Social and Legal Philosophy
Colloquium Series 2014
A Principle of Contractarian Justice
Professor Albert Weale
Professor of Political Theory and Public Policy, UCL
Wednesday 22nd January 2014, 4-7pm
About this Colloquium
Scepticism about desert has been common among theorists of justice, both those who favour a social contract account and those, like Hayek, who have a different view. Yet, although the concept of desert seldom figures in contemporary contract theories of justice, it is an element in the common sense morality of modern democracies. Can we reconcile common sense thinking and social contract theory in respect of the principle of desert?
The purpose of this paper is to investigate how far a social contract theory of economic justice – specifically a social contract theory that takes a contractarian form – can accommodate a principle of desert. A contractarian theory of justice may be characterised as one in which principles of justice are defined by reference to the upshot of a procedural agreement to mutual advantage among agents located in a base-line situation of non-cooperation. Such a procedural agreement can be seen as an intellectual construct that enables us to model the conditions of justice.
How does the principle of desert fare in such a construction? The argument is that the principle of desert is not directly implied by such a theoretical construction, but that it is consistent with such a theoretical construction. In a society governed by the principles of justice that emerge in such contractarian situations, participants may meaningfully say that returns to productive effort over and above those returns that are implied by the principles of contractarian agreement are deserved. It is also possible that differential returns within the contractarian agreement can also be described as ‘deserved’ in a reading back into the terms of that agreement, although this latter is a more speculative possibility.
Biography of the speaker
Professor Weale was born in Brighton in 1950. In the autumn of 1967 he went to Clare College Cambridge to read Theology, graduating in 1971. In 1974 he was awarded the Sir James Knott Fellowship in the Department of Politics at the University of Newcastle. In 1976 he was awarded a Lectureship in the Department of Politics at the University of York. In 1985 Professor Weale then moved to the University of East Anglia as Professor of Politics and in 1992 he joined the Department of Government at the University of Essex as Professor of Government. In January 2010 he became Professor of Political Theory and Public Policy at UCL.
His main intellectual influences have been the work of John Rawls and H.L.A. Hart in contemporary political theory, and John Stuart Mill and Henry Sidgwick in the history of political thought.
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