What We Owe to Hypocrites: Contractualism and the Speaker-Relativity of Justification


Frick, Johann. “What We Owe to Hypocrites: Contractualism and the Speaker-Relativity of Justification”. Philosophy & Public Affairs 44.4 (2016): , 44, 4, 223-265. Print.


It is a familiar feature of our ethical discourse that the strength of a moral argument often depends on more than its content. Presented interpersonally, its justificatory force may also depend on the identity of the speaker. An argument may serve to justify an action or policy when uttered by one speaker, while others lack the standing to offer the same argument as a justification for the action in question. I argue that this “speaker-relativity” of moral justification has not received the attention from moral philosophers that it merits. Amongst other things, it raises novel problems for a number of prominent moral theories, most interestingly for Scanlonian contractualism. Contractualists hold that an action is morally right if and because it is justifiable to each person (or, in the terms of Scanlon’s formula, because it is ‘licensed by a principle that no-one could reasonably reject’). Like attempts at justification, however, grounds for rejection must be presented in the form of arguments, addressed to the agent by those individuals who are adversely affected by his action. I argue that there are cases in which an action is intuitively wrong on account of its foreseeably bad consequences, yet none of those adversely affected have the standing to reasonably reject the principle that licenses its performance. This finding threatens to drive a wedge between our moral intuitions and contractualism’s account of moral rightness. It suggests that the supposed analysans (justifiability to each person) and the analysandum (moral rightness) can sometimes come apart.

Last updated on 01/11/2017