The moral circle seems to disappear if I think of it as restricted to one individual, myself. It is commonsense that others have interests and that I ought to take them into account when deciding how to act. For my goals are intertwined with others' goals. If I am to be successful in earning a doctoral degree, my professor must succeed, at a minimum, in acknowledging my progress by accurately recording my grades. I will not succeed in my objectives if my lab partner does not complete his part of the project or if the university chancellor lets our accreditation lapse.

We have common interests in virtue of the fact that we are social creatures. I am a brother, a coach, a friend, a confidant. In these roles, my interests cannot be understood, cannot even be described, in terms restricted to me. As a friend, family member, and professional, I cannot satisfy my own interests without trying to help others satisfy theirs. That is what it means to be a good teacher or an adept research assistant. We are bound up with those we love and work alongside. And bound up is the right metaphor here. Our interests are literally tied to others' interests by promises and agreements, understandings implicit and explicit.

Every ethical theory--or at least every one that accords with commonsense--takes our social roles into account. Contractualism explains not only why our mutual interests are significant. It also explain the implications that follow. The implications include this one: young professionals must study and follow their group's code of conduct.

Author: Gary Comstock
Maintained By: Gary Comstock
Last Updated: 2008-08-14