The attractiveness and credibility of contractarian theories such as Gauthier's depends on their use of the concept of rationality. Gauthier and his ilk speak of rational people, pursuing their rational self-interest, and that seems to recommend such theories to Objectivists. The "rationality" that they refer to, however, is not the intellectual capacity that Objectivism bases its ethics and politics on.
For one thing, the rationality of Gauthier's citizens requires that they evaluate alternatives the way game-theorists do, which means with regard only to fungible goods. It is necessary to assume that all men place the same value on the same things, such as occurs within the highly defined context of a game, where all participants want the same goal and are constrained as to their possible actions to achieve it. The transparency of such situations is required to define "rational choices". Rational choices are those that contribute to winning the game.
The mutual benefit of cooperative choices depends on this artificial leveling of mens' abilities and interests. The original state these theories postulate makes that clear as well. They posit a categorical dependence of men on others to achieve their values, not just to protect them.
A political system based on man's actual rationality is one that recognizes man's mind as the source of goods. To live, man needs to secure his rational function, his freedom to act as he sees fit, and to keep the products of his efforts. The social contract of genuinely rational men is to interact by persuasion. To act so as to maximize both his own and others' final gain is nowhere a consideration in Objectivism, but that is what being "rational" means in Gauthier's system.
The contractarianism of Gauthier and friends is shallow, artificial, and unworkable. It conceives of man's rationality as accepting the premise of being a dependent and thus willing to cooperate for a common good. It is important that we are able to identify the false use of the term "rational" in this context.
answered Dec 28 '10 at 18:12
Mindy Newton ♦