January 23, 2022

All about the Social Contract Theory

Meaning of Social Contract theory

Social Contract theory is very old hypothetical philosophy, which was based on the fact that people’s moral or political obligations were based on contract or agreement among themselves to live in a society.

This concept of Social Contract theory was that in the beginning there was no government and no laws to regulate the functions of the society, people lived in the nature. There were oppression and hardships on the sections of society. To overcome this situation they enter into two agreements:

  1. Pactum Unionis; and
  2. Pactum Subjectionis

1. Pactum Unionis– people sought protection of their lives and property. They built a society where they respect each other and live in peace and harmony.

2. Pactum Subjectionis– by this second pact people united together and pledged to obey an authority and surrender their rights to the authority. Authority guaranteed right to life, property and partial liberty.

Thus, because of these two agreements the authority or the government or the sovereign or the state came into being.

The agreement between the society is to give up their rights totally or partially to the governing body is a social contract. The society contract is the basis of society’s moral values. This contract takes the responsibility of both the citizens and the government. It was supposed to provide security and justice to the citizens under its boundaries.

Analysis of Social Contract theory by John Rawls

This is the recent theory.He tells us that through ‘The Theory of Justice’ he focuses on social contract theory, through the theory of justice he brings back the moral and political philosophy. According to him people have the moral capacity of judging principle from an impartial standpoint.HHe proposed that one is denied from knowing about the other person. No one should have knowledge about other’s gender, sex, talents, abilities, etc. These are the conditions under which, Rawls argues, one can choose principles for a just society which are themselves chosen from initial conditions that are inherently fair.

If someone doesn’t know the gender of other person, then justice would not be gender biased, basic principles of justices would apply. It makes no sense, from the point of view of self-interested rationality, to endorse a principle that favors one sex at the expense of another. In such situation everyone will be considered equal and rational. Also the fair and basic principle of justices will be applied. Hence Rawls describes his theory as “justice as fairness.” Because the conditions under which the principles of justice are discovered are basically fair, justice proceeds out of fairness.

There are two principles that determine the distribution of both civil liberties and social and economic goods.

  1. The first principle states that each person in a society is to have as much basic liberty as possible, as long as everyone is granted the same liberties. There will be no civil liberty as long as these goods are distributed equally.
  2. The second principle states that while social and economic inequalities can be just, they must be available to everyone equally and such inequalities must be to the advantage of everyone. This means that economic inequalities are only justified when the least advantaged member of society is nonetheless better off than she would be under alternative arrangements.

The theory is highly abstract because rather than demonstrating that we would or even have signed to a contract to establish society, it instead shows us what we must be willing to accept as rational persons in order to be constrained by justice and therefore capable of living in a well ordered society.

Analysis of Social Contract Theory by Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes theory of Special Contract came into picture when it got published in Leviathan in 1651 during Civil War in Britian. According to him before this society contract theory man lived in a state of nature. Man’s life in state of nature was of fear and selfishness. His life was chaotic in constant fear. Life in Sate of nature was ‘solitary’, ‘brutish’, ‘poor’, ‘nasty’, and ‘short’.

Man has inherent desire for security. He is in constant need to secure himself, to avoid misery and pain man came into contract. Man wanted a peaceful and protected life, so they surrendered their rights to an authority.

In exchange Authority promised to protect and preserve their lives and property. This was how a monarch or a ruler came into picture. He shall be the absolute head. Subjects do not have any rights against the authority. Hobbes talks about the way how natural law should bound the sovereign through moral obligations.

Hobbes was the supporter of the ‘Absolutism’. According to him ” law is dependent upon the sanction of the sovereign and the government without sword are but words and no strength to secure a man at all.” He therefore concluded Civil Law is the real law, it is commanded and enforced by the sovereign.

He upheld that, ‘Might is always right.’

He consider that human beings were self- centred, they prefer what is the best for their individuality. Natural Law became a moral obligation or guide to the sovereign for the preservation of natural rights.

Hence, ‘Individualism’, ‘Materialism’, ‘Ultitarianism’ and ‘absolutism’.

