07 Oct

Is social contract theory unable to adequately deal with the issue of dependency on care?

In the first part of her Tanner Lecture’s on Human Values Martha Nussbaum’s aim is to show that Rawls’s social contract theory cannot adequately address the needs of people that are dependent on care.

Her target are social contract theories in general however. Social contract theories derive from a conception of morality modelled on mutually agreeable reciprocity or cooperation between equals. This general idea can be developed in a variety of ways, depending on how one characterizes the relevant agreement, the parties to it and their equality and their conditions under which the agreement is made. Social contract theories can be broadly distinguished as being of contractarian or contractualist kind. Contractarianism and contractualism differ mainly in how moral principles are understood. In contractarianism moral principles result from rationally self-interested bargaining. In contractualism moral principles are attributed to the deliberative parties themselves. Morality does not arise out of prudential reasoning like it does in contractarianism. One way to see it is to think of contractarianism as reductionist and contractualism as being non-reductionist when it comes to morality. In Rawls’s theory the parties in the original position are portrayed as being motivated by purely self-interested reasoning. The moral part, which means the reciprocity, is ensured by an information constraint provided by the veil of ignorance. Rawls’s theory is therefore contractualist because it does not derive moral reasons from non-moral ones.

Nussbaum’s argument goes like this: Rawls’s contractualist theory of the social contract cannot adequately deal with dependency on care because:

  1. people dependent on care cannot be included among the parties bargaining for first political principles without rendering Rawls’s theory incoherent or impracticable
  2. such exclusion makes fair treatment of people dependent on care a matter of charity that has to be deferred until after the hypothetical agreement.

Nussbaum believes however, that adequate treatment of people that are dependent on care is an issue of social justice and not just of charity. As it turns out as an issue of charity in Rawls’s theory his theory must be wrong. It thus all hinges on premise a). Why can people dependent on care not be included in the bargaining process? Nussbaum gives several arguments which I think can mostly be summarized in two main reasons:

  1. A combination of Humean circumstances of justice and aKantian concept of personhood cannot accomodate an inclusion of disabled people
  2. Inclusion would force the difference principle to rely on intuitionistic balancing

The combination of Humean circumstances of justice and a Kantian concept of personhood leads to a bargaining process that is primarily concerned with mutual economic advantage between parties of roughly equal physical and mental capacities. Cooperation with both physically or mentally disabled people is usually not advantageous in this economic sense however, either because changing the public space to cater to disability would be too expensive or because disabilities are too severe to prevent disabled peoples from returning the cost that their care affords. In order to make parties in the OP consider other people’s interests we would need to forgo the idea of the social contract altogether because the social contract is defined as bargaining for mutual advantage.

As for the second argument, an inclusion of disabled people would require the theory to acknowledge the state of one’s body as a primary good to be distributed. This in return would lead to a complication of the determination of first political principles in the bargaining process. The difference principle would have to be reformulated because it measures social position by reference to wealth and income. Rawls would be forced to rely on intuitionistic balancing that he wants to avoid. He would need a way of measuring well-being that does not rely on income and wealth alone. However, need for care varies greatly even in non-disabled people and it is not clear how exactly one would compare relative social positions if we included the state of one’s body as a primary good to be distributed.

All of these criticisms apply to the situation of mentally disabled people. The Kantian conception of personhood makes the possession of mental and moral powers central both to citizenship and to reciprocity. Mentally disabled people are not only excluded from the original position because they offer no economic advantage to others but do not qualify as persons in a Kantian sense at all. Nussbaum’s conclusion is that the contract doctrine does not provide a complete ethical theory.

In order to escape this conclusion, one could for example deny either the assumption that dependency on care is not an issue of justice. How could insufficient support or no support for treatment of disabled people not be an issue of justice however? We could bite the bullet and claim that morality and thus justice only arises out of mutual advantage i.e. be reductionist about morality. This could explain why why care for elders and children is an issue of justice while care for disabled people is not. That is to say in the case of elders, they have already served society and children are expected to do so. While this is certainly a repugnant conclusion, it still would not save social contract theory. That is because considering any kind of care as an issue of justice would render the difference principle impracticable. You either have to accept that all dependency of care is an issue of social justice or let it go altogether. Biting the bullet would entail fully cooperating citizens having no moral responsibility towards any person being in need of care.

We could get rid of the difference principle and claim that people in the original position would  choose a social minimum principle instead that foregos a listing of primary goods. This would attentuate Rawls’s commitment to fair conditions of opportunity however. Natural talents and the social positions that we are born into would have a much higher influence on our future if there was no redistribution as prescribed by the difference principle. Rawls’s theory would thus lose much of its appeal which originates out of the idea of choosing alternatives that are best for the worst-off.

