Political Philosophy Term Paper
The Social Contract
The purpose and reason for government is often described in terms of a social contract between
the rulers and their subjects.
This is no paper contract, but rather a philosophical one of intentions.
Several great philosophers have defined this relationship in there own terms, offering a diverse and
sometimes conflicting set of arguments for the state of nature,
and governments surrounding this
Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau have each contributed much to this area
of political philosophy.
In their writings –
Leviathan, Second Treatise of Government
the Origin of Inequality/On the Social Contract
respectively – they declare that the social contract must
be voluntarily assumed by those to be ruled.
Another philosopher, David Hume, believes that this “social
contract” is not useful in understanding the authority of true governments:
Can we seriously say that a poor peasant or artisan has a free choice to leave his
country, when he knows no foreign language or manners, and lives from day to day by
the small wages which he acquires? We may as well assert that a man, by remaining in a
vessel, freely consents to the dominion of the master, though he was carried on board
while asleep, and must leap into the ocean and perish the moment he leaves her.
In this essay, I will evaluate the applicability of this concept of a “social contract” in discussing the
character of a just society.
Using the theories of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, I will try to answer the
question, or challenge, posed by David Hume.
The first order of business is to interpret Hume by separating the criteria of his objection.
certain assumptions must be made about the scenario in order to bring make the very broad question
much more specific, thus exhibiting key points to analyze.
Then, after finding how the philosophies of
Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau address such a condition, we may come to conclusions on how each
philosopher would answer Hume.