CHAPTER FOUR: Options
So far, we have seen how our contractarian story grounds constraints and their principled exceptions mainly in the bargainers’ self-interest-maximizing motive and in the inviolability-respecting aspect of their personhood-respecting motive. After briefly considering how they are compatible with these same two elements of the bargainers’ motivation, this chapter will proceed to give a more detailed explanation of how exactly options might plausibly be generated from the two aspects of the bargainers’ second motive that have heretofore been little-discussed: the concerns to express persons’ worthiness of concern and their status as ends-in-themselves. I. Self-interest and options: the appeal to cost
People often try to defend options by appealing to the ‘cost’ imposed on persons if they had always and only to fulfill their duty to promote the overall good at the expense of pursuing individual goals.35 This is a cost, it is argued, that morality cannot reasonably expect persons to bear. Such an argument clearly rests on an appeal to self-interest, and thus seems to be the sort of justification of options that might arise solely from the bargainers’ first motive.
While perhaps initially plausible, this argument suffers the drawback that it seems to be incompatible with our previous justification of constraints. For if certain actions promoting the greater overall good may legitimately be avoided on grounds that their cost to the agent would be too high, might not adherence to certain constraints also be avoided in some circumstances, if such adherence would also be of great cost to the agent? That is, if we can appeal to the excessive cost demanded of us as a reason not to give significant portions of our earnings away to charity, why might we not also make this appeal to cost as a reason not to refrain from secretly murdering our rich uncle Albert, from whom we stand to inherit a small mint?36 Adherence to the constraint against killing others, in this case, is costing us just as much as, or even more than, many actions that would promote the overall good, but which we may think we legitimately have the option not to perform. Such an appeal to cost, then – at least without further
Kagan discusses this idea on pp. 21-4 and in Chapter 7 (pp. 231-270) of The Limits of Morality. This example is discussed by Kagan, p. 4.