Self-organizing moral systems: Beyond social contract theory

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 17 (2):119-147 (2018)
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This essay examines two different modes of reasoning about justice: an individual mode in which each individual judges what we all ought to do and a social mode in which we seek to reconcile our judgments of justice so that we can share common rules of justice. Social contract theory has traditionally emphasized the second, reconciliation mode, devising a central plan to do so. However, I argue that because we disagree not only in our judgments of justice but also about the degree of reconciliation justice calls for, the social contract presupposes a single, controversial, answer to the proper degree of reconciliation. In place of the social contract’s ‘top-down’ approach, this article explores the idea of self-organizing moral systems, in which each individual, acting on her own views of justice, responds to the decisions of others, forming systems of shared justice. Several basic agent-based models are explored to begin to understand the dynami...



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Gerald Gaus
Last affiliation: University of Arizona

Citations of this work

Online Public Shaming: Virtues and Vices.Paul Billingham & Tom Parr - 2020 - Journal of Social Philosophy 51 (3):371-390.
Public Reason.Jonathan Quong - 2013 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Public justification.Kevin Vallier - forthcoming - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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References found in this work

A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition.John Rawls - 1999 - Harvard University Press.
Rescuing Justice and Equality.G. A. Cohen (ed.) - 2008 - Harvard University Press.
Morals by agreement.David P. Gauthier - 1986 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Political Liberalism.J. Rawls - 1995 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 57 (3):596-598.

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