Social contract theory essay

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Contents:
  1. Social Contract Theory | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  2. Reference List
  3. The Social Contract Theories of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke
  4. Original Articles
  5. John Locke and the Importance of the Social Contract

The essence of their argument is as follows. Thomas Hobbes an English thinker was of the opinion that society came into being as a weapon for the protection against the consequences of their own nature. Man in the state of nature was in perpetual conflict with his neighbours on account of his essentially selfish nature. Every man was an enemy to every other man. Thus men in the state of nature were like hungry wolves each ready to pounce of on the other with all its ferocity. Since the conditions in the state of nature were intolerable and men longed for peace the people entered into a kind of contract to ensure for themselves security and certainty of life and property.

By mutual agreement they decided to surrender their natural rights hi to the hands of a few or one with authority to command the convenient or agreement was of each with all and all with each. The covenant was, of course, a social contract and a governmental.


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The contract binding on the whole community as perpetual social bond. Thus in order to protect himself against the evil consequence of his own nature man organized himself in society in order to live in peace with all. In order to escape from this and to gain certainty and security men made a contract to enter into civil society or the state.

Social Contract Theory | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays. The term social contract describes a broad class of philosophical theories whose subject is the implied agreements by which people form nations and maintain a social order. Social contract theory provides the rationale behind the historically important notion that legitimate state authority must be derived from the consent of the governed.

Common to all of these theories is the notion of a sovereign will, which all members of a society are bound by the social contract to respect. The various types of social contract theory that have developed are largely differentiated by their definition of the sovereign will, be it a King monarchy , a Council oligarchy or The Majority republic or democracy.

Under a theory first articulated by Plato, members within a society implicitly agree to the terms of the social contract by their choice to stay within the society and receive protection.

Reference List

Thus implicit in most forms of social contract is that freedom of movement is a fundamental or natural right which society may not legitimately require an individual to surrender to the sovereign will. The social contract theory has some basic features where it says- firstly.

The Social Contract Theory

Thomas Hobbes , John Locke , and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are the most famous philosophers of the social contract theory, which formed the theoretical groundwork of democracy. Although the theory of natural rights influenced the development of classical liberalism, its emphasis on individualism and its rejection of the necessity to subordinate individual liberty to the sovereign will stands in opposition to the general tenets of social contract theory.

In other words, anyone in the state of nature can do anything he likes; but this also means that anyone can do anything he likes to anyone else. The state of nature according to Hobbes is presocial and pre political in nature and there is no scope for development to take place. To avoid this, we jointly agree to a social contract by which we each gain civil rights in return for subjecting ourselves to civil law or to political authority. The command of the sovereign is law and the contract is irrevocable.

Alternatively, some have argued that we gain civil rights in return for accepting the obligation to respect and defend the rights of others, giving up some freedoms to do so; this alternative formulation of the duty arising from the social contract is often identified with militia, or defense activity. In a broader sense, a state of nature is the condition before the rule of positive law and order comes into being.

In some versions of social contract theory, there are no rights in the state of nature, only freedoms, and it is the contract that creates rights and obligations. In other versions the opposite occurs: the contract imposes restrictions upon individuals that curtail their natural rights. English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in his famous work Leviathan first posited the concept of a state of nature in the 17th century.


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  • In this state, any person has a natural right to do anything to preserve his or her own liberty or safety. Hobbes believed that human beings in a state of nature would behave with cruelty towards one another. Yet Hobbes argued that people had every right to defend themselves by whatever means necessary in the absence of order. He believed that in the international arena, states behave as individuals do in a state of nature. He affirmed instead that people were born pure and good; men knew neither vice nor virtue since they had almost no dealings with each other.

    Their bad habits were the products of civilization specifically social hierarchies, property, and markets. Natural rights are those universal rights that are seen as inherent in the nature of people and not contingent on human actions or beliefs. The concept of natural rights can be contrasted with the concept of legal rights: A natural right is one that is claimed to exist even when the government or society as a whole does not enforce it, whereas a legal right is a right specifically created by the government or society, for the benefit of its citizens.

    Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher who influenced nearly all-western political philosophy. He is best known for his contribution to the social contract theory of origin of state. Hobbes was greatly influenced in his ideas by the English civil war that broke out in This led Hobbes to produce a book to set forth his theory of civil government in relation to the political crisis resulting from the war. It was based on an unpublished treatise of The State, it now seemed to Hobbes, might be regarded as a great artificial man or monster, composed of men, with a life that might be traced from its generation under pressure of human needs to its dissolution through civil strife proceeding from human passions.

    The Social Contract Theories of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

    In addition, he criticized religious doctrines on rationalistic grounds in the Commonwealth. Leviathan was written during the English Civil War; much of the book is occupied with demonstrating the necessity of a strong central authority to avoid the evil of discord and civil war.


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    • Any abuses of power by this authority are to be accepted as the price of peace. In particular, the doctrine of separation of powers is rejected: the sovereign must control civil, military, judicial, and ecclesiastical powers. Hobbes explicitly states that the sovereign has authority to assert power over matters of faith and doctrine, and that if he does not do so, he invites discord.

      Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher whose political ideas influenced the French Revolution, the development of socialist theory, and the growth of nationalism. Rousseau had lived a poor life full of hardship and travelled all over observing the inequalities among the rich and poor and the different lifestyles. This led him to write a famous book of his known as Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality among Men. One may decide to vote or not to without any one questioning them. This has been enhanced through eradication of the dictatorship regimes because each citizen through social contracts had better understanding and capturing of what their rights are, hence, their rights should be respected.

      Western political theorists have predominantly been portraying the exchange and interdependence between their constitution and government through social contract model McClelland , p Social contract moulds the western political theories, through contract of association, whereby, individuals sacrifice their liberty for the sake of others to join the community.

      Original Articles

      Another association exists as an agreement between the society and the government in impacting the political theories Jones , p There are three aims of government whether republic or democratic, that the government should minimize the resource necessary for maintaining order, tax revenue maximization and ensuring tight state defense. If the citizens derive from the government maximum benefits that is proportional to what government requires from them, the government acquires strength and legitimacy Jones , p.

      Social contracts played a major role in determining gender participation in politics. Women were looked down upon as they were regarded as people who needed not to participate in politics. Social contract is sometimes violated, where the motives of social contract generation are frustrated with government and political parties failing to neutralize the discomfort.

      Western countries have fully benefitted politically from social contract. Social contract has enhanced formation of political parties, democracy, obedience of the law, proper governance and even law formation Rousseau , p. Social contract has also impacted political theories as they were framed based on social contract theories. Thus, social contracts have had a congruent impact to the western political theory Jones , p.

      Though social contract has played a major role in moral and political theory, it has experienced criticism whereby, feminists and philosophers who are conscious to race consider it as an incomplete symbol to moral and political theory as they see it as a way of camouflaging, hence, the contract is seen as discriminative in nature.

      Hobbes' Social Contract Theory

      Especially when social contract discriminates against women politically, terming them as unworthy and unable to make crucial political decisions. Therefore, social contract has played major role in shaping western political theory. Christman, J. Social and Political Philosophy: a Contemporary Introduction. London: Routledge. Dunn, J.

      John Locke and the Importance of the Social Contract

      Western Political Theory in the Face of the Futuru. London: Cambridge University press. Jones, T. Modern Political Thinkers and ideas: a Historical Introduction. Kelly, J. The Social Contract from Hobbes to Rawls.