Morals by Agreement

Morals by Agreement

Morals by Agreement

Morals by Agreement

Excerpt

The present enquiry began on a November afternoon in Los Angeles when, fumbling for words in which to express the peculiar relationship between morality and advantage, I was shown the Prisoner's Dilemma. (The unfamiliar reader will be shown it in section 3.2 of Chapter III .) Almost nineteen years later, I reflect on the course of a voyage that is not, and cannot be, completed, but that finds a temporary harbour in this book.

The Prisoner's Dilemma posed a problem, rather than solving one. The problem concerns practical rationality, understood in maximizing terms, and it is resolved, or so I now think, in Chapter VI .

It proved to be the second of three core problems that required resolution before my enquiry could issue in this book. The first was to formulate the principle of rational co-operation, which I believe is central to morality. In my account, this principle is related to a rational agreement or bargain, and I was able to develop a game-theoretic treatment of bargaining, which has evolved into Chapter V . The second was to demonstrate the rationality of complying with this principle, which turns out to be the problem of rational behaviour in a Prisoner's Dilemma. And the third was to determine the appropriate initial position from which co-operation proceeds, which requires showing the rationality of accepting a Lockean proviso on initial acquisition. (The unfamiliar reader will meet the proviso in section 3.1 of Chapter VII .) This third problem proved the most recalcitrant; from the initial idea of a contractarian moral theory, which captured my imagination in 1966, some thirteen years elapsed before the role of the proviso became clear.

During those years I published several papers, developing what I now consider proto-versions of parts of the present theory. A reader familiar with those papers will find in them both arguments and attitudes that are contradicted or modified in the present account. I should like to think that this represents progress in my enquiry.

Perhaps changes in attitude deserve a further remark. I have had, and continue to have, somewhat mixed feelings about morals by agreement. Indeed, at one time I thought of setting out much of the

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