractarianism is a sensible theory of its grounds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49–67
JournalProceedings of the Aristotelian Society
Issue numberI
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2016


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