Liberalism, Contractarianism, and the Problem of Exclusion

In Steven Wall (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Liberalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 87-111 (2015)
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Abstract

For liberal contractarians, moral and political principles are justified if agreeable to persons as free and equals. But for critics of liberal contractarianism, this justification applies only to those capable of agreement. Understanding why contractarianism suffers from the problem of exclusion helps up understand the distinctive character of contractarianism and the importance of agreement in particular. I suggest contractarianism need not be objectionably exclusive. I first consider why agreement is important in contractarianism, and then introduce the main versions of contemporary contractarianism and their different understandings of agreement. I discuss how agreement results in exclusion in each, and distinguish two kinds of response to the problem of exclusion: differential inclusion and permissive inclusion. Differential inclusion is unsuccessful because it offers those not fully capable of agreement unequal status. Permissive inclusion may either make the circumstances of agreement more open, or characterize the capacities required for inclusion more permissively. I advocate the latter as the most promising response to the problem of exclusion. I outline a more inclusive contractualism based on the capacity to share goals.

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Philip Cook
University of Edinburgh

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