We might try to reformulate the idea of mutual advantage without getting rid of the bargaining idea at the same time. We would thus still stay within the tradition of social contract theory but avoid the problem of excluding people that cannot fully cooperate. As Nussbaums recognizes however, a bargain as thought of in its usual sense does not allow for much consideration of others’ interests beyond such that facilitate mutual advantage.

Finally we could also accept Nussbaum’s conclusion and argue that theories of justice do not need to be complete in order to be convincing. This might go well together with considerations of non-ideal theory. We do not need a complete idea of justice in order to act politically. Then again a non-ideal theorist could argue that the problem lies exactly in the fact that Rawls tried to formulate an ideal of social justice that makes it impracticable in the real world. Consequently, Rawls’s theory might be considered as useless by a non-ideal theorist because its goal was to be ideal even though non-ideal theory accepts incomplete formulations of justice. An advocate of political realism might find that theories of social justice are useless no matter their degree of completeness. Anyways, none of these options are available to Rawls who explicitly acvocated ideal-theory.

It appears thus as if social contract theory is unable to adequately deal with the issue of dependency on care.

48 thoughts on “Is social contract theory unable to adequately deal with the issue of dependency on care?


  1. Live asian cams cam sex videos real cam girls in action and live webcams video chat. Whats not to love?
    Click here to find out More below and watch LIVE now!
    Find Your favorite livecam models and see them here first. Then, when Youa re ready for cam to cam live chat just click to their profile!
    WetTightPussy, a true virgin asian girl who flaunted her tight wet pussy and perky tits on

  2. Getting new customers too your site can be achieved with a lot of achievements while you buy targeted traffic.
    You can find different ways to acquire considerably
    more site site visitors and also to best them back, you
    can perform a the greater part of it forr no cost. They are both powerful ways to obtain huge traffic
    so together, they could be a far more powerful tool to hel you your business the
    results which you want.

  3. Search Engines pick up those websites in which the submissions
    are generated within an effective manner. An Internet Marketing firm will
    help position your site in such a manner that success of your respective company is guaranteed.
    Link building will be the most important process when optimizing
    an internet site for search engines.

  4. It’s hard to develop a kjnd of games that everyone really wants to have some
    fun with. PFS likewise including highly detail period modeling that’s could track the COMPUTER clock time
    just what it’s imply that it could find the current in time the
    relative location. Lots of bonuses and promotions will also be provided to
    you by playing online casino with this platform.

  5. I’d like to thank you for the efforts you’ve put
    in penning this blog. I am hoping to see the same high-grade
    blog posts from you later on as well. In fact,
    your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my very own website now 😉

  6. Today, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iPad and tested to see if it can survive a 30 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My
    apple ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is
    entirely off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  7. Excellent weblog here! Additionally your site
    loads up very fast! What web host are you the usage of?
    Can I get your associate hyperlink for your host? I desire my site loaded up as
    fast as yours lol

  8. This design is steller! You obviously know how to keep
    a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was
    almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job.
    I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that,
    how you presented it. Too cool!

  9. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was curious
    what all is needed to get set up? I’m assuming having
    a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m
    not very internet savvy so I’m not 100% certain. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks

  10. Greetings from Florida! I’m bored to tears at work
    so I decided to check out your website on my iphone during lunch
    break. I enjoy the information you present here and can’t wait to take a look when I get
    home. I’m amazed at how fast your blog loaded on my cell phone ..

    I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, good site!

  11. Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it
    to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed.
    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

  12. Have you ever considered creating an e-book or guest authoring on other sites?
    I have a blog based on the same ideas you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my viewers would value
    your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free
    to send me an e-mail.

  13. Currently it seems like Drupal is the preferred blogging platform available right now.
    (from what I’ve read) Is that what you are using
    on your blog?

  14. My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find
    almost all of your post’s to be exactly I’m looking
    for. Does one offer guest writers to write content available for you?
    I wouldn’t mind publishing a post or elaborating on many of the subjects you write related to
    here. Again, awesome site!

  15. Hello just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your content seem
    to be running off the screen in Internet explorer. I’m not
    sure if this is a format issue or something to do with
    browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know.
    The layout look great though! Hope you get the issue resolved
    soon. Many thanks

  16. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog
    and wished to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around
    your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing to
    your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  17. I think this is among the most significant info for me.
    And i’m glad reading your article. But wanna remark on few general
    things, The website style is perfect, the articles is really great :
    D. Good job, cheers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.