Objections to Actual Contract Theory

Margaret Gilbert

in A Theory of Political Obligation

Published in print May 2006 | ISBN: 9780199274956
Published online September 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780191603976 | DOI:
 Objections to Actual Contract Theory

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In spite of its long history and evident appeal, an actual contract theory of political obligation now tends to be rejected. This chapter focuses on two standard objections to the theory, the no-agreement objection, which depends on the empirical claim that most people have not agreed to uphold any political institutions; and the no-obligation objection, which argues that even if they had, not all of the agreements made would obligate the participants. It invokes the possibility that one or more parties entered a pertinent agreement or supposed agreement in coercive circumstances, and the possibility that the agreement is to uphold morally suspect political institutions. The no-agreement claim is clearly a problem for the theory given the tests proposed in chapter 3; the no-obligation objection may be open to rebuttal. The chapter concludes with a brief examination of some contemporary alternatives to actual contract theory: arguments that appeal to subjective identification and relationships, with reference to those offered by John Horton, Joseph Raz, and Nancy Hirschmann.

Keywords: actual contract theory; agreements; coercion; Hirschmann; Horton; morally suspect institution; obligation; Raz; relationships; subjective identification

Chapter.  9952 words. 

Subjects: Social and Political Philosophy

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