Objections to social contract theory

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objections to social contract theory

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.

These are the famous opening words of a treatise that has not ceased to stir vigorous debate since its first publication in 1762. Rejecting the view that anyone has a natural right to wield authority over others, Rousseau argues instead for a pact, or ‘social contract’, that should exist between all the citizens of a state and that should be the source of sovereign power. From this fundamental premise, he goes on to consider issues of liberty and law, freedom and justice, arriving at a view of society that has seemed to some a blueprint for totalitarianism, to others a declaration of democratic principles.
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Hume's Objection to Social Contract Theory


The idea of the social contract goes back at least to Epicurus Thrasher In its recognizably modern form, however, the idea is revived by Thomas Hobbes; it was developed in different ways by John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant. After Kant, the idea largely fell into disrepute until it was resurrected by John Rawls. It is now at the heart of the work of a number of moral and political philosophers. The basic idea seems simple: in some way, the agreement of all individuals subject to collectively enforced social arrangements shows that those arrangements have some normative property they are legitimate, just, obligating, etc. Even this basic idea, though, is anything but simple, and even this abstract rendering is objectionable in many ways.

I thank Dr. Forster for his criticisms, and am grateful for this opportunity to respond to his most salient remarks. While Forster rightly regards Rawlsian social contract theory as deeply flawed, he is willing to defend the concept of social contract as a useful thought experiment for thinking through the important issue of why we are obliged to obey our rulers. Thought experiments may indeed be occasionally helpful in illustrating particular points, but they are an inadequate basis for building theories of political order. And I remain unconvinced that the idea of social contract has always or even mostly functioned as a type of thought experiment. We use the expression social contract theory for a reason—to describe the reasoning operative within a particular conception of political society.

According to social contract theory SCT ,. Thomas Hobbes This is because of 4 features of the human condition:. In order to avoid this fate,. Only a government can provide for 1 and 2. Therefore, we need a government. In establishing a government, people give up some of their personal freedom the freedom of anarchy, such as it is and give the government the authority to enforce laws and agreements.

The political theory of authority claims that legitimate authority of government must derive from the consent of the governed, where the form and content of this consent derives from the idea of contract or mutual agreement. The moral theory of contractarianism claims that moral norms derive their normative force from the idea of contract or mutual agreement.
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1. Fundamental Elements of Contractarianism

The State of Nature. The Laws of Nature. Criticisms of Hobbes. Social Contract Theory After Hobbes. Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Theories. Lingering Problems with Social Contract Theory.

3 thoughts on “The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  1. Thomas Hobbes is a leading proponent and defender of social contract theory. Hobbes's model is premised upon a dark view of human nature.

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