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Introduction Author(s): Christopher W. Morris Source: Ethics, Vol. 123, No. 4, Symposium: David Gauthier’s Morals

Introduction Author(s): Christopher W. Morris Source: Ethics, Vol. 123, No. 4, Symposium: David Gauthier’s Morals by Agreement (July 2013), pp. 595-600 Published by: The University of Chicago Press

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Introduction* Christopher W. Morris

On the occasion of the twenty- fth anniversary of the publication of Da- vid Gauthier s Morals by Agreement , a conference was held in May 2011 at York University, Toronto, organized by Susan Dimock and attracting more than forty presenters. The papers and discussions ranged widely over topics in morals by agreement. A number of the papers presented are pub- lished here, including David Gauthiers keynote presentation, Twenty-Five On.

Gauthier s morals by agreement theory has attracted a lot of atten- tion, with many, supporters and critics alike, focusing considerable at- tention on the revisionist account of practical rationality. The latter is the starting point for the papers included here. To situate Gauthier s views about rationality, we start with an overview of the theory. Morals by agreement is a theory of the nature and rationality of mo- rality. The account has different parts or elements, something that was not always well appreciated when the book rst appeared. The rst element is what we might think of as an account of human nature: the nature of value and the aim of practical reason, the natural condition of humankind, the function of constraints on action. Next is an account of the principles of conduct that rational agents would hypothetically agree to, a kind of so- cial contract.The third element is a revisionist account of practical ration- ality, essential to the argument aiming to show that virtually everyone in normal circumstances has reason to accept and abide by the constraints imposed by these principles. Finally, Gauthier argues that the principles in

* My thanks to Henry Richardson for comments on a draft of these remarks, as well as to David Gauthier for conversations over many decades.

Ethics 123 ( July 2013): 595600 © 2013 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0014-1704/2013/12304-0006$10.00


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question are principles of morality. This last element of the theory is found in different places in the book. At the center of what I have called the account of human nature is

a familiar doctrine of the circumstances of justice. The phrase is from

Rawls, who borrows from Hume and H. L. A. Hart a summary account of the conditions in which humans typically benet from cooperation, an account implicit in Hobbess social theory. These conditions consist prin- cipally in scarcity, relative to our needs and wants, and self-bias, a tendency to favor ourselves and those close to us over others. Cooperation in these

circumstances is mutually benecial, and it is made possible by our capacity to constrain our self-seeking behavior by adhering to just principles of ac- tion. In the book Gauthier uses the neoclassical economic theory of per- fect competition to illustrate his conception of the rationale for moral con- straints. In such a world there is no place for mutually benecial principles of action; uncoordinated, individual actions secure all the benets avail- able. Such a market would be a morally free zone, a context within which

the constraints of morality would have no place.1 In real markets, of course, there are public goods and externalities ð e.g., clean air, congestionÞ and multiple opportunities for mutually benecial cooperation. The view here

is of moral constraints as remedies of market failures,broadly conceived.

The illustration may be misleading insofar as the constraints needed for market competition are not self-sustaining and as questions may be raised about the baseline or starting point of market competition, matters taken up by Gauthier in different places in the book. The discussion of perfect competition has misled some readers, and Gauthier does not use this illus- tration of morally free zonesin later work. Morals by Agreement famously endorses a subjectivist and instrumen- talist conception of practical rationality according to which we are ratio- nal insofar as our acts maximize the satisfaction of our coherent and con- sidered preferences. Gauthier also supposes, for the purposes of the theory, that agents reason from the standpoint of their own interests, specically their non-tuisticpreferences. This assumption is not necessary for the the- ory, and Gauthier seems to have moved away from it. As his contribution to this symposium reveals, he has also moved further away from the orthodox conception of utility maximization. In Morals by Agreement and elsewhere, Gauthier argues that agents in the circumstances of justice have reason to constrain their behavior by accepting and adhering to mutually advantageous and fair principles of action conditional on the compliance of others. Hypothetical choice is the device used to determine what those principles are. Unlike Rawls and others, Gauthier imposes no veil of ignorance and does not deprive his hypothetical contractors of knowledge of who they are and where they


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1. David Gauthier, Morals by Agreement ð Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986Þ, 13.

