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date: 14 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This article explains the distinguishing features of three kinds of social contract approaches—interest-based, right-based, and convention-based views—focusing on works by the major historical and some leading contemporary figures from each tradition. Unlike utilitarianism, social contract doctrines are not a family of substantive moral and political conceptions; rather, they are a family of methods of justification that support different conceptions of justice: democratic egalitarianism; classical liberalism; political absolutism; utilitarianism; and even libertarianism. Critics argue that the idea of a social contract is empty because it is used to argue for so many conceptions of justice, and appears to justify none of them. Advocates, however, regard it as a positive feature of contractarianism that it can encompass a diversity of substantive positions and provide a method of analysis and argumentation that permits the discernment and assessment of assumptions implicit in political conceptions of justice and of the conditions under which they would or could be acceptable to free and equal rational and reasonable persons.

Keywords: social contract, interest-based view, right-based view, convention-based view

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