PhD ceremony Mr. J.P. Timmerman: Thinking about agreement. The empirical plausibility of moral contract theory
|When:||Th 04-07-2013 at 16:15|
PhD ceremony: Mr. J.P. Timmerman, 16.15 uur, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen
Dissertation: Thinking about agreement. The empirical plausibility of moral contract theory
Promotor(s): prof. M.V.B.P.M. van Hees, prof. P. Kleingeld
Moral theories inevitably make assumptions about human abilities. In the case of moral contract theories these include assumptions about our social cognitive abilities. Peter Timmerman’s thesis investigates whether these assumptions are plausible in the light of empirical findings.
Contract theorists hold that agents should act according to principles that we could all reasonably agree to. They thereby assume agents can learn what these principles are. This thesis argues that this requires that agents can form moral judgments by adopting alternative perspectives than their own. On the basis of a thorough discussion of findings on our ability for perspective-taking, it is concluded that agents can learn to act according to principles that would be the object of agreement. This does however require them to be much more attentive to the standpoints of others than we tend to be.
Contract theorists in addition assume that agents can be moved to comply with principles that would be the object of agreement. Some have argued they can be so moved because it is in their own interest to be disposed to comply with moral principles. This thesis argues that this requires that agents can recognise whether others are trustworthy or not. It claims empirical studies show that people are surprisingly good at detecting the trustworthiness of others and that it is therefore for most of us indeed in our interest to be moral. The thesis concludes that, contrary to the expectation of critics, empirical findings enhance the plausibility of moral contract theory.