Social Contract Theory

Topics: Political philosophy, Social contract, State of nature Pages: 9 (3117 words) Published: March 31, 2013
The theory is as old as philosophy itself. It is of the view that persons’ moral and/ or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement among them to form the society in which they live. The theory of a social contract is therefore a hypothesis explaining how society originates as well as the presumed relationships between its members, how they incur responsibilities and their rights. Early proponents of the social contract theory include;

- Socrates
-Thomas Hobbes
-John Locke
-Jean-Jacques Rousseau
-John Rawls
-David Gauthier
The theory of social contract began being argued at least as early in intellectual history by Plato. In a dialogue, Crito, Socrates argues as to why he must stay in prison and accept death penalty instead of fleeing into exile in another Greek city. He explains that he has acquired an overwhelming obligation to obey the Laws because they have made his entire way of life possible as they have made it possible for his father and mother to marry and therefore have legitimate children, including himself. He further went on to say that, citizens once they have grown up, and have seen how the city conducts itself, can choose whether to leave, taking their property with them or stay. Staying implies an agreement having to abide by the laws and accepting the punishments. In Plato’s dialogue, Republic, Book II, Glaucon defines justice as the conventional result of the laws and covenants that men make in order to avoid these extremes of committing injustices without the fear of reprisal. Being unable to commit injustices with impunity, and fearing becoming victims themselves, men decide that it is in their interests to submit themselves to the convention of justice. The two dialogues are reconcilable. From Socrates’ point of view, a just man is one who will, among other things, recognize his obligation to the state by obeying its laws. The state is the morally and politically most fundamental entity and therefore deserves our highest allegiance and deepest respect. Just men know this and act accordingly. Justice, however, is more than simply obeying laws in exchange for others obeying them as well. It is the state of a well regulated soul, so the just man will also be the happy man. Justice therefore is the simple reciprocal obedience to law but it does nonetheless include obedience to the state and the laws that sustain it. THOMAS HOBBES

He is a man who lived during the most crucial period of early modern England’s history: the Civil War, waged from 1642-1648. The conflict was between the Monarchists, who preferred the traditional authority of a monarch, and the Parliamentarians, who demanded more power for quasi-democratic institution of parliament. Hobbes represents a compromise between these two factions. On one hand, he rejects the Divine Rights of Kings Theory (a king’s rights is vested in him by God, that such authority was absolute and therefore that the basis of political obligation lay in our obligation to obey God absolutely). According to him, then political obligation is subdued under religious obligation. On the other hand, Hobbes also rejects the Parliamentarians democratic views, He argues that radically for times, the political authority and obligation are based on the individual self interests of members of society who are understood to be equal to one another, with no single individual invested with any essential authority to rule over the rest, while at the same time maintaining the conservative position that the Monarch, which he called the Sovereign, must be ceded absolute authority if society is to survive. Hobbes’ political theory is taken in two parts:

i.The theory of human motivation
Human macro-behaviour can be aptly described as the effect of certain kinds of micro-behaviour, even though some of this latter behaviour is invisible to us. So, such behaviours as walking, talking, and the like are...
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