Thomas Hobbes theory of Social Contract appeared for the first time in Leviathan published in the year 1651 during the Civil War in Britain. Thomas Hobbes legal theory is based on Social contract. According to him, prior to Social Contract, man lived in the State of Nature. Man’s life in the State of NATURE was one of fear and selfishness. Man lived in chaotic condition of constant fear. Life in the State of Nature was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Thomas Hobbes theory of Social Contract appeared for the first time in Leviathan published in the year 1651 during the Civil War in Britain. Thomas Hobbes legal theory is based on Social contract. According to him, prior to Social Contract, man lived in the State of Nature. Man’s life in the State of NATURE was one of fear and selfishness. Man lived in chaotic condition of constant fear. Life in the State of Nature was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

Analysis of Social Contract theory by John Locke

Locke’s theory of Social Contract was different than Hobbes’. His view was that life of man was not miserable at that time, it was reasonably good and enjoyable, but his property wasn’t secure. According to him State of Nature was the golden age, where there was peace, mutual assistance and preservation. Men has all rights nature could give them. They were free from any type of interference. All were equal and independent. As there was no authority to took over their rights it does not mean that they weren’t driven by the moral obligations. State of Nature was a State of Liberty.

Property in Locke’s theory plays an important role in Luke’s argument for civil government and basis for the social contract. Given on the implications on the Law of Nature, property was the thing that was limited in nature, no one is allowed to use so much nature than oneself can use.

One cannot take more than his own fair share. Property is the linchpin of Locke’s argument for the social contract and civil government because it one cannot take more than his own fair share. John Locke considered property in the State of Nature as insecure because of three conditions; they are:-

  1.  Absence of established law;
  2. Absence of impartial Judge; and
  3. Absence of natural power to execute natural laws.

Men in the State of Nature have felt the need to protect their property so they came into contract. Men did not surrender their all rights to one authority, they only surrendered the right to preserve or to maintain order and enforce law of nature.

According to Locke, the purpose of the Government and law is to uphold and protect the natural rights of men. So long as the Government fulfils this purpose, the laws given by it are valid and binding but, when it ceases to fulfil it, then the laws would have no validity and the Government can be thrown out of power. Hence, John Locke advocated the principle of -“a state of liberty; not of license” Locke advocated a state for the general good of people. He pleaded for a constitutionally limited government.

Analysis of Social Contract theory by Rousseau

According to him Social Contract Theory was not the historical fact but the hypothetical construct of reason. The life in state of nature was happy and there was equality among men.

As time passed, the overall population increased, the means by which people could satisfy their needs had to change. According to Rousseau, the invention of private property, which constituted the pivotal moment in humanity’s evolution out of a simple, pure state into one, characterized by greed, competition, vanity, and inequality. For Rousseau the invention of property constitutes humanity’s ”fall from grace” out of the State of Nature. For this purpose, they surrendered their rights not to a single individual but to the community as a whole which Rousseau termed as “general will”.

Each individual is not subject to any other individual but to the general will and to obey. His sovereignty is infallible, indivisible, and illimitable. State and the Laws are made by it and if the government and laws do not conform to general will, they would be discarded.

Comparative Analysis of All theories relating to Social Contract theory

The social contract theory of John Rawls challenges utilitarianism by pointing out the impracticality of the theory i.e. the theory proposed by Hobbes. Mainly, in a society of utilitarian, citizens’ rights could be completely ignored if injustice to this one citizen would benefit the rest of society. Rawls believes that a social contract theory, similar those proposed by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, would be a more logical solution to the question of fairness in any government. Social contract theory in general and including the views of Rawls, is such that in a situation where a society is established of people who are self-interested, rational and equal, the rules of justice are established by what is mutually acceptable and agreed upon by all the people therein. This scenario of negotiating the laws of that society that will be commonly agreed upon and beneficial to all. Here it differs with the Locke’s and Rousseau in such a way that Locke’s talk mainly about property, he do not talk about the contract where the society is established of people who are self- interested, where Rousseau talks about general will, every association is bind together by common interest.

Quoting Rawls:

If inequalities are between property owners and non-property owners, giving rise to political differences, it is hard to see that the have-nots have equal opportunity. Especially if the contract view allows for entrenching of privileged class and restricts equality of opportunity.

Like Locke, Rousseau offers a complex view. We will look at one aspect of the Social Contract, with an explicitly narrow approach.

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