The burdens of public justification: Constructivism, contractualism, and publicity


The publicity of a moral conception is a central idea in Kantian and contractarian moral theory. Publicity carries the idea of general acceptability of principles through to social relations. Without publicity of its moral principles, the intuitive attractiveness of the contractarian ideal seems diminished. For it means that moral principles cannot serve as principles of practical reasoning and justification among free and equal persons. This article discusses the role of the publicity assumption in Rawls’s and Scanlon’s contractualism. I contend that a regard for publicity and a moral conception’s potential to provide a public basis for justification and agreement account for much of the evolution of Rawls’s account of justice after A Theory of Justice . I also discuss whether contractualism can provide a basis for justification and general agreement under the social conditions that it endorses. I contend that it cannot, and conclude with a discussion showing why this should not be a problem for contractualism. Despite appearances, contractualism is a distinctive form of contractarianism, substantially different from Rawls’s position and the social contract tradition out of which it evolved. Key Words: contractarianism • contractualism • John Rawls • public justification • T.M. Scanlon • justice.

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Samuel Freeman
University of Pennsylvania

References found in this work

Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory.John Rawls - 1930 - Journal of Philosophy 77 (9):515-572.
Contractualism and Utilitarianism.Thomas M. Scanlon - 1982 - In Amartya Kumar Sen & Bernard Arthur Owen Williams (eds.), Utilitarianism and Beyond. Cambridge University Press. pp. 103--128.

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Citations of this work

Constructivism in Metaethics.Carla Bagnoli - 2011 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Public Justification and the Veil of Testimony.Sean Donahue - 2020 - Journal of Political Philosophy 28 (4):378-396.
Publicity.Axel Gosseries - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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