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Morris Introduction 597

nd themselves. The principles selected represent a collective bargain, a compromise, with agents making a concession from their maximal claim. The principles chosen govern the distribution of the cooperative or so- cial surplus, the net gains realized by cooperation. The assets that are prior to and independent of social cooperation our natural assetsare not themselves subject to redistribution as they seem to be in Rawls s theory of justice. For Gauthier, distributive justice concerns the goods realized by cooperation, albeit constrained in a Lockean way, as we shall now see. The choice of a principle of distributive justice in morals by agree- ment makes use of bargaining theory, part of the theory of games. But this principle is only part of the account of distributive justice, the other part being an account of the initial bargaining position. In Morals by Agree- ment Gauthier develops a two-stage social contract theory. The principle of distributive justice is, as it were, the second stage, and the rst is a constraint on pre-bargaining interaction. 2 The theory remains, broadly speaking, Hob- bist. But Gauthiers introduction of constraints on the pre-bargaining base- linespecically the Lockean proviso, which prohibits bettering ones situ- ation through interaction that worsens the situation of anothergives his theory a Lockeanappearance. All is not permitted as it is in Hobbess famous state of nature. This proviso gives rise to limited rights, which we might think of as semi-natural,to use a term I have used elsewhere. 3 Thus far morals by agreement offers us only an account of the na- ture and content of moralitywhat morality asks of us and why. Some will disagree with the view of morality s function or will think that there is more to morality than these principles and the duties that ow from real- life agreements and promises. It is important to understand that one of the most distinctive elements of the theory is not yet in place; Gauthier has not yet shown that agents have reason to comply the demands of morality. Justice often requires that we act contrary to our interests or aimswe may not steal, cheat, or break our word whenever so doing would prove advantageous to us or to the causes we defend. As many moral thinkers from Plato to Philippa Foot have noted, it sometimes pays to be unjust. Gauthiers response to this fact and the problems it poses is to argue that we misconceive practical rationality, even instrumental ra- tionality, if we think that its aim determines in a straightforward way the manner in which we should reason or deliberate. The aim of rationalitysay, to do as well as possibleneed not recommend the decision princi- ple, choose the best alternative at each moment of choice. In Morals by Agreement Gauthier famously argues that we should reason and act as constrained

2. Gauthier was in uenced by the two-stage contractarian theory of the late James

Buchanan. See his Limits of Liberty ðChicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975Þ.

3. See Christopher Morris, An Essay on the Modern State ð Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-

versity Press, 1998Þ , 152 54.

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maximizers.Such agents will be constrained by dispositions to choose,and they will consequently have more opportunities to cooperate in mu- tually benecial ways with others. In later work Gauthier develops this revisionist account in terms of intentions, plans, and modes of delibera- tion. The big challenge has been to rebut the contention that he has only shown that it is sometimes rational to act irrationally. In order to show that we have reason to act morally, he needs to show that we have reason to act in ways that are not, from the standpoint of the moment of action, always the best thing to do in terms of ones aims or purposes. Establishing this is essential to demonstrating that we have reasons to be moral, and in- deed reasons of the right sort, constraining our behavior. Principles constrain ones actions, and we have reasons to be so con- strained. If Gauthier has established this, it would be a major feat. But we would still need to ascertain whether the principles in question and the principled action are moral; the argument that they are is dispersed throughout Morals by Agreement. The strategy seems to be a functional one:

the principles and dispositions resemble familiar moral ones sufciently that we can identify them as such. Impartiality he thinks is a dening feature of morality, and it is shared by these principles and dispositions. This and

other features allow us to conclude that what has been shown to be rational is in fact a genuine morality. Gauthier s Twenty-Five On, the rst paper of this symposium, re- ects on Morals by Agreement and the ways in which his thinking has since changed. It is noteworthy that Gauthier distances himself further from the orthodox maximizing conception of rational choice. Adequate for problems of individual choice, it is inadequate for interactive choice. I

