David Gauthier

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David Gauthier
Born(1932-09-10)10 September 1932
Died9 November 2023(2023-11-09) (aged 91)
EducationUniversity of Toronto (B.A. (Hons.), 1954)
Harvard University (A.M., 1955)
University of Oxford (B.Phil., 1957; D.Phil., 1961)
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Contractarian ethics
Classical liberalism[1]
Main interests
Political philosophy, game theory, rational choice theory
Notable ideas
Contractarian ethics (morals by agreement), constrained maximization, Gauthier's Lockean proviso[2]

David Gauthier FRSC (/ˈɡɔːti/; 10 September 1932 – 9 November 2023) was a Canadian philosopher best known for his neo-Hobbesian or contractarian theory of morality, as developed in his 1986 book Morals by Agreement.

Life and career[edit]

David Gauthier was born in Toronto on 10 September 1932. He was educated at the University of Toronto (B.A. (Hons.), 1954), Harvard University (A.M., 1955), and the University of Oxford (B.Phil., 1957; D.Phil., 1961).[3]

Gauthier taught at the University of Toronto from 1958 until 1980, when he joined the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, where he remained for the rest of his career.

In the 1962 Canadian federal election, Gauthier ran as a candidate for the New Democratic Party in the riding of Eglinton, in Toronto, placing third.

Gauthier also held visiting appointments at UCLA, UC Berkeley, Princeton, UC Irvine, and the University of Waterloo.

In 1979, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (F.R.S.C.). Asteroid 15911 Davidgauthier (1997 TL21) was named in his honour.

Gauthier died on 9 November 2023, at the age of 91.[4][5]


Gauthier was the author of numerous articles, some of the most important of which are collected in Moral Dealing, as well as several books including Practical Reasoning, The Logic of Leviathan, Morals by Agreement, and Rousseau: The Sentiment of Existence.

In addition to systematic work in moral theory, Gauthier was also interested in the history of political philosophy, especially Hobbes and Rousseau. He conducted work on the theory of practical rationality, where he began from an attempt to understand economic rationality, rather than from Kantian or Aristotelian antecedents.

Gauthier understood value as a matter of individuals' subjective preferences, and argued that moral constraints on straightforward utility-maximizing are prudentially justified. He argued that it is most prudent to give up straightforward maximizing and instead adopt a disposition of constrained maximization, according to which one resolves to cooperate with all similarly disposed persons (those disposed towards cooperation) and defect on the rest (straightforward maximizers), since repeated cooperation provides greater yields than repeated mutual defection from contracts (as is seen in a basic Prisoner's dilemma game). According to Gauthier's contractarian ethics,[6] moral constraints are justified because they make us all better off, in terms of our preferences (whatever they may be). A consequence is that good moral thinking is just an elevated and subtly strategic version of means–end reasoning.

In Morals by Agreement, Gauthier defines translucency. An individual is translucent if their intentions can be guessed or judged by other individuals.Celeste M. Friend argues against the argument of translucency in the evolution of cooperation. First, translucency might not be realistic in human societies. This first argument was first brought by Geoffrey Sayre-McCord.  Second, translucency might be the product of social interactions: one becomes often more translucent as trust is gained, and not the other way round. Finally, excessive translucency would also reveal the underlying self-interest in being translucent, therefore hindering cooperation. [7]


  • Practical Reasoning: The Structure and Foundations of Prudential and Moral Arguments and Their Exemplification in Discourse (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963).
  • The Logic of Leviathan: The Moral and Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969).
  • Morals by Agreement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986)
  • Moral Dealing: Contract, Ethics, and Reason (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1990).
  • Rousseau: The Sentiment of Existence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Andrew Vincent, Modern Political Ideologies, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, p. 54.
  2. ^ "Contractarianism". Contractarianism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. 2021.
  3. ^ a b University of Pittsburgh, David Gauthier: Biography
  4. ^ Weinberg, Justin (13 November 2023). "David Gauthier (1932–2023)". Daily Nous. Retrieved 14 November 2023.
  5. ^ "In Memoriam: David Gauthier (1932–2023)". Leiter Reports. 12 November 2023. Retrieved 14 November 2023.
  6. ^ Peter Byrne, The Philosophical and Theological Foundations of Ethics, Springer, 2016, p. 98
  7. ^ Friend, Celeste M. (2001). "Trust and the Presumption of Translucency". Social Theory and Practice. 27 (1): 1–18. ISSN 0037-802X.

Further reading[edit]

  • E. F. Paul, F. D. Miller Jr., and J. Paul, eds., The New Social Contract: Essays on Gauthier (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988).
  • Peter Vallentyne, ed., Contractarianism and Rational Choice: Essays on David Gauthier's Morals by Agreement (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.)
  • David Gauthier and Robert Sugden, eds., Rationality, Justice and the Social Contract: Themes from Morals by Agreement (Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993).
  • Christopher W. Morris, and Arthur Ripstein, eds., Practical Rationality and Preference: Essays for David Gauthier (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001)
  • John G. Messerly, "Constrained Maximizers in Iterated Contexts," Southwest Philosophy Review, 1994, 107–111.
  • John G. Messerly, "The Omission of Unconditional Cooperators: A Critique of Gauthier’s Argument for Constrained Maximization," Philosophical Studies 67, 1992, 19–39.