The Normativity of Moral Contractualism: A Hegelian Solution

  • Fred Horton

Student thesis: Phd


Moral contractualism is a branch of normative ethics that holds that our moral obligations to each other are determined by the principles that we would agree to in certain hypothetical, idealised circumstances. This thesis takes an in-depth look at this approach, in particular an aspect of it denoted the ‘question of normativity’. The question of normativity is concerned with how the conditions of the circumstances of the agreement come to constitute moral reasons for real world agents. It argues that existing contractualist approaches to the question of normativity fail to provide a satisfactory answer to the question of normativity, because the accounts of practical reason relied on to do so either fail to explain the binding of our moral requirements, or do so only at the expense of undermining contractualism’s ambitions to provide an account of morality’s foundations. It then attempts to provide a positive solution to the question of the form of normativity in the form of an account of agency inspired by the thought of G. W. F. Hegel. The claim is that an approach to agency inspired by what I call the ‘Hegelian Thought’ provides us with the tools for a plausible account of practical reason; one that makes sense of the interpersonal nature of this practical reason and is not hostage to a defeasible commitment to a substantive value.
Date of Award31 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJohn O'Neill (Supervisor) & Thomas Smith (Supervisor)


  • Contractualism Hegel Ethics Normativity

Cite this