social contract theory

Topics: Political philosophy, Social contract, State of nature Pages: 10 (3565 words) Published: November 19, 2013
THE SOCIAL CONTRACT THEORY

The idea of the social contract goes back, to Thomas Hobbes; John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant developed it in different ways. After Kant the idea largely fell into disrepute until John Rawls resurrected it. It is now at the heart of the work of a number of moral and political philosophers. The purpose of this paper is to compare and contract the social contract theorists and their views on the origin of state.

THOMAS HOBBES: (1588-1679)

Background:
He was born into a time of violence when the civil war broke out in England between the royalists, who supported the king and the Protestants, who supported the parliament. Hobbes was a robust supporter of monarchy and in my opinion the fear of death was the centralized assumption behind all his theories. But in order to gain a clearer understanding of Hobbes’s theory it is essential to turn to another revolution- the scientific revolution. It emphasized on the extraction of knowledge from observation and experimentation by understanding the world from an empirical point of view.

Ideology:
Hobbes developed a utilitarian psychology: Behavior based on pleasure and pain. According to Hobbes humans strive to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. He says that the will is “ the last appetite in deliberating”1. Meaning will, is that pleasure that a person determines to acquire after deliberating upon the variety of pleasures available to him, from which he can choose to acquire the greatest. Thus the final act of deliberating is what Hobbes terms as human “ will “. All men are pleasure seekers, and therefore power seekers as well. And since desires are unlimited, so is power. (He uses geometrical reasoning to make power analogous to pleasure- a scientific approach). This logic of “power and pleasure” sets the foundation of Hobbes’s theory.

Psychological profile of man:
Hobbes stated that man is fundamentally egoistic. In the “state of nature” man acts under a primitive sense of emotion, and not by reason. Hobbes views man as a self-interested and self-regarding creature who uses his intellectual capacity to further his ends and preserve himself at all costs. This power hungry creature is said to have no will, as will is the power to choose between options. Man however has no choice and will only run towards one direction- the place where greatest pleasure lies. It is important to discuss his view on human nature as it has a profound effect on his political theory. This psychology of pleasure and pain, influences his theory of Social Contract.

Social contract theory:
It is a theory, which was proposed to justify the creation of the state. It says that the state was a result of mutual consent and a “contract” between humans, and the scope and extent of the powers of the state are determined by the terms and conditions of the contract. In order to determine the structure of the state, it is essential to rationalize the nature of its creators (humans). The essence of human nature is determined by creating a precontract situation in which the state did not exist. This is known as the state of nature. There was no civil society and therefore no laws in this state. Thus it was a reflection of true human nature, and the innate characteristics would be displayed in the absence of any hindrance. This state of nature is merely a mental construct or a “thought expression”. This is a state of absolute liberty, equality and freedom. In this state, there are power hungry individuals, who are equals and who have equal access to all pleasures. This results in a clash of interest, in which all become subjects to attacks from one another. In order to survive each man has to “do unto others, before they do onto you”. 2 Consequently Hobbes concludes that there is always a state of “war of everyone against everyone”3. The individual’s life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”4 in this state of nature....
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