A Unified Moral Terrain?

In his book What We Owe to Each Other, Thomas Scanlon proposes what he calls a ‘contractualist’ explanation of what he describes as ‘a central part of the territory called morality’, i.e. our duties to other rational creatures. If Scanlon is right, the fact that another creature is rational generates a particular kind of moral constraint on how we may act towards it: one should ‘treat rational creatures only in ways that would be allowed by principles that they could not reasonably reject insofar as they too were seeking principles of mutual governance which other rational creatures could not reasonably reject’. This is then used to explain what makes actions right, at least within his central moral area. Such actions will be right because they are permitted by principles that cannot reasonably be rejected. In this essay, I question both whether Scanlon succeeds in identifying a proper part of the moral terrain as a subject for his account and also what, if any, is the contractualist content of that account. I argue that he equivocates between two distinct and incompatible conceptions of the justifiability of principles. According to the first, justifiability is a relation between principles and people, whilst according to the second, for a principle to be justifiable is for it to be justified. For his explanation of morality to have any contractualist force, justifiability needs to be understood as a relation, but for that explanation to have any plausibility, justifiability must be understood nonrelationally. Because of this, the account is unstable and fails to describe any part of the moral landscape
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories No categories specified
(categorize this paper)
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 23,201
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (2008). Is Moral Phenomenology Unified? Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 7 (1):85-97.
Bernard Gert (1990). A Critique of Principlism. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 15 (2):219-236.
Robert L. Causey (1974). Unified Theories and Unified Science. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1974:3 - 13.
Reginald Irvan Gray (1988). Unified Physics. Naval Surface Warfare Center.

Monthly downloads

Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart.

Added to index


Total downloads


Recent downloads (6 months)


How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.