Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Douglas Jesseph, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Colin Heydt, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Hugh LaFollette, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brook Sadler, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joanne Waugh, Ph.D.


behavioral economics, contractarian, fool, Gauthier, justice


We share our world with many people who ignore the principles of justice and who regularly take advantage of others by breaching trust or breaking agreements. This dissertation is about the irrationality of the actions of these covenant-breakers. A covenant-breaker typically believes that unjust behavior is to his advantage and that only a fool would act in any other way. Would it not be disturbing if this were true?

My central claim will be that adherence to the precepts of justice is a rational strategy for a self-interested actor. I intend to demonstrate that con men and covenant-breakers do not act rationally when violating an agreement. I will trace the concept of justice as it evolves through philosophical history and show that, while the concept of justice changes as the underlying concept of human nature and psychology changes, the argument in favor of the rationality of just behavior remains coherent throughout. Each historical interpretation will advance some form of the claim that the consistent observance of cooperative agreements is a rational strategy, and at each point an interlocutor will object. I will show that these interlocutors are mistaken.

My motivating goal is to show that justice, understood as the consistent observance of cooperative agreements, is rational. I want to respond to the clandestine cheaters and other skeptics who believe that just behavior is for suckers, because, if the skeptics are right, and justice is indeed irrational, then those among us who are acting in a just manner are paying an unnecessary cost.