Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Contra Consequentialismum: Contractual Conundrum

ODERBERG OBSERVES HOW HIS THEORY OF RIGHTS departs starkly from that notion of rights that was advanced by the social contract thinkers. His criticism is levied against those who believed that the social contract which took us out of the "state of nature" was historically real such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. But it equally applies to the likes of Kant or Rawls, who did not think that the social contract was a historical fact, but simply a convenient way of thinking of things, a heuristic device, as it were.

Falling Through the Conventionalist Trap Door

If one believes that rights originate with the social contract--whether it is real or hypothetical--one has fallen through a conventionalist trap door into a cellar of relativist morality. All morality will be a matter of convention, and there is virtually no limit to the conventions that men can make among themselves, and all morality becomes a matter of convenience. The conventions that may be imagined can easily turn out to be very repugnant, depending on the bias of the one making the contract, and the social contract theorists have come up with devices (such as the Rawlsian "veil of ignorance" and "difference principle") whose aims are to remedy the fundamental defect in the theory. A lot of these devices begin to smell like pre-existing ethical principles which are suggestive of a system of right and wrong that is given.

One of the biggest hurdles confronting a social contract theories is the issue of bindingness of the contract. Why should any person be bound by the supposed convention? If the contract is hypothetical, as distinguished from historical, the problem becomes even more apparent. It is bad enough for me to be bound by some compact made long in the past, and about which I had no say. But to be bound by a contract that is not even real, but hypothetical, seems to be an absurd limitation on freedom of action.

Some social contract theorists suggest that the social contract, whether real or hypothetical, binds because of its rationality. But that simply begs the question by placing it a bit further back and transforming it to the question: Why is the social contract rational?

To avoid the conventionalist trap, some conventionalist suggest that there is an underlying reality, "an unchanging, prior notion of individual benefit and harm from which follow the foundational and subsidiary principles governing the contractualist decision procedure." Oderberg, 65. But, if so, then it would appear that the greater reality is not the social contract, but this reality behind it.

So the social contract theorists finds himself perpetually in a dilemma. Either he takes the position that the social contract is good because it is binding or he takes the position that it is binding because it is good. If he takes the first route, he falls into the pit of conventionalism in ethics, and all is relative. If, to avoid this result, he takes the second fork, the social contract theory itself becomes of secondary importance because the greater reality is the "good" that is presupposed and enforced by the social contract. In the latter case, the social contract is "theoretically dispensable."

By "theoretically dispensable" I mean that it does no work in accounting for the origin of morality in general and rights in particular. The work is being done by a prior notion of the good and of the rights and duties flowing from that notion properly analyzed. . . . Any social arrangement, to be just and desirable, must be ordered according to the true system of morality.

Oderberg, MT, 65. Which is, of course, another way of saying that any social arrangement cannot violate the natural moral law, since that is the theory that insists that morality is not conventional, but based upon the nature of things.

C'mon guys. Isn't it time to admit the social contract theory is a failure?

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