Social Contract (Locke and Rousseau)

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Dr Richard Murphy- FWPT Michaelmas Essay 1Charlotte Yeldon Words 1,997.

Is the aim of the social contract to establish freedom, equality or merely ‘peace’? How far is it successful, and at what cost? (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau) The Social Contract is a theory that originated during the Enlightenment, which addresses the questions of the origin of society and the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual. Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or the decision of a majority, in exchange for protection of their remaining rights. Its main proponents were Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. However, while they all advocated a social contract their formulations and ideas about it do differ to some extent. This essay will attempt to argue that Hobbes hoped his social contract would establish peace, amongst naturally competitive men; whilst Rousseau valued securing freedom and Locke wanted it to secure rights for people and stop them living in fear. However, all of these do come at some price, namely the cost of some liberties, however, as Locke agreed what was important was that relative to the state of nature, man now lived in a better, freer, more equal and peaceful society. The first modern philosopher to articulate a detailed contract theory was Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679). According to Hobbes, the lives of individuals in the state of nature were ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ (Leviathan.Ch13.p89), a state in which self-interest and the absence of rights prevented the 'social', or society. Life was 'anarchic', without leadership or the concept of a sovereign. Individuals in the state of nature were apolitical and asocial. Thus for Hobbes the state of nature is necessarily followed by the social contract. He believed the social contract would involve individuals ceding some of their individual rights so that others would cede theirs. This resulted in the establishment of the state, a sovereign entity like the individuals now under its rule used to be, which would create laws to regulate social interactions, in the hope that human life would no longer be ‘a war of all against all.’ (Leviathan.Ch13.p89). Thus Hobbes attempts to prove the necessity of the Leviathan for preserving peace and preventing civil war, thus he is most concerned with securing a safe, protected state for man. This is necessary because Hobbes has a negative view of man. He claims we are merely motivated by what he calls ‘aversion’ and ‘appetite.’ (Leviathan.Ch6.p38) due to his belief that humans are all ‘self-seeking individuals, with no pre-disposition to cooperate with others or help them unless it is within their own interests.’ (Trigg.1988.) Thus the ‘general inclination of all mankind (is) a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death’ (Leviathan.Ch11.p70) and that ‘men are continually in competition for honour and dignity.’ (Leviathan.Ch17.p119) Thus the social contract becomes necessary as a way of reducing such competition and securing peace. Furthermore, Hobbes believes it is possible to mitigate this competition with reference to his laws of nature. The first that we ‘seek peace, and follow it’ (Leviathan.Ch14.p92) as it would clearly never be advantageous for us to reside in an insecure society, where we constantly feared being destroyed and competed with, as Hobbes writes, ‘that every man, ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it.’ (Leviathan.Ch14.p92) This is successful and Hobbes has a strong point here, we can agree that we are stronger as a group and that it is prudent to ‘confer all power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices into one will’ (Leviathan.Ch17.p126) This is clear in the modern day, we elect those people we wish to represent our...
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