Journal of Value Inquiry:1-18 (forthcoming)

Ken Oshitani
Waseda University
Moral contractualism holds that addressing our minds to the morality of right and wrong involves identifying principles for the mutual regulation of behavior that could be the object of reasonable agreement among persons if they were appropriately motivated and fully informed. A common criticism of the theory is that the test of reasonable agreement it endorses is indeterminate. To be more specific, it is claimed that the notion of reasonableness is too vague or ill-defined to be of use in guiding our decisions in situations where it is necessary to balance the complaints of different people against each other, so that we may derive an all things considered conclusion regarding what we ought, morally, to do. In this article, I propose a novel interpretation of the contractualist method of reasoning that overcomes the indeterminacy objection, building on a broadly Aristotelian conception of practical deliberation about ends. I demonstrate that this criticism is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of contractualist moral reasoning. The key is to recognize that deliberation about what others could not reasonably reject is not a matter of applying a fixed criterion of reasonableness in order to arbitrate conflicts between the interests of different individuals, as it is commonly assumed. Rather, it is a process in which the ideal of justifiability to others and people’s moral claims are specified together through holistic deliberation. The goal of this process is to construct a coherent conception of both our particular moral claims and the general aim of reasonable agreement that is reasonably acceptable to each person. On this view, contrary to what critics assert, the contractualist method of reasoning, properly understood, will almost always have a determinate answer.
Keywords contractualism  T.M. Scanlon  moral deliberation  specification
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DOI 10.1007/s10790-021-09873-3
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