Pure Contractarianism: Promise, Problems, Prospects

Journal of Value Inquiry 34 (2-3):319-332 (2000)
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Several different positions are classified as contractarian. Though there are variations among them, they all include the assumption that practical or action-guiding principles, among which are principles of moral justification and of political legitimacy, somehow have their basis in consent. A contractarian may or may not believe that there are other practical principles that are based on or justified by something besides consent. If he believes there are any others, there will be delicate issues to address as to whether they yield prescriptions incompatible with prescriptions arising from the appropriate kind of consent. Roughly speaking, contractarians could be ordered in terms of the weight that they attach to principles grounded in consent. If we call the appropriate kind of consent contractual, then there are several options available, ranging from the admission of nothing but contract-based principles to the admission of noncontract-based principles that can sometimes conflict with principles based on contract. The pure form of contractarianism which will be our main focus admits only contract-based principles.



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