Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract The contract metaphor in political and moral theory is misguided. It is a poor metaphor both descriptively and normatively, but here I address its normative problems. Normatively, contractarianism is supposed to give justifications for political institutions and for moral rules, just as contracting in the law is supposed to give justification for claims of obligation based on consent or agreement. This metaphorical association fails for several reasons. First, actual contracts generally govern prisoner's dilemma, or exchange, relations; the so-called social contract governs these and more diverse interactions as well. Second, agreement, which is the moral basis of contractarianism, is not right-making per se. Third, a contract in law gives information on what are the interests of the parties; a hypothetical social contract requires such knowledge, it does not reveal it. Hence, much of contemporary contractarian theory is perversely rationalist at its base because it requires prior, rational derivation of interests or other values. Finally, contractarian moral theory has the further disadvantage that, unlike contract in the law, its agreements cannot be connected to relevant motivations to abide by them.
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