Contract Shaky Ground


Philip Pettit, although he considers himself somewhat partial to contract theory, argues, in the end, that contract theory is unable to provide a complete grounding for morality.  According to Pettit, contract theory either has to give way ultimately to consequentialism, in that the deliberative parties concerned in the formation of the moral paradigm must have a view of the greater good in view in their various renderings of the social contract; or, as Pettit himself affirms, the deliberative parties will be forced to understand that their moral paradigm is culturally relative.

 

Pettit, it seems to me, understands morality to be culturally relative.  To say that something is right or wrong is to say that it does not accord with the agreed upon rules of the game for this particular game.  So, it is “wrong” to move the knight one space forward in Chess, just as it is wrong to move counter-clockwise in Monopoly.  And one “ought not” play a piece of music off key.  There are game-specific rules which are agreed upon by those playing the game.  These are not fixed moral laws by any stretch of the imagination. 

 

However, these rules are very useful for moral endeavors.  Pettit proves in the end that he is actually a consequentialist at heart but views a certain form of contractualism as consistent with and beneficial to consequentialism.  Pettit says, “There remains an attractive and plausible way of taking contractualism that would make it consistent with consequentialism; this would cast it as a theory of the relatively right—the right relative to a practice—rather than the absolutely right.”

What do you think?

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