Contractualism and Reasons: Agency, Normativity and the Back-to-Front Objection
The ‘back-to-front’ objection claims that the contractualist criterion for the validity of moral principles cannot adequately account for the distinctively moral character of our moral reasons. Michael Ridge has described the objection as relying on two correlative formalistic constraints on moral theory, that putting non-moral reasons into some procedure or other will give non-moral reasons for following its results, and that only putting moral reasons in will generate moral reasons for doing so. Here I hope to show that this objection mischaracterises the kinds of reasons contractualism takes to be the reasons on which reasonable rejection is based, as well as, to some extent, the sorts of reasons we have and indeed the aims of moral theorising in general. The paper has three sections. The first of them gives a brief characterisation of and motivation for the back-to-front objection, indicating why it is it applies to contractualism, and what would have to be the case for contractualism to escape it. Having set the relevant challenge for contractualism, the chapter will then move onto attempting to meet it, first by giving an account of contractualism and in particular the role of reasons in contractualism, and then by making use of this account to respond to the back-to-front objection. Taking the two constraints which the objection relies on in turn, it will do this by attempting to show that the first fails to see the normativity of the reasons contractualism relies on, and the second takes too much for granted about the firmness and explanation of our moral precepts.