Tutorial Section: D115
December 6, 2010
Compare and contrast the ‘social contract theories’ of Thomas Hobbes and John Rawls. Which theory is more persuasive? Be sure to explain what Rawls means by ‘the original position,’ and the ‘veil of ignorance,’ and why those concepts do not figure in Hobbes’ theory.
Social Contract Theory holds that the only consideration that makes actions right is that action is in accordance with an agreement made by the rational people for governing their society. In this paper, I will only focus on Thomas Hobbes and John Rawls’ social contract theories of morality by analyzing the similarity and difference of them. Also I’ll explain why I believe John Rawls’s theory is more persuasive. Thomas Hobbes thought that people have rights to self-preservation; they also have rights to defend themselves against the threat of losing what they desired in order to survive, which is a general rule, called the “Law of Nature”. In the state of nature, people act guided by their self-interests, and want to attain their rational desires. Therefore, each individual is at risk of losing what he or she has if it is also desired by another. According to Hobbes, in this natural condition, three major reasons could be the causes of fighting between individuals: competition, diffidence and glory (141). Therefore, the “state of nature” would be like the state of war where people are against each other, and life would be “short, nasty and brutish”. To escape from the state of nature requires a social contract to govern relations between individuals, as well as an all-powerful state to enforce the rules. The “original position” developed by John Rawls corresponds to Hobbes’ the state of nature theory. A fair original position requires people to choose principles from behind the “veil of ignorance”. Rawls claims, in the original condition, “no one should be advantaged or disadvantaged by natural fortune or social circumstances in the choice of...
References: John Rawls (1971), A Theory of Justice Exploring Ethics, Oxford University Press
Thomas Hobbes (1651), Leviathan, Exploring Ethics, Oxford University Press
Three Character Classic
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Character_Classic
T Hartline Rawls’s A Theory of Justice: Addressing the Criticisms of Okin and Pateman
Available at: http://www.cupr.org/VI3/Hartline-VI3.pdf
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