The Arizona Freedom Center is proud to present a Colloquium Talk with Christopher W. Morris, Professor of Philosophy, University of Maryland, College Park. The title of his talk is "Putting Morals by Agreement in its Place" (abstract below). Friday, September 28, 3-5pm, Social Sciences 224.
In Morals by Agreement David Gauthier seeks to do two things: (1) to determine the content of morality, what it is that we morally must do, and (2) to establish that we have reasons to do what we morally must do reasons of the right sort). Among the criticisms that have been made of the project, two stand out. The first is that some seem to be left out, so to speak. It is not clear to what extent morals by agreement will protect non-agents (unable to cooperate), agents unwilling to cooperate, the unproductive, and those easily exploited or enslaved. These are worries about the scope of the theory, about those who have moral standing. The second worry is that Gauthier is thought by many not to be able to show that everyone or even most people have reasons (of the right kind) to be moral. I think that a better understanding of the object of morals by agreement may able to address these two worries.
I argue that morals by agreement is less an account of morality in it entirety than one of the particular virtue of justice – of what is owed to others, that to which they have a right – and that this has implications for Gauthier’s story. Gauthier argues that it is illicit in a con- structive moral theory to assume any moral assumptions at the outset of theorizing, and he is right. But understanding the project to be about the specific virtue of justice requires only that we not assume any principles or norms of justice. We may, without begging any questions, be able to assume, for instance, that agents are prudent, courageous, and temperate. Additionally, we may be able to assume that agents are benevolent. The latter may enable us to “expand the circle” and to include some otherwise left out of the scope of morals by agreement. The former may help us address the worries about rationality. Agents who are prudent, courageous, and temperate, should possess the strength of will or resoluteness needed to constrain themselves in the face of temptation. Rational compliance may then be seen as something that borrows from many other domains of life, both social and individual.
If I am right, situating morals by agreement in these ways will help the project address serious criticisms.
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