a1 Economics, University of East Anglia
Liberals have often been attracted by contractarian modes of argument— and with good reason. Any system of social organization requires that some constraints be imposed on individuals' freedom of action; it is a central problem for any liberal political theory to show which constraints can be justified, and which cannot. A contractarian justification works by showing that the constraints in question can be understood as if they were the product of an agreement, voluntarily entered into by every member of society. Thus, no one is required to give up his freedom for someone else's benefit, or in the pursuit of someone else's conception of the social good.
* This essay was written as part of the Risk and Human Behaviour Programme of the Economic and Social Research Council of the UK (award number L 211252053).