Overview of a Theory

David Gauthier

in Morals by Agreement

Published in print May 1987 | ISBN: 9780198249924
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597497 | DOI:
Overview of a Theory

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Presents an overview of the book, introducing the problem of showing the rationality of moral constraints, and the conception of rationality as maximization, which on the face of it seems incompatible with any form of constraint. We argue, however, that moral theory is part of the theory of rational choice, arising from the structure of interaction, in which persons recognize a role for agreed mutual constraint in bringing about fair mutual advantage. We contrast the maximizing conception of rationality with the universalistic conception accepted by many philosophers, and our appeal to rational choice with the quite different appeals proposed by John Harsanyi and John Rawls. We introduce five key conceptions central to our theory: the idea of a morally free zone, the principle of minimax relative concession as the basis of justice, constrained maximization, the proviso, and the Archimedean point from which an individual can move the moral world. Finally, we raise questions about the scope of moral relationships and their place in an ideal human life.

Keywords: Archimedean point; constraint; constrained maximization; justice; maximization; minimax relative concession; morally free zone; proviso; rational choice; rationality

Chapter.  8359 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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