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Party to the Hypothetical Contract: Obligation, Legitimacy, and Autonomy

Fox, Carl (2014) Party to the Hypothetical Contract: Obligation, Legitimacy, and Autonomy. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Since Ronald Dworkin rubbished the idea that hypothetical consent could bind an agent in the same way that her actual consent does, social contract theorists have concentrated on refining a purely justificatory strategy for establishing moral and political principles. They have shied away from questions about why, and especially how, we are bound to keep off the grass when a suitably just government tells us to keep off the grass. I develop a sanction theory of obligation that explains the bindingness of obligations using the cost to an individual of undermining her practical identity. I then explicate the role of hypothetical consent as expanding a practical identity from core principles. To establish an individual’s hypothetical consent to some principle is to invite her to exact a cost from herself in terms of her own self-understanding if she violates it. Although an individual cannot act as her own commander, she can police her commitments. I also argue that our commitment to our practical identities can, and should, be voluntary since we aim to autonomously construct or endorse our identities on the basis of reasons. My goal is to reset the relationship between the social contract and obligation, explain the binding force of obligation, and maintain important roles for hypothetical consent and the ideal of voluntariness within the contract tradition. Applying this analysis, I recommend new approaches to understanding political legitimacy and what it means for an agent to live an autonomous life. I then go on to outline a strategy to complement the traditional social contract model. Along with determining the kind of state it would make sense for us to agree to support and obey, we should also work out the identity that a citizen must have if she is to bind herself to a just political community. A complete picture of political obligation is one in which the just state is embraced by a conscientious citizen. To achieve this, I propose that we turn the social contract on its head.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield)
The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > Philosophy (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.631462
Depositing User: Dr Carl Fox
Date Deposited: 12 Dec 2014 15:51
Last Modified: 03 Oct 2016 11:18
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/7518

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