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CONTRACTUALISM'S (NOT SO) SLIPPERY SLOPE

  • Aaron James (a1)
Abstract

Familiar questions about whether or how far to impose risks of harm for social benefit present a fundamental dilemma for contractualist moral theories. If contractualism allows “ex post” objections by considering actual outcomes, it becomes difficult to justify the risks created by most public policy, leaving contractualism at odds with moral commonsense in much the way utilitarianism is. But if contractualism instead takes a fully “ex ante” form by considering only expected outcomes, it becomes unclear how it recommends something other than aggregative cost-benefit decision-making. Focusing on T.M. Scanlon's version, this paper develops this basic choice of interpretation and recommends the ex ante version. The paper explains how contractualism is inconsistent with John Harsanyi–style utilitarianism and how contractualism supplies a principled framework for walking a careful line between the “bad aggregation” characteristic of utilitarianism and the “good aggregation” that is both unavoidable and fully appropriate in public life.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Elizabeth Ashford , The Demandingness of Scanlon's Contractualism, 113 Ethics 273302 (2003)

Allan Gibbard , Reconciling our Aims ( Barry Stroud ed., 2008)

Barbara Fried , Can Contractualism Save Us from Aggregation, 16 J. Ethics 3966 (2012)

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Gregory C. Keating , Irreparable Injury and Extraordinary Precaution: The Safety and Feasibility Norms in American Accident Law, 4 Theoretical Inquiries Law (2003)

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John Broome , Trying to Value a Life, 9 J. Pub. Econ. 91100 (1978)

Marc Fleurbaey , Assessing Risky Social Situations, 118 J. Pol. Econ. 649680 (2010)

John Harsanyi , Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk Taking, 61 J. Pol. Econ. 434435 (1953)

John Harsanyi , Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility, 63 J. Pol. Econ. 309321 (1955)

Peter Diamond , Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility: Comment, 75 J. Pol. Econ. 765766 (1967)

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Legal Theory
  • ISSN: 1352-3252
  • EISSN: 1469-8048
  • URL: /core/journals/legal-theory
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