Contractarianism / Contractualism
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Contractarianism / Contractualism

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Contractarianism and contractualism are instances of a major approach to normative ethical theory that stresses reciprocity and mutual consent. 'Contractarianism' is the name given to the idea, first broached by Thomas Hobbes, that morality can be viewed as a set of social practices that self-interestedly rational actors 'adopt' in their common interest, as if by a kind of contract. 'Contractualism' refers, on the other hand, to a related, but importantly different idea, found first in the thought of Rousseau and Kant, that morality consists of principles that mediate relations of mutual respect between free and equal persons. In both instances, morality is modeled on a kind of agreement or contract, with the difference that contractarians think that the underlying motivation is rational self-interest whereas contractualists believe it is mutual respect between equals. "Contractarianism/Contractualism" collects for the first time both major classical sources and central contemporary discussions of these important approaches to philosophical ethics. In addition to Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant, it includes work from David Gauthier, Gilbert Harman, John Rawls, T. M.
Scanlon, and Gary Watson. Edited and introduced by Stephen Darwall, these readings are essential for anyone interested in normative ethics.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 296 pages
  • 158 x 231 x 27mm | 566g
  • BLACKWELL PUBLISHERS
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0631231099
  • 9780631231097

Back cover copy

Contractarianism and contractualism are instances of a major approach to normative ethical theory that stresses reciprocity and mutual consent. 'Contractarianism' is the name given to the idea, first broached by Thomas Hobbes, that morality can be viewed as a set of social practices that self-interestedly rational actors "adopt" in their common interest, as if by a kind of contract. 'Contractualism' refers, on the other hand, to a related, but importantly different idea, found first in the thought of Rousseau and Kant, that morality consists of principles that mediate relations of mutual respect between free and equal persons. In both instances, morality is modeled on a kind of agreement or contract, with the difference that contractarians think that the underlying motivation is rational self-interest whereas contractualists believe it is mutual respect between equals.


Contractarianism/Contractualism collects for the first time both major classical sources and central contemporary discussions of these important approaches to philosophical ethics. In addition to Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant, it includes work from David Gauthier, Gilbert Harman, John Rawls, T. M. Scanlon, and Gary Watson. Edited and introduced by Stephen Darwall, these readings are essential for anyone interested in normative ethics.
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Table of contents

Acknowledgments. Introduction.Part I: Classical Sources: Contactarianism:1. From Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes.Part II: Classical Sources: Contractualism:2. From The Social Contract: Jean-Jacques Rousseau.3. From Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals: Immanuel Kant.Part III: Contemporary Expressions: Contractarianism:4. "Why Contractarianism?": David Gauthier.5. From Morals by Agreement: David Gauthier.6. "Convention": Gilbert Harman.Part IV: Contemporary Expressions: Contractualism:7. From A Theory of Justice: John Rawls.8. "Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory": John Rawls.9. "Contractualism and Utilitarianism": T. M. Scanlon.Part V: Contemporary Discussion:10. "Some Considerations in Favor of Contractualism": Gary Watson.Index.
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Review quote

"Contractarianism/Contractualism is an extremely valuable collection of seminal works by the major representatives of the social contract tradition. The excellent texts are well chosen; together they provide a first-rate introduction to this important area of moral and political thought." Samuel Freeman, University of Pennsylvania "One of the most interesting attempts to explain moral obligation traces it to a form of contract or agreement. Darwall's collection reprints classic attempts to offer this kind of explanation by Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant, along with more recent versions. The volume not only brings out the power of this approach to morality, but also usefully distinguishes a number of important variations of contractarian and contractualist accounts." Gilbert Harman, Princeton University
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About Stephen Darwell

Stephen Darwall is the John Dewey Collegiate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan. He has written widely on moral philosophy and its history, and is the author of Impartial Reason (1983), The British Moralists and the Internal 'Ought': 1640-1740 (1995), and Philosophical Ethics (1988). Along with Allan Gibbard and Peter Railton, he is co-editor of Moral Discourse and Practice.
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