What Is the Social Contract Tradition

The social contract begins with Rousseau`s most frequently quoted phrase: “Man is born free, and he is everywhere chained” (49). This claim is the conceptual bridge between the descriptive work of the Second Discourse and the prescriptive work that will come. Humans are essentially free and were free in the state of nature, but the “progress” of civilization has replaced this freedom with dependence, economic and social inequality, and the extent to which we judge ourselves with comparisons with others. Since a return to the state of nature is neither feasible nor desirable, the purpose of politics is to give us back freedom and thus reconcile who we really are and essentially with the way we live together. So this is the fundamental philosophical problem that the social contract seeks to solve: how can we be free and live together? In other words, how can we live together without succumbing to the power and coercion of others? We can do this, Rousseau said, by subjecting our individual, special will to the collective or general will created by agreement with other free and equal people. Like Hobbes and Locke before him and unlike ancient philosophers, all human beings are inherently equal, so no one has the natural right to rule others, and therefore the only authority justified is the authority that flows from agreements or covenants. The problem is this. Suppose the parties closely shape you and me, and their foundations are so different for their deliberations – religious, secular, perfectionists, etc. In this case, it is difficult to see how the contract theorist can achieve a certain result. Just as you and I disagree, so will the parties. Rawls (1999, 121) recognizes that his limitations to certain information in the initial position are necessary to achieve a particular result. If we “exclude knowledge of those contingencies that put men in conflict.” then, since “everyone is equally rational and in a similar situation, everyone is convinced of the same arguments” (Rawls 1999, 17, 120). Gaus (2011a, 36-47) argued that a decisive result can only be produced by an implausibly high degree of abstraction in which the fundamental pluralism of evaluation norms – the core of our problem of justification – is abstract.

According to Gaus, the modeling of parties that makes them representations of you and me will only be able to generate a non-singleton set of appropriate social contracts. The parties may agree that certain statutes are better than nothing, but they will not agree on their order of possible statutes. This conclusion, refined and developed in Gaus 2011a, Part II), combines the traditional problem of uncertainty in the contractual process (see also Hardin 2003) with the contemporary technical problem of equilibrium selection in games (cf. Vanderschraaf 2005, Thrasher 2014a). A topic that we will examine in § 3 below. The social contract theories of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau all emphasized that the justification of the state depends on the demonstration that everyone would agree in one way or another. Based on consent, social contract theory seemed to adopt a voluntarist notion of political justice and obligation: what counts as “justice” or “obligation” depends on what people agree with – whatever it may be. It was only in Kant (1797) that it became clear that consent is not fundamental to a vision of the social contract: we have a duty to accept to act according to the idea of the “original contract”. Rawls` revival of social contract theory in A Theory of Justice did not base obligations on consent, although the apparatus of an “original agreement” persisted as a means of solving the problem of justification. As the issue of public justification takes center stage, it becomes clear that the problem of justification in the form of a problem of consultation or negotiation is a heuristic: the real problem is “the problem of justification” – what principles can be justified for all reasonable citizens or individuals. Given these characteristics, we can consider social contract theories as a general schematic form. Social contract theories are a model of justification that has several general parameters that are defined differently in different theories.

What distinguishes contractary theories is how they specify these general parameters. .