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Social Sciences - Applied Ethics & Social Responsibility | Moral Contract Theory and Social Cognition - An Empirical Perspective

Moral Contract Theory and Social Cognition

An Empirical Perspective

Timmerman, Peter

2014, X, 233 p. 7 illus.

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  • First study to evaluate the empirical plausibility of moral contract theory
  • Reveals that certain crucial assumptions of moral contract theory that have been controversial are in fact plausible in the light of empirical findings
  • First comprehensive study to scrutinize the implications of recent empirical findings on social cognition for moral theory
  • Highly interdisciplinary study, relating insights from philosophy with results from social psychology, development psychology, and behavioural economics

This interdisciplinary work draws on research from psychology and behavioral economics to evaluate the plausibility of moral contract theory. In a compelling manner with implications for moral theory more broadly, the author’s novel approach resolves a number of key contingencies in contractarianism and contractualism.
Acting in accordance with principles that we could all agree to under certain conditions requires that agents are capable of taking up the perspectives of others. Research in social and developmental psychology shows just how challenging this can be. The author discusses in detail what implications findings on perspective-taking have for contract theory. He concludes with cautious optimism that, despite our limitations, it lies within our power to become better at perspective-taking and to adopt a contractarian or contractualist mode of moral thinking. This does however require us to be much more attentive to the standpoints of others than we tend to be. 
Contract theorists also assume that agents can be moved to comply with principles that would be the object of agreement, with some arguing they can be so moved out of their own interest. The book show that, in contrast to the suspicion of many philosophers, this idea is largely supported by research on the dynamics of trust and our ability to distinguish trustworthy from untrustworthy others. Bringing a welcome dose of realism to the debate on contract theory, the author shows the value of assessing moral theories from an empirical perspective.

Content Level » Research

Keywords » Contract Theory and Perspective-Taking - Contract Theory and Translucency - David Gauthier - Detecting trustworthiness - Empirical plausibility - Golden opportunities - Judging trustworthiness on the basis of nonverbal information - Lie detection - Limits of self-control - Moral contract theory - Moral development - Perspective-Taking Accuracy and the Contract Test - Perspective-Taking in Moral Judgment - Practical advice for contractarian agents - Signs of trustworthiness - T.M. Scanlon - Third party judgments

Related subjects » Applied Ethics & Social Responsibility - Personality & Social Psychology - Political Science

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