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Abstract

Both Rawls (in his well known book, A Theory of Justice) and Harsanyi (in a series of articles and a book, Essays on Ethics) have shown that theories of morality may be looked at, very profitably, as theories of rational behavior (or theories of rational choice in the sense employed by economists in so-called game theory and decision theory).1 Rawls, taking traditional contract theory as affording a model for rational choice, develops a deontological theory in contrast to Classical Utilitarianism, the main modern teleological theory of moral principles. Harsanyi, employing a very similar model of rational choice, works out a very plausible kind of Utilitarianism. It is Rule Utilitarianism as contrasted with Act Utilitarianism and it employs the principle of average utility, which requires us, if we are to act morally, to act so as to maximize not the total, but the average utility per capita of our society. In nontechnical terms, the ‘utility function’ of each member of society expresses the value he attaches to his various objectives, or ends.2

Keywords

Moral Rule Rational Choice Theory Moral Intuition Civil State Impartial Spectator 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, 1971). For the sake of brevity on this occasion, I shall refer to the Harsanyi articles by Roman numerals as follows:Google Scholar
  2. 1.I.
    John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, 1971). For the sake of brevity on this occasion, I shall refer to the Harsanyi articles by Roman numerals as follows: ‘A Bargaining Model for Social Status in Informal Groups and Formal Organizations’, Behavioral Science Vol. II, No. 5 (September, 1966).Google Scholar
  3. 1.II.
    John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, 1971). For the sake of brevity on this occasion, I shall refer to the Harsanyi articles by Roman numerals as follows: ‘Individualistic and Functionalistic Explanations in the Light of Game Theory: The Example of Social Status’, Problems in the Philosophy of Science (1968).Google Scholar
  4. 1.III.
    John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, 1971). For the sake of brevity on this occasion, I shall refer to the Harsanyi articles by Roman numerals as follows: ‘Rational — Choice Models of Political Behavior vs. Functionalist and Conformist Theories’, World Politics Vol. XXI, No. 4 (July, 1969).Google Scholar
  5. 1.IV.
    John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, 1971). For the sake of brevity on this occasion, I shall refer to the Harsanyi articles by Roman numerals as follows: ‘Can the Maximin Principle Serve as a Basis for Morality? A Critique of John Rawls’ Theory’, The American Political Science Review Vol. 69 (1975).Google Scholar
  6. 1.V.
    John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, 1971). For the sake of brevity on this occasion, I shall refer to the Harsanyi articles by Roman numerals as follows: ‘Advantages in Understanding Rational Behavior’, in Butts and Hintikka (eds.), Foundational Problems in the Special Sciences (1977).Google Scholar
  7. 1.VI.
    John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, 1971). For the sake of brevity on this occasion, I shall refer to the Harsanyi articles by Roman numerals as follows: ‘Rule Utilitarianism and Decision Theory’, Erkenntnis II (1977).Google Scholar
  8. 1.VII.
    John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, 1971). For the sake of brevity on this occasion, I shall refer to the Harsanyi articles by Roman numerals as follows: ‘Morality and the Theory of Rational Behavior’, Social Research Vol. 44, No. 4 (Winter 1977).Google Scholar
  9. 2a.
    See, for the general outlines of his version of Utilitarianism, Harsanyi, II, pp. 308–309;Google Scholar
  10. 2b.
    V, pp. 320–323;Google Scholar
  11. 2c.
    VI, pp. 26–27;Google Scholar
  12. 2d.
    VII, pp. 628–629 and 636–638. Note, especially, in VI his mathematical proof of the non-equivalence of Rule and Act Utilitarianism.Google Scholar
  13. 3.
    Popper, in his The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1959) pp. 442–456 discusses in an illuminating way, the legitimate and illegitimate uses of ‘imaginary experiments’. The legitimate uses are (with appropriate reservations) the heuristic, the critical, and expository. Any version of contract theory (as well as any versions of economists‘theories of rational decision, games, etc.) employs imaginary experiments in Popper’s sense of the term. (Fictious entities, idealization, contrary to fact suppositions, etc., are involved.) Rawls in his account of ‘the original position’ is clearly employing an imaginary experiment in legitimate ways viz., jis use of heuristic — the discovery of the basic principles of justice; and expository — the elucidation of their nature and content. What Rawls, as I see it, is trying to do in his imaginary experiment (among other things) is to ascertain what factors are relevant and what irrelevant in deciding in a rational way on the basic principles of justice.Google Scholar
  14. 4.
    Rawls and others have mistakenly called Hobbes’s State of Nature ‘a classic case’ of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. As we shall see later, it is not. See Rawls, op. cit., p. 269.Google Scholar
  15. 5.
    It is important to distinguish between the philosophical and the mathematical parts of general rational choice theory, since Hobbes’s views relate only to the philosophical parts. Harsanyi has written illuminatingly about the distinction as follows: ‘This common method that these normative disciplines use represents a unique combination of philosophical analysis and of mathematical reasoning. In each case a movement from the primary definition of rationality, given by a set of axioms or a constructive decision model to its secondary definition. A more convenient form for practical application and further analysis is a straightforward mathematical problem. But the discovery of an appropriate primary definition is always essentially a philosophical — that is, a conceptual problem … These are definitely not areas for people who prefer their mathematics without any admixture of philosophy, or who prefer their philosophy without any admixture of mathematics’. See VII, pp. 624–30. Hobbes’s philosophical contributions, we shall see, concern the basic models and principles involved in developing ethics as a branch of a theory of rational behavior.Google Scholar
