The Gauthier Contract: Applicable or Not?

Res Publica 23 (1):1-22 (2017)
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In a 2013 article, David Gauthier noted upon the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Morals by Agreement that his contractarian approach to morality had found a niche among ‘some of those who remain unpersuaded by either Kantianism or utilitarianism’. In this article I will focus on Pareto optimization and I will argue that the Gauthier contract, even in spite of the article’s revisions, is still less useful for consultation purposes than Gauthier is assuming. To highlight the conceptual distance that I think separates the Gauthier contract from real-world circumstances—a separation that is greater than Gauthier supposes—I will focus on the problem of ‘civic defection’. The point is not for us to repudiate as such the deliverances of the Gauthier model, but simply to use caution in our deployment of the model, and, in order to access the full extent of the model’s offerings, to resist the temptation to deploy it in the service of purposes which it is not capable of accomplishing.



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