Condition for Freedom in Society

Topics: Political philosophy, Social contract, John Locke Pages: 15 (5895 words) Published: August 12, 2009

Can mankind live in harmony in a free society?
Various social contract theorist of the modern era have attempted to address this in a way that shed light on the quest to establish a free nation. As is traditional in political philosophy where the past gives meaning to the present and the present makes available sound basis for predicting the future. It may thus be wise to take a brief journey through what some classic philosophers had to say about the topic. The focus here however remains on the modern social contract theorist and what they propose is the condition for freedom in society.

Social contract theory nearly as old as philosophy itself is the view that person’s moral or political obligations are dependent upon a contract agreement between them to form a society. In classical political thought, Socrates used something similar to social contract postulations to explain his reason for remaining in prison to accept the penalty of death even though escape was possible (encyclopedia of philosophy). Though examples can be drawn from the past, social contract theory is rightly associated with modern moral and political theory and the credit of its exposition bestowed upon Thomas Hobbes, after him John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau. We will also be looking at the concept of the state of nature.

The term social contract vividly captures a broad class of republican theories whose subjects are implied agreement by which people form nations and maintain social order. This by extension implies that people give up some right to a government and other authority in order to receive or jointly preserve social order.

State of Nature is a term in political philosophy used in social contract theories to describe the hypothetical condition of humanity before the state’s foundation and its monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force. More broadly, it is the condition (imagined) before the rule of positive law came into being, thus representing a synonym of anarchy. The concept was made popular by Thomas Hobbes in his magnum opus- the Leviathan. He wrote that during the time men lived without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and as such is of every man against every man “bellum omnium contra omnes” (Hobbes 1651). In this state, any person has natural rights to do anything to preserve his own liberty or safety and life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (Leviathan chapter 1).

Freedom can be viewed as the necessary conditions that guaranty the survival of man in the state of nature.

In the early platonic dialogue, Socrates made a compelling argument about his decision to remain incarcerated while he awaits execution rather than escape and go into exile in another Greek city. He personifies the laws of Athens and speaking in their voice, explains that he has acquired an overwhelming obligation to obey the law because they have made his entire way of life and even the fact of his very existence possible. it should be noted that from the above argument of Socrates that the relationship between citizens and the laws of the city is not coerced. Then again in Plato-the Republic, Glaucon’s answer to the question what is justice is one representing a social contract explanation. He implied that justice is the conventional result of the law and covenants that men make in other to avoid these extremes. Though the above examples may seem inconsistent at first glance, but when one link both arguments, one will find that Socrates uses a social contract type of argument to show why it is just for him to remain in prison. Broadly speaking, to show the extent of commitment to an agreement, in other words commitment to an agreement is a condition for freedom in society.

As stated earlier, Hobbes (1588-1679) was the pioneer...
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