I argue that social-contract theory cannot succeed because reasonable people may always disagree, and that social-contract theory is irrelevant to the problem of the legitimacy of a form of government or of a system of moral rules. I note the weakness of the appeal to implicit agreement, the conflation of legitimacy with stability, the undesirability of “public justification” and the apparent blindness to the evolutionary critical-rationalist approach of Hayek and Popper. I employ that approach to sketch answers to the theoretical, historical and practical questions about the legitimacy of government or of systems of moral rules.
Keywords social contract  disagreement  critical rationality  evolution  legitimacy  political obligation  Karl Popper  Friedrich Hayek  morals by agreement  public justification
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