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Contractarianism, Role Obligations, and Political Morality

September 1, 2022

An in-person symposium in St. Andrews on themes from the recently-published, Contractarianism, Role Obligations, and Political Morality, by Ben Sachs.

Location: Edgecliffe, G03

Schedule (all times PM)

1:30-1:55: Ben Sachs-Cobbe, Philosophy, University of St. Andrews, “Welcome and Summary” (Chs. 1-3)

1:55-2:35: Michael Moore, Law, University of Illinois, “Finding the Purposes of Staplers and States” (Ch. 4)

2:35-3:15: Antony Duff, Philosophy, University of Stirling (Emeritus), “Legal Liberalism+ and the Varieties of Legal Moralism” (Ch. 5)

3:15-3:45: Tea/coffee break

3:45-4:25: Cécile Fabre, Political Philosophy, University of Oxford, “Who’s In, Who’s Out: the Scope of Contractarian Political Morality” (Ch. 6)

4:30-5:10: Visa Kurki, Jurisprudence, University of Helsinki, “Sachs on the Legal Status of Sentient Animals” (Ch. 7)

5:15-5:45: Panel Session, with all speakers mentioned above as panelists

Book Precis

Contractarianism is well suited as a political morality…or so this book argues, before going on to explore the implications of deploying contractarianism in this way.  Its starting point is the natural thought that the state owes things to its people: physical security, public health and sanitation services, and a functioning judiciary, for example.  But we need a theory—a political morality—that can explain why this is so and identify who the state’s ‘people’ are.  The book argues that what it means for the state to have obligations is for the state’s office-holders (e.g., its legislators, judges, and bureaucrats) to have role obligations.  These role obligations derive from the purpose of the state, which is grounded in the intentions of those who partake in the sustaining of the state. By way of extracting implications from this new version of contractarianism, the book argues first that at least an extremely weak version of political liberalism follows from it.  And this small dose of political liberalism yields a very strong version of legal liberalism (the view that the goodness/badness of an act doesn’t figure in to the question of how the law, including the criminal law, ought to deal with that act).  Second, the book argues that there is an important sense in which it’s false that sentient animals as such are among the state’s people, and that the arguments for extending citizenship to this fail.  Finally, from there the book argues for a moderate position on the proper legal status of such animals.


Attendance is free, thanks to gratefully acknowledged support from the Scots Philosophical Association.  Although registration is not required, it would be helpful if you’d register by sending an email to Ben Sachs-Cobbe ([email protected]).  Those who register might get a free meal or two, budget allowing!

The symposium venue is disability accessible and funds are available to pay for childcare for those who need it in order to attend.  If you have any questions about the symposium, please contact Ben Sachs-Cobbe ([email protected]).


September 1, 2022


Ben Sachs


Edgecliffe G03
The Scores
St Salvator's Quad, KY16 9AL
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