Wong Bon Wah Baldwin
Justification of Equal Respect in Contractualism: A Critique and a Suggestion
Contractualism is a normative theory which characterizes principles of right in terms of the idea of equal respect. In this theory, equal respect means that one stands in a relationship of mutual recognition with one another, that is, respects one another by acting in a justifiable way. The idea of equal respect is so important that, contractualists argue, it should be given priority over other values. The aim of this essay is to examine how contractualists can justify the priority of equal respect. In the first part, I will explain the contractualist idea of equal respect and the desirability argument, which is the justification given by most of the contractualists. The desirability argument justifies the priority of equal respect by showing the great desirability of the relationship of mutual recognition. In the second part, I will present a critique to the desirability argument, argue that it is hard to see how, from the fact that the relationship of mutual recognition is desirable, it can possibly follow that this relationship must have the priority over other conflicting values. In the third part, I will suggest a ‘consistency argument’ which, I believe, can provide a more concrete ground for justifying the priority of equal respect than the desirability argument. Equal respect is specially important, not because of the great desirability of the relationship of mutual recognition, but rather because of the requirement of behaving consistently. One will become inconsistent if he asks people to respect him as a reason-assessing creature while refuses to respect others in the same way. Therefore, although the desirability argument is widely held among contractualists, I would suggest that it is problematic and should be replaced by the consistency argument, which justifies the priority of equal respect by an a priori guiding principle of consistency.