Contractarianism, Role Obligations, and Political Morality

September 1, 2022
Centre For Ethics, Philosophy And Public Affairs, University of St. Andrews

Saint Andrews
United Kingdom

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

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  • Scots Philosophical Association


University of Stirling
Oxford University
University of Helsinki


University of St. Andrews

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A one-day in-person symposium in St. Andrews on themes from the recently-published, Contractarianism, Role Obligations, and Political Morality, by Ben Sachs.

Confirmed Speakers

Antony Duff, Philosophy, University of Stirling (Emeritus)

Cécile Fabre, Political Philosophy, University of Oxford

Visa Kurki, Jurisprudence, University of Helsinki

Michael Moore, Law, University of Illinois

Book Precis

Contractarianism is well suited as a political morality...or so this book argues, before going on to explore the implications of deploying contractarianism in this way.  Its starting point is the natural thought that the state owes things to its people: physical security, public health and sanitation services, and a functioning judiciary, for example.  But we need a theory—a political morality—that can explain why this is so and identify who the state’s ‘people’ are.  The book argues that what it means for the state to have obligations is for the state’s office-holders (e.g., its legislators, judges, and bureaucrats) to have role obligations.  These role obligations derive from the purpose of the state, which is grounded in the intentions of those who partake in the sustaining of the state. By way of extracting implications from this new version of contractarianism, the book argues first that at least an extremely weak version of political liberalism follows from it.  And this small dose of political liberalism yields a very strong version of legal liberalism (the view that the goodness/badness of an act doesn't figure in to the question of how the law, including the criminal law, ought to deal with that act).  Second, the book argues that there is an important sense in which it's false that sentient animals as such are among the state's people, and that the arguments for extending citizenship to this fail.  Finally, from there the book argues for a moderate position on the proper legal status of such animals.


Attendance is free, thanks to gratefully acknowledged support from the Scots Philosophical Association.  Although registration is not required, it would be helpful if you'd register by sending an email to Ben Sachs ([email protected]).  Those who register might get a free meal or two, budget allowing!

The symposium venue is disability accessible and funds are available to pay for childcare for those who need it in order to attend.  If you have any questions about the symposium, please contact Ben Sachs ([email protected]).

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