Canadian Journal of Philosophy 21 (4):441 - 468 (1991)
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Contractarians view justice as being defined by a contract made by rational individuals. No one supposes that this contract is actual, and the fact that it is merely hypothetical raises a number of questions both about the assumptions under which it would be actual and about the force of hypothetical agreement that is contingent on these assumptions.Particular contractarian theories must specify the circumstances of the agreement and the endowments, beliefs, desires, and degree and type of rationality of the agents. How these issues are settled determines the force of the hypothetical agreement. The fact that ignorant people who desired only universal suffering would, under duress, agree to a certain principle gives us no reason to believe the principle is a correct moral principle or to think it rational to accept or act on it: some counterfactual assumptions undermine entirely the moral force of hypothetical agreement. On the other hand, to take people just as they are, with their current beliefs, desires, endowments, and all, is to endorse their ignorance and mistakes as well as any previous injustice that affects their bargaining power.

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Donald Hubin
Ohio State University


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