Social Contract Theory - Social Contract Theory Lecture...

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Social Contract Theory Lecture Notes Don Habibi The Social Contract is a model that some prominent philosophers have used to justify the state and adherence to law and social rules. It can give answers to some of the basic questions of secular ethics, namely: What makes authority legitimate? and, Why should I obey? As we shall see, the answer to these questions stem from the view that the SC is based on the consent of rational persons. It is important to stress the distinction between control over others and legitimate authority , or rightful control. As Jean Hampton puts it: “Authority is about the entitlement to rule; mere power isn’t enough.” Going back to the Greeks, there are four theories that seek to define and legitimate the nature and extent of political authority. The first three have fallen out of favor in modern times. They are the ‘divine authority theory,’ the ‘natural subordination theory,’ and the ‘perfectionist theory’ (re: the Guardians of Plato’s Republic , who are trained to have superior knowledge and be incorruptible). The fourth, consent-based theories remain popular, and the SC model is the best known among them. The basic idea is a covenant. For the philosophers using this model, it is the original covenant, which marks the mythical transition from asocial or pre-social human existence to living in groups, i.e., societies, villages, cities, and states. Because no one really knows when, how, or even if humanity made such a transition, it is necessary to keep in mind that SC theory is a fiction. We are not referring to some actual historic event. Nonetheless, it is a useful fiction that provides insights for understanding the birth of ethics and how society is possible. Some philosophers, such as Jean Jacques Rousseau , Immanuel Kant , John Rawls and Thomas Scanlon, use the SC as a criterion for determining whether a law or act of government is just or unjust, by reflecting on if we can assume the consent of the governed. The starting point and history : To give this fiction a bit of plausibility, SC theorists posit the state of nature , for which we must consider the human condition prior to organized society. Before there was a social collective with rules and authority, humans existed in a state of perfect, total freedom . All laws , by definition, are restrictions on our liberty. Thus, before there were laws, we were completely free. The English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) contends that none of us want to live in perfect freedom. Even if I can do whatever I please, others can as well, and this makes the state of nature
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This note was uploaded on 04/08/2008 for the course PAR 115 taught by Professor Habibi during the Spring '08 term at University of North Carolina Wilmington.

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Social Contract Theory - Social Contract Theory Lecture...

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