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Gauthier Summary From Sep Essay

1512 words - 6 pages

The social contract has two fundamental elements: a characterization of the initial situation, called variously the "state of nature" by the modern political philosophers, the "original position" by Rawls, or the "initial bargaining position" by Gauthier, and a characterization of the parties to the contract, particularly in terms of their rationality and motivation to come to agreement. The initial situation posits what in bargaining theory is called the "no agreement position," the situation to which the individuals return in case of failure to make an agreement or contract. This situation may be more or less hostile, and more or less social, depending on how the theorist characterizes human life in the absence of rules of morality or justice. But crucial to all contractarian theories, there is some scarcity or motivation for competition in the initial situation and there is some potential for gains from social interaction and cooperation.In contemporary normative contractarian theories, that is, theories that attempt to ground the legitimacy of government or theories that claim to derive a moral ought, the initial position represents the starting point for a fair, impartial agreement. While contractualists justify the requirement of a fair, impartial agreement by reasons external to the contract, contractarians hold that the success of the contract in securing cooperative interaction itself requires that the starting point and procedures be fair and impartial.Some points of controversy among contractarians concern the role of the initial situation in the theory: is it to be considered an actual historical situation, a possible historical moment, or is the contract situation completely hypothetical? Hume (1987/1777, 470-1) raised the decisive objection to any normative moral or political theory based on a historical contract: the consent of one's ancestors do not bind oneself. But Ronald Dworkin has raised similar concerns about a hypothetical contract: a hypothetical agreement, he objects, is no agreement at all. Hypothetical contract contractarians such as Gauthier counter that the point of the contract device is not to directly bind the contractors, but rather to provide a kind of thought experiment by which to discover the requirements of practical rationality. That is, they argue that if one is rational, and among rational others in circumstances in which agreement is both possible and beneficial, then rationality requires that one abide by the terms of the contract. While mainstream contractarian theories are hypothetical contract theories, an interesting and powerfully subversive use of contractarianism (Mills,1997; Pateman, 1989; Pateman and Mills, 2007-see section on Subversion of Contractarianism below) reads the contract situation as historical agreements to erect and maintain white supremacy and patriarchy or male dominance. These latter contractarian theories are not justifications of the status quo, of course, but rather...

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