David Gauthier’s Moral Contractarianism and the Problem of Secession

  • Author / Creator
    Etieyibo, Edwin
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Philosophy
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Cooper, Wes (Philosophy)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Morton, Adam (Philosophy)
    • Welchman, Jennifer (Philosophy)
    • Cooper, Wes (Philosophy)
    • Narveson, Jan (Philosophy, University of Waterloo)
    • Carmichael, Don (Political Science)