reject the maximizing perspective on interaction

there is a

superior perspective, though it is not always available to a single agent ð 605 Þ . He nds now in the Prisoner s Dilemma a clash between two distinct conceptions of rationality and the beginning of an argument against the directly maximizing perspectiveð 606 Þ . While the ortho- dox account will prescribe an action for an agent in any circumstances by invoking best reply considerations, Gauthier now defends a Pareto- optimizing theory of rational choice that would have rational agents co- ordinate on a single set of directives, conditional on the compliance of others. Rejecting the old label of constrained maximization , he now thinks of rational cooperators as agreed Pareto-optimizers. Gauthier considers as well changes in his thinking about bargaining theory and his principle of rational cooperation, the Lockean proviso, and what he elsewhere calls the contractarian test. 4 He now emphasizes that


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4. David Gauthier, Political Contractarianism,Journal of Political Philosophy 5 ð1997Þ:


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Morris Introduction 599

we nd ourselves in a world of norms attached to practices, social roles, and institutions. These may be justied insofar that those governed by these norms could have agreed to them, were they choosing, ex ante , together with their fellows, the terms of their ð subsequent Þ interaction ð 618 Þ . This is what he calls the weak contractarian test, showing that a set of norms and practices are eligible for inclusion in an actual so- ciety that constitutes a cooperative venture for mutual ful llment ð 618 Þ . In a discussion of his Lockean proviso Gauthier considers what rational cooperators might do in those circumstances where cooperation is not possible. How the would-be cooperator should act when cooper- ation is not to be had, need not be determined by what non-cooperators would consider rational. Instead, we may ask whether there are ways of acting antithetical to cooperation , which may enter in to non-cooperative situations, as options to be avoided.Gauthier now thinks of the proviso as playing a broader role, as providing a constraint, both rational and moral, on the justi ability of all interaction. The proviso is not the whole of morality or even the last word, but it is, I believe, the rst word ð 621 22, emphasis added Þ . Much of Gauthier s work after Morals by Agreement has been devoted to developing his revisionist conception of rationality, and aspects of his newer views are considered in his essay for this symposium. This revision- ist conception has attracted a lot of interest and criticism, and most of the essays in this issue focus on this view and some of the recent restatements. Duncan MacIntoshs contribution, Assuring, Threatening, a Fully Maxi- mizing Theory of Practical Rationality, and the Practical Duties of Agents,focuses on two of Gauthiers essays published in this journal, one on de- terrence ð 1984Þ and the other on threats and assurances ð 1994Þ . MacIn- tosh is critical of the accounts in both of these essays and develops a view that he thinks resists the criticisms he raises against Gauthier. Michael Bratman s essay, The Interplay of Intention and Reason, focuses likewise on Gauthier s important 1994 paper on threat and as- surances, as well as ve others. He is sympathetic to Gauthier s broadly pragmatic way of evaluating alternatives modes of deliberation but wor- ries about possible conicts that such a perspective may generate. He pro- poses a modication of the account, one that makes use of one of Gau- thiers ideas about temporally extended agency. Claire Finkelstein s essay, Pragmatic Rationality and Risk,also fo- cuses on Gauthier s later writings on rationality. She is concerned about the pragmatic rationale of his account in contexts of risky choice. In the 1994 paper Gauthier treats threats and assurances differently because of the way in which failed threats can leave one worse off than if one had not threatened. She thinks that the introduction of risk challenges the ac- count of assurances as well and argues that pragmatic accounts may need to view the chance or likelihood of a bene t as itself a bene t.

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In his contribution, Sticks or Carrots? The Emergence of Self- Ownership, Gijs van Donselaar writes about rational commitment and the Lockean proviso. Assuming that both threatening and promising commitments can be rational, he explores the conditions under which the latter are particularly bene cial. Promising rewards is a more effec- tive strategy for eliciting the labors and creative activities of people than threatening sanctions, and van Donselaar shows how an understanding of the logic of these two kinds of commitments can explain the superiority of market societies to slave societies. He also argues that respect for self- ownership, a rather Lockean conception, may emerge from practices of promising commitments. In these excellent essays we see the development of parts of David Gauthier s project in practical philosophy. They give a good impression of the richness of Morals by Agreement as well as of the complexities and dif culties on the path to a full account of morals by agreement.


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