Contractualism and the conditional fallacy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Most contractualist ethical theories have a subjunctivist structure. This means that they attempt to make sense of right and wrong in terms of a set of principles which would be accepted in some idealized, non-actual circumstances. This makes these views vulnerable to the so-called conditional fallacy objection. The moral principles that are appropriate for the idealized circumstances fail to give a correct account of what is right and wrong in the ordinary situations. This chapter uses two versions of contractualism to illustrate this problem: Nicholas Southwood’s and a standard contractualist theory inspired by T.M. Scanlon’s contractualism. It then develops a version of Scanlon’s view that can avoid the problem. This solution is based on the idea that we also need to compare different inculcation elements of moral codes in the contractualist framework. This idea also provides a new solution to the problem of at what level of social acceptance should principles be compared
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Studies in Normative Ethics
EditorsMark Timmons
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)978019872215, 9780198722144
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2014


  • Normative ethics
  • Contractualism
  • Conditional Fallacy


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