Southern Journal of Philosophy 28 (3):427-447 (1990)

Anita Superson
University of Kentucky
I examine the self-interest based contractarian's attempt to answer the question, "Why be moral?" In order to defeat the skeptic who accepts reasons of self-interest only, contractarians must show that the best theory of practical reasons includes moral reasons. They must show that it is rational to act morally even when doing so conflicts with self-interest. ;I examine theories offered by Hobbes, Baier, and Grice, and show they fail to defeat skepticism. Hobbes' theory gives no special weight to moral reasons as they can be eliminated in favor of prudential reasons; Baier's theory fails to establish that from the fact that it is rational to adopt the moral points of view, it is rational to act from it; and Grice's theory attempts to link promising, obligations, and reasons, but leaves certain crucial points in the argument undefended. ;In Morals by Agreement, Gauthier offers the best theory of its kind, and treatment of it constitutes the bulk of the thesis. Gauthier tries to refute the skeptic by showing that it is in one's interest to adopt a moral disposition, and that every action expressing the disposition is rational. The dispositional move is one the contractarian must make to avoid the problems facing the other theories examined. But Gautheir's argument for the rationality of the disposition relies on an empirically dubious assumption of translucency, and as such, fails to show that persons in ordinary circumstances are rational to be moral. Moreover, Gauthier fails to show that the rationality of the disposition carries over to the particular actions expressing it. The alternative view, called the "Independency Thesis," is more plausible than Gauthier's, but not available to him. Thus the contractarian fails to defeat skepticism
Keywords Analytic Philosophy  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0038-4283
DOI 10.1111/j.2041-6962.1990.tb00552.x
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