The minimum agreement for a social contract

Gough, Mark (2014) The minimum agreement for a social contract. MPhil thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

My thesis imagines an island populated by Nozick’s libertarians and Rawls’ ‘left-liberals’ and considers one particular social contract proposal (‘the Minimum Agreement’) that both sides could theoretically endorse. This is a dual-contract agreement in which both sides endorse Nozick’s minimal state (‘tier one’) and then a voluntary Rawlsian association within it (‘tier two’). This approach can be described as ‘outcome orientated’, because each side endorses the other’s institutions as a means to an end, rather than because they necessarily sympathise with the moral imperatives underpinning the other side’s institutions. Therefore, the obligations arising from both tiers of the agreement have to be legal rather than moral. By demonstrating that a political consensus between left-liberals and libertarians is at least logically possible (even if unlikely), we can reject Rawls’ argument that it is necessary to exclude libertarians from his pluralistic and liberal society. My argument proceeds from the unlikely assumption that all libertarian castaways are willing to join the Rawlsian free association in tier two, as long as this means they don’t have to give up being libertarians. I then argue that: (i) whilst it is relatively simple to render Nozick’s theory into purely legal terms, it is harder to separate the moral from the political in Rawls’ political liberalism; (ii) the unique circumstances of the island environment place greater pressure on the left-liberals to compromise to reach a consensus on a single social contract; (iii) the left-liberals will have to relax Rawls’ pre-contractual assumptions of an overlapping consensus of ‘reasonable’ agents, as a result of which the outcome of the Minimum Agreement may in fact be a modus vivendi. This prompts two questions: (1) would the libertarians evolve into ‘true left-liberals’, as Gauthier’s theory of morals by agreement suggests? (2) Is a modus vivendi necessarily such a bad thing?

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Social Sciences, History & Philosophy > Philosophy
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 25 Nov 2014 10:02
Last Modified: 09 Mar 2015 14:37
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/101

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