  16. 6.
    Harsanyi subsumes the concept of means-end rationality under a wider one. See III, pp. 515–16. His account has an obvious theoretic advantage, but for purposes of this paper, I shall not expand on this point.Google Scholar
  17. 7.
    Independently, in contrast to the Utilitarian definition of a single sense of right actions as those that maximize the good Harsanyi, following Harrod, does indeed distinguish ‘duties of special obligation’ from ‘duties based on the cumulative good consequences of the general observance of certain rules’, see Mind 67 (1958), pp. 305–316 and his book, p. 33. But this notion is not developed further in later writings.Google Scholar
  18. 8.
    Rawls, op. cit., pp. 62ff; pp. 92–95.Google Scholar
  19. 9.
    See Harsanyi, IV, pp. 594–597.Google Scholar
  20. 10.
    See The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins, and On Human Nature, by Edward O. Wilson.Google Scholar
  21. 11.
    Hobbes’s ‘demonstrations’ require, of course, the assumption of a number of noncontroversial factual assumptions, e.g. that men can kill one another.Google Scholar
  22. 12.
    I use ‘shared knowledge’ here in the sense of Stephen Schiffer’s definition of ‘mutual knowledge’ in his book Meaning (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), pp. 30–31. Roughly, if A and B are to mutually know that p, not only must both A and B know that p but A must know that B knows, and B know that A knows, and A must know that B knows that A knows, and so on.Google Scholar
  23. 13.
    To make the point plain, imagine the following model of Hobbes’s State of Nature model. Three men, of roughly equal strength, are cast up on a desert island of limited natural resources. Each possesses a club for weapon, and they have shared knowledge both of one another’s ideal rationality and egoism. The best strategy for each alike would be along the following lines. By mutai consent, the clubs are thrown into a common pile, a sovereign is chosen by lot, with agreement to rotate it by lot, every year, and the sovereign is allowed to appropriate the clubs for enforcement of rules, for the good of each alike. For the difference between cooperative and non-cooperative games, see Harsanyi, II, p. 311.Google Scholar
  24. 14a.
    See Kurt Baier, The Moral Point of View, (Cornell University Press, 1958) pp. 187–213 and ‘The Social Source of Reason’, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 51, No. 6 (August 1978), pp. 707–773.Google Scholar
  25. 14b.
    See also David Gauthier, ‘Morality and Advantage’, Philosophical Review Vol. 76 (October 1967), pp. 460–475. Both Baier and Gauthier persistently disregard the distinction between model and application to the real world. Gauthier attempts to clarify Baier’s account of the nature of moral principles, and employs examples from Game Theory Strategy in this attempt. But he seems not to understand the ‘modeling technique’. Both books and both articles, however, have a number of valuable insights into moral theory to which I am in various general ways indebted.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 15.
    Howard Warrender, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), pp. 52–79 passim.Google Scholar
  27. 17a.
    Warrender, op. cit., p. 174.Google Scholar
  28. 17b.
    See also Joseph Tussman, Obligation and the Body Politic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), pp. 23–57.Google Scholar
  29. 18.
    Note that a motive may or may not be a justifying reason. For example, self-defense is normally a justifying reason for killing, but revenge is not. See John Ladd, ‘The Desire to do One’s Duty’, in Hector-Neri Casta. neda and George Nakhnikian, (eds.), Morality and the Language of Conduct, (Wayne State University Press, 1965), pp. 301–345.Google Scholar
  30. 20.
    Rawls, op. cit., p. 30. Note that his use of ‘Rational desire’ in connection with Utilitarianism is compatible with the statement in the following paragraph ‘… In Utilitarianism the satisfaction of any desire has some value in itself which must be taken into account in deciding what is right’. For his notion of ‘rational desire’ see pp. 409 ff.Google Scholar
  31. 21.
    The so-called Generalization Argument deals with this sort of consequence. For a very good account of the argument see Baier, op. cit., pp. 208–213.Google Scholar
  32. 25.
    See Rawls, op. cit., p. 109.Google Scholar
  33. 26.
    The common neglect of this distinction especially among political scientists is displayed in the usual criticism of Hobbes’s doctrine of sovereign power. For example, Richard Peters writes, ‘…it is possible for a constitution to be framed, as in the U.S.A., with the express intention of there being no overall sovereign in Hobbes’s sense’. Hobbes (Penguin Books, 1956), pp. 224–225. But Hobbes’s point is that in theory, any assembly instituting a civil state must decide on a sovereign power, which, if sovereign, must be single and supreme. That power in the U.S.A.. is the amending power exercisable by the legislatures of 3/4 of the States. We could in theory as Jefferson once remarked that we should, rewrite the Constitution every 20 years!Google Scholar
  34. 27.
    Warrender, op. cit., p. 146.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers (Kluwer Academic Publishers), Dordrecht 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Isabel C. Hungerland
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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