A view of morality you’ll hear a lot in the public square is social contract theory. Contractarianism holds that “morality rests on a tacit agreement between rationally self-interested individuals to abide by certain rules because it is to their mutual advantage to do so.”1 There is nothing intrinsically wrong with murder, rape, or torture, for example, but since rational self-interested persons do not want these things being done to them, they agree to extend the same courtesy to others.2 Philosopher, Edward Feser, offers at least six helpful criticisms of Contractarianism:

  1. It’s really not a moral theory at all. It is a truce from Hobbes’ “war of all against all.” It is a replacement of morality for practicalities. Ultimately, contractarianism is the opposite of morality because morality often involves the denial of one’s self-interest. Contractarianism is the enshrining of selfishness.
  2. One need only pretend to abide by the social contract. Since one behaves “morally” only in their own self-interest (not because they have an objective moral obligation to do so), then if they can secretly behave in ways that are opposed to others’ self-interests and get away with it, they have done nothing wrong.
  3. There is no moral justification for claiming one ought to abide by the social contract.
  4. Cannot say anyone is immoral. At best, they are being foolish for breaking the social contract, for in doing so they are working against their own self-interest.
  5. Cannot provide any meaningful boundaries/restraints for punishing those who go outside the social contract. Why not kill those who steal? Why not torture them? What would be wrong with these punishments? We may choose not to, but contractarian theory offers no reason why we can’t should we choose to.
  6. Fails to invoke moral duties to those outside the social contract, such as the mentally retarded. These people cannot assent to the contract, and since they cannot harm someone else, there is no reason to make a contract with them. Why not just kill a retarded person because we had a bad day at work?3

Just like moral relativism (a close cousin), social contract theory is bankrupt as a moral philosophy.



  1. Edward Feser, “Contract Schmontract”; once available from http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=012306B; Internet; accessed 02 February 2006.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.