Review Of "The Limits Of Hobbesian Contractarianism" By J. S. Kraus

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In 1986, three influential defenses of Hobbes's contractarian approach to political and moral justification appeared: Jean Hampton's Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition (CH, Jun'87), Gregory Kavka's Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory (CH, Feb'87), and David Gauthier's Moral by Agreement (CH, Dec'86). All are inspired by John Rawls's attempt to introduce rational decision theory in his monumental A Theory of Justice (CH, Sep'72), but all react against his robust, Kantian interpretation of persons. Hence the return to Hobbes. But Kraus argues that Hobbes tried--and failed--to get something from (next to) nothing, and he makes a convincing case that contemporary Hobbesians fare no better. For none provides either a satisfactory justification for undertaking a hypothetical inquiry to generate normative conclusions or a solution to the problem of collective action. Kraus provides a clear, careful, and sympathetic exposition of the three defenses, showing that they differ in their characterization of hypothetical individuals and the hypothetical environment, their analysis of the problems and solutions arising from the preceding, and their normative conclusion. Kraus devotes the most space to Hampton, though both Kavka and Gauthier receive extended treatment. Throughout, Kraus is a fair and judicious critic. His arguments usefully supplement those made by R.V. Hanaford in Moral Anatomy and Moral Reasoning (CH, Mar'94). Highly recommended for upper-division undergraduates and beyond.


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