‘Constructivism, Contractarianism and Basic Obligations: Kant and Gauthier’.

In J.-C. Merle (ed.), Reading Kant’s Doctrine of Right (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Gauthier’s contractarianism begins with an idea of a rational deliberator but ‘finds no basis for postulating a moral need for the justification of one’s actions to others. The role of agreement is to address each person’s demand that the constraints of society be justified to him, not a concern that he justify himself to his fellows’ (Gauther 1997, 134–5). He contrasts his view with Scanlon’s contractualism, according to which agreement with others is the core of morality and each agent has the burden of justifying his or her actions to others. Both of their views count as ‘constructivist’ because they reject moral realism and hold that normativity is a function of what we do, either individually or collectively. Kant’s Rechtslehre is neutral regarding moral realism and yet constructivist about moral norms. However, the relevant acts basic to Gauthier’s and Scanlon’s views concern voluntary agreements we make. Using agreement to establish basic norms faces some serious difficulties. Kant’s Rechtslehre avoids these problems by showing how basic social norms can be identified and justified independently of voluntary agreement. Moreover, it does so in a way that shows that an individual’s justification of his or her acts to others and the justification of the acts of others to any individual are inseparable aspects of one and the same justificatory reasons in which voluntary agreement plays no role.

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Kenneth R. Westphal
Bogazici University

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