Contractarianism and Cooperation

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 8 (1):73-99 (2009)
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Because contractarians see justice as mutual advantage, they hold that justice can be rationally grounded only when each can expect to gain from it. John Rawls seems to avoid this feature of contractarianism by fashioning the parties to the contract as Kantian agents whose personhood grounds their claims to justice. But Rawls also endorses the Humean idea that justice applies only if people are equal in ability. It would seem to follow from this idea that dependent persons (such as the disabled) lack claims of justice. It appears, then, that the Kantian and Humean themes in Rawls conflict. I present a reading of Rawls that resolves this tension between the Kantian and Humean themes. The first theme, I argue, allows Rawls to maintain that persons as such are owed justice regardless of their ability to engage in social cooperation. The second theme, I argue, allows him to retain Hume's connection between justice and reciprocity, but confines the reciprocity condition to relations among nondependents. I conclude that Rawls's approach permits him to rebut recent criticisms leveled by disability theorists and others who claim that his theory excludes dependents.

Author's Profile

Cynthia A. Stark
University of Utah


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