March 16, 2010
I will begin this paper by identifying the problem within the theory of ethics, which contractualism as a moral theory is attempting to address. It is not that of solving the problem of moral motivation like the ‘arch-contractualist’, Thomas Scanlon, often claims, but rather that of describing a class of fundamental moral reasons – contractualist reasons for short. In the second section, I will defend the contractualist idea of how the nature of these moral reasons provides us with sufficient, independent tools to construct the content of public moral principles. The rest of my paper is defensive. It addresses the main challenges set to the contractualist account of moral reasons. In the third section, I will discuss a frequent objection according to which the contractualist reasons are a redundant addition to the space of moral reasons. In the fourth section, I will examine the worry that acting from these reasons would not lead to morally admirable action but rather to vice. In the last section, I will investigate the criticism according to which the normative force of the contractualist reasons is insufficient for rationalising our moral actions in certain difficult circumstances. In this section, we get to the heart of the matter – what the reasons contractualism describes truly are, and how they can explain the generally overriding strength of our moral requirements. I hope to conclude that even after these serious challenges contractualism remains a philosophically viable account of morality's rationalistic appeal.