Download the full-sized PDF of David Gauthier’s Moral Contractarianism and the Problem of SecessionDownload the full-sized PDF



Permanent link (DOI):


Export to: EndNote  |  Zotero  |  Mendeley


This file is in the following communities:

Graduate Studies and Research, Faculty of


This file is in the following collections:

Theses and Dissertations

David Gauthier’s Moral Contractarianism and the Problem of Secession Open Access


Other title
The Prisoner Dilemma
Moral Contractarianism
Constrained Maximization
Expected Utility
Symbolic Utility
Newcomb’s Problem
Social Contract Theory
Decision Value
Practical Rationality
Mutual Advantage
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Etieyibo, Edwin
Supervisor and department
Cooper, Wes (Philosophy)
Examining committee member and department
Welchman, Jennifer (Philosophy)
Narveson, Jan (Philosophy, University of Waterloo)
Cooper, Wes (Philosophy)
Morton, Adam (Philosophy)
Carmichael, Don (Political Science)
Department of Philosophy

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This thesis proposes a reading of David Gauthier’s moral contractarianism (hereinafter Mb(CM)A) that demonstrates how cooperation can be rational in situations where expected utilities (EU) are stacked too high against cooperation. The dissertation critically examines Mb(CM)A and contends that it breaks down in the test of application, i.e. the problem of secession because of the conception of rationality it appeals to. Mb(CM)A identifies rationality with utility-maximization, where utility is the measure of considered coherent preferences about outcomes. Mb(CM)A links morality to reason, and reason to practical rationality, and practical rationality to interest, which it identifies with individual utility. On this view, an action (or a disposition) is rational if that action (or disposition) maximizes an agent’s EU. This conception of rationality the essay claims is both naïve and misleading because it does not take into account an agent’s considered preference for the acts that are available, in addition to the EU of those acts. Therefore, the thesis argues that Mb(CM)A’s account of rationality be abandoned in favor of a decision-value/symbolic utility’s or morals by decision-value agreement’s conception of practical rationality. Morals by decision-value agreement (henceforth Mb(DV)A), the dissertation claims, handles serious problems, like the problem of secession in ways that Mb(CM)A cannot. Mb(CM)A breaks down in the test of application because when applied to the problem of secession, it suggests a single-tracked silver bullet solution. Specifically, it tracks only EU-reasons and claims that insofar as cooperation does not maximize the EU of better-off agents, it is not rational for them to cooperate with or support those that are less well-off. By contrast, Mb(DV)A offers a multi-tracked framework for solutions to the problem, namely: it factors in an agent’s considered preference for the acts that are available, in addition to EU of those acts. It is the argument of the thesis that when EU is stacked too high against cooperation, it may or may not be rational for an agent to cooperate, depending on which way symbolic utility (SU) for that agent points toward. If SU points in the direction of secession, then it is DV-rational for an agent not to cooperate, but if SU points toward non-secession, then it is DV-rational for that agent to cooperate.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication

File Details

Date Uploaded
Date Modified
Audit Status
Audits have not yet been run on this file.
File format: pdf (Portable Document Format)
Mime type: application/pdf
File size: 1076915
Last modified: 2015:10:12 16:29:26-06:00
Filename: Etieyibo_Edwin_Fall 2009.pdf
Original checksum: 3ca7e896237958fe1bfc48088be64f49
Well formed: false
Valid: false
Status message: Unexpected error in findFonts java.lang.ClassCastException: edu.harvard.hul.ois.jhove.module.pdf.PdfSimpleObject cannot be cast to edu.harvard.hul.ois.jhove.module.pdf.PdfDictionary offset=3498
Page count: 443
Activity of users you follow
User Activity Date