Contractarianism Framework

The value criterion is...consistency with contractarian principles of mutual restraint.

Here are some of the best justifications for a contractarianism framework.

I value morality. Morality must be action-guiding to have any purpose, since it’s a human-derived construct. Only reasons that are internally motivating can add normative force to moral claims: (a) individuals only follow ethical systems because they recognize that they are better off for morality’s existence, so only internalism solves the compliance problem and (b) externalism, which bases moral obligations on our reasons towards others that are not in our self-interest, fails to motivate action. Joyce:

Joyce, Richard. Myth of Morality. Port Chester, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2002. p 109

How could an external reason fulfill the condition quoted above? Let us first see how an internal reason does.  Suppose I am thirsty, but unbeknownst to me the cup of [my] coffee I am (reasonably) reaching for contains poison.  I have an internal reason not to drink, in that I have a desire not to be poisoned, and refraining from drinking helps satisfy that desire.  Because of my ignorance, of course, the reason explains nothing about my actions – but it could.  If I [knew the truth], then I would refrain from drinking, and the reason would explain that inaction. This explanation would presumably be a matter of psychological causation: [T]he belief that the coffee was poisoned coupled with the desire not to be poisoned causes my act of refraining. (This is not to say that these two states automatically result in that action – I may be irrational and drink the poison anyway.)  Back to the external reason.  Suppose it were claimed, instead, that I have a reason to refrain from drinking the coffee because it is tapu and must not be touched.  This reason claim will be urged regardless of what I may say about my indifference to tau, or my citing of nihilistic desires to tempt the hand of fate.  Regardless of my desires (it is claimed) I ought not drink – I have a reason not to drink.  But how could that reason ever explain any action of mine? Could the external reason even explain my refraining from drinking?  Clearly in order to explain it the external reason must have some causally efficacious role among the antecedents of the action (in this case, an omission) – I must have, in some manner, “internalized” it.

Thus, the meta-ethic is motivational internalism. If morality is subjectively defined based on individual desires, moral obligations are impossible since no universal standpoint on morality can be achieved. Every agent defines their own moral code, rendering all actions morally permissible since there’s no way to obligate action.

The only normative theory consistent with motivational internalism that can solve for individual subjectivism is contractarianism whereby we make mutual restraints on our self-interest with others in order to generate objective moral claims. Gauthier:

Moral principles are introduced as the objects of full voluntary ex ante agreement among rational persons.  Such agreement is hypothetical, in supposing a pre-moral context for the adoption of moral rules and practices. [b]ut the parties to agreement are real, determinate individuals [agents] , distinguished by their capacities, situations, and concerns.  In so far as [Since] they would agree to constraints on their choices, restraining their pursuit of their own interests, they acknowledge a distinction between what they may and may not do.  As [agents] rational persons understanding the structure of their interaction, they recognize a place for mutual constraint, and so for a moral dimension in their affairs.

Thus, the standard is consistency with contractarian principles of mutual restraint, defined as those principles rational agents would constrain their actions by in the belief that doing so would serve their self-interest. Additionally, self-interest is determined at the time of the original decision to enter into an agreement of mutual self-restraint, so current desires that cause extinction in the future don’t link into the standard.

 [This framework originally and generously contributed by LAMP RR.]