Modern Social Contract Theory

ISBN : 9780198853541

Albert Weale
480 Pages
153 x 234 mm
Pub date
Jun 2020
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Modern Social Contract Theory provides an exposition and evaluation of major work in social contract theory from 1950 to the present. It locates the central themes of that theory in the intellectual legacy of utilitarianism, particularly the problems of defining principles of justice and of showing the grounds of moral obligation. It demonstrates how theorists responded in a novel way to the dilemmas articulated in utilitarianism, developing in their different approaches a constructivist method in ethics, a method that aimed to vindicate a liberal, democratic and just political order.
A distinctive feature of the book is its comparative approach. By placing the works of Barry, Buchanan and Tullock, Harsanyi, Gauthier, Grice, Rawls, and Scanlon alongside one another, similarities and differences are brought out, most notably in the way in which principles are derived by each author from the contractual construction as well as the extent to which the obligation to adopt those principles can be rationally grounded. Each theory is placed in its particular intellectual context. Special attention is paid to the contrasting theories of rationality adopted by the different authors, whether that be utility theory or a deliberative conception of rationality, with the intention of assessing how far the principles advanced can be justified by reference to the hypothetical choices of rational contracting agents.

The book concludes with a discussion of some principal objections to the enterprise of contract theory, and offers its own programme for the future of that theory taking the form of the empirical method.


Part I: Constructing Contract Theory
1 The Rebirth of Contract Theory
2 The Twilight of Utilitarianism
3 Contractual Constructions
4 Contractual Rationalities
Part II: The Theory of Content
5 Rational Choosers
6 Constitutional Uncertainties
7 Bargained Justice
8 Veiled Deliberation
9 Decent Reasoning
10 Living Together Reasonably
Part III: The Theory of Obligation
11 The Limits of Liberty
12 Constraining Maximization
13 Fairness, Goodness, Reasonableness
14 Grounding Obligations
15 Justification to Others
Part IV: The Progress of Contract Theory
16 Contractual Reconstructions
17 Social Contract as Domination
18 A Method of Ethics?
19 Contractual Constitutions

About the author: 

Albert Weale is Emeritus Professor of Political Theory and Public Policy, University College London. His research has concentrated on issues of political theory and public policy, especially health policy, environmental policy, the theory of justice, and democratic theory. In addition to over one hundred papers and chapters, he has authored, co-authored or co-edited eighteen books. These include, with others,
Democratic Justice and the Social Contract (OUP, 2013),
Environmental Governance in Europe (OUP, 2000) and the edited volume
Risk, Democratic Citizenship, and Public Policy (OUP, 2002).

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