Rationality, Justice and the Social Contract
edited by David Gauthier and Robert Sugden

Rationality, Justice and the Social Contract: Themes from Morals by Agreement is a collection of essays by academic philosophers who take a critical view of David Gauthier's theory in Morals by Agreement. It includes two articles by Gauthier himself, who has conceded some ground in response to criticisms that he now accepts. Although Gauthier likes the free market, he believes that economic rent should be shared. Proof that this is reasonable was his goal from the beginning.

Robert Sugden:

Gauthier ... rejects the common idea that there is a distinction between prudential reasoning and moral reasoning. (2)
He is determined to avoid injecting moral premises into his conception of rationality (2) [Then he can't reach moral conclusions. RH]
Gauthier ... sees the perfectly competitive market of economic theory as a paradigm of rational cooperation -- and hence of justice. (2)
Gauthier ... it is rational to be disposed to keep the agreements that one has rationally entered into. (3)
Much philosophical effort, over thousands of years, has been spent on inconclusive debate about the true nature of a good life or a good society. The contractarian approach offers a method of bypassing this debate altogether. (4)
The besetting problem of welfarism ... is that it requires us to aggregate the preferences of individuals: the history of welfare economics is the history of unsuccessful attempts to aggregate preferences. (4)
... utilitarian theory can recommend the propagation of such non-utilitarian beliefs as that it is always wrong to lie, steal, or kill. On balance, the argument goes, welfare is maximized if people accept such constraints as morally absolute, even though this absolute status cannot really be justified. ... As Williams ... puts it, utilitarians who appeal to such secret clauses are reasoning like benevolent colonial administrators, trying to do good by stealth. (4--5)
(Gauthier implies) Each of us may feel sympathy for the handicapped, and if so, the welfare of the handicapped will be among the ends we pursue; but this is a matter of preference, not moral obligation. (5)
for contractarians, a just society is one that rests on the consent of its members ... (6)
He tries to show that rational individuals would choose to accept certain constraints on the pursuit of their own ends, in return for others accepting similar constraints. These constraints constitute morality. (8) [This limits morality to justice. RH]
Gauthier sees the rule that one person should not take advantage of another as a kind of natural law (10)
Gauthier agrees with Rawls that differences in natural abilities are undeserved, but rejects the idea that justice requires us to compensate for these differences... (11)
Conventional theories of bargaining (such as Nash's) assume that individuals come to the bargaining table endowed with clearly defined rights, which they seek to exchange. (17) [How did these rights become clearly defined when morality, which defines rights, is supposed to be the outcome of, not the input to, the bargaining process? RH]
[Gauthier assumes that people choose to adopt a disposition to honor their commitments.]

David Gauthier

But we find now that according to Rawl's Kantian interpretation, the real need for principles of justice is to enable persons best to express their nature as moral persons in social union with their fellows. (31) [If this is true, then Rawls has corrected one of his mistakes. Whereas Gauthier still doesn't see it. RH]
The person whose will is not disposed to justice, who believes that he may with reason ignore the justice or injustice of his particular actions to consider only their advantage or disadvantage, is unfit to be a partner in society--unfit, we may say, to be a participant in the social contract. (32) [This is how Hobbes and Gauthier smuggle moral premises into their contract theories. The bargainer has to seem to others like a reliable contractor. Seeming is more important to this argument than what his actual disposition is. If he sincerely intends to keep his commitments, but doesn't seem sincere, he will fail to make a contract. If he intends to break his commitments when it suits him, but manages to give the opposite impression, he will succeed in making contracts. Gauthier assumes that people's inner dispositions are visible to each other. Without this unrealistic assumption his theory fails. RH]
To become a moral person by subordinating one's will and judgment to a sovereign, accepting his reason as right reason supplanting one's own natural reason, would be to acquire morality at the price of autonomy. (35)
[Gauthier's initial bargainers are not strictly selfish. They are willing to commit themselves to a common standard of judgment, to seek mutual benefit rather than individual advantage, and to internalize the laws of nature (see page 37). RH]

Martin Hollis points out one of the holes in Gauthier's argument: it is only necessary to appear to be a person who will keep his commitments.

Julian Nida-Rumelin's thesis is: "an adequate solution of the cooperation problem is not possible within the maximizing theory of practical rationality." (53)

The ideal rational actor is free to choose that singular action, which has the best reasons in its favor. He is not forced to choose a (rational) disposition first and then act in accord with that disposition. (56)

Julian describes three ways of explaining cooperation: the Hobbesian, the Shaftesburian, and the Kantian.

Albert Weale considers the libertarian view as one of the basic philosophical choices. He, like most of the others, uses she and her where ordinary language would use he and him to represent the general case. He even goes so far as to refer to Robinson Crusoe as she and her.

Robert E. Goodin reaffirms that Rawls admits that people must have a sense of justice in order for his theory to motivate people. (117) Goodin shows how Gauthier smuggles impartiality into his premises, thereby rendering his argument no longer free of moral assumptions. (118) Rawls does the same with his "veil of ignorance."

Ken Binmore defines the Archimedial point as one from which moral issues can be viewed impartially. (132) The others mention this point without saying what it means. Binmore criticizes Gauthier for changing the rules of the game by giving the bargainers the ability to read each others minds.

Robert Sugden argues that Gauthier's argument assumes there is only one possible outcome to his game, which is debatable. Gauthier also assumes that bargaining is cost free and that "irrelevant" factors such as gender or traditions cannot have significance for rational bargainers. However Sugden points out:

"Given an instrumental view of rationality, it will rarely be rational for an individual to challenge a well-established convention." (170)

Year Read: 1997


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