Some thoughts on Contractarianism

Posted on Posted in Ethics, Normative Ethics

I’ve always felt there was something fundamentally wrong with contractarianism, even beyond “the fool objection” which I think is obviously a serious problem for the theory. Today I had a thought about contractarianism, although it is pretty undeveloped and not really well thought through at this points.

Contractarianism does not work because no one would want to live in a society in which the punishments were actually  draconian enough to make it in everyone’s self-interest to not break any of the rules, which means, contra contractarianism, that it is impossible to base ethics in prudential reasoning alone.

So what it seems like is contractarian style moral reasoning gets kicks in at a certain level and compliance up to a certain level. When social organization breaks down enough contractarian reasoning kicks in and gets people to follow rules to a certain extent but then it contractarianism’s power to motivate wanes as society becomes more orderly, and it can’t go the distance because in order to get full compliance it would require such a draconian enforcement that a prudential person would prefer a more moderate version to the draconian version.

Which is to say that a prudential person would rather live in a society with much civil liberty and risk their rights being violated by a criminal then live in a society with little civil liberty even with less risk of their rights being violated by a criminal.

What makes this true? The fact of that most people are not violent criminals.  (This looks like it related to Hobbes’ basic assumption about human nature.)

 

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