Eminent philosopher David Gauthier is best known for his social contract theory of morality. In addition to moral theory, his work explores the history of political philosophy, with special attention to Hobbes and Rousseau, and the theory of practical rationality.
In 1979, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. From 1958 to 1980, he was a member of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto, serving as chair from 1974 to 1979. Since 1980, he has been a member of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, where he is now Professor Emeritus. He served as chair from 1983 to 1987, and was appointed a Distinguished Service Professor in 1986. He has been a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Science, and has held visiting appointments at UCLA, UC Berkeley, Princeton, UC Irvine, and the University of Waterloo.
His principal non-philosophical interest, arising from his observation of trolley cars beginning at an early age, is in what is now called light rail transit. When much younger, he was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the Canadian House of Commons, an occasional newspaper columnist, and a writer on public affairs.
Several of Gauthier's students are now important moral, political, and legal philosophers in the United States and Canada. Asteroid (15911) Davidgauthier is named after him.