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Social Contract Theory 3

Social Contract Theory 3

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Published by Fehmy Shen

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Published by: Fehmy Shen on Jun 17, 2012
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 SOCIAL CONTRACT THEORY:"Man was born free, but everywhere is in chains!"J. J. Rousseau (
The Basic Political Writings 
, 1987, p. 49)The theory of a social contract is a hypothesis explaining how society originates as wellas the presumed relationship between its members, how they incur responsibilities, andtheir rights. Early proponents of the social contract, like Hobbes (1985) and Locke(2003), differed in their views and both have been surpassed by Rousseau whoseinfluential 1762 treatise,
The Social Contract 
, has made him synonymous since itspublication with the theory of the social contract.
The basic hypothesis 
...In broad and general terms, social contract theory emerged during the Enlightenment inresponse to the changes imposed upon human beings as society evolved from anarrangement characterized by independence
—“each on one’s own” living in the “stateof nature”—
to the economies afforded human beings as they came to live together insmall families and clans and, then, as they formed small communities. Complicatingthese arrangements further was the later transition from rural, agrarian society to that ofindustrialized, urban society.While members of contemporary American society live out their lives bound within asocial contract comprised of a set of legal, political, and social arrangements that seem"natural" and oftentimes are taken for granted
like the air humans breathe and thewater fish process through their gills
these arrangements have evolved and changedover time. As these arrangements first began to shape European society, it was
Rousseau who asserted, “Man was born free, but everywhere is in chains” (1987,
Looking back upon the evolution of society, Rousseau posited a “social contract”
hypothesizing how human beings can remain free yet live together in a society whereno one person has a right to govern other persons and where the only justified authorityis that generated out of agreements or covenants among members.
In general terms, then, the social contract states:Members of society are accorded certain rights in return for giving up certainfreedoms society's members would otherwise possess in the state of nature(where lawlessness reigns) or by remaining alone (as Robinson Crusoe).
Society (in the sense of a “state”) emerges to enforce the rights and
responsibilities borne by its members. Because these rights andresponsibilities are neither
“natural” nor “fixed,” they can be altered should asociety’s members so desire.
However, they must remember that exercisingadditional rights will always entail bearing additional responsibilities, andbearing fewer responsibilities will always entail exercising fewer rights.For Hobbes, without a government that is capable of functioning as a referee over allhuman beings, the members of society are condemned to exist in a state of chaos andcivil war because people would seek only what is in their individual self interests.Creating a government or sovereign appears to be the only way for humanity to escapethis state of nature, one where human existence is characterized by chronic chaos andinsecurity.
The proponents 
...Social contract theorists assert that in order for a society to function, there must be areal or hypothetical agreement among its members regarding the rights andresponsibilities of both the state
which is concerned with advancing the commongood
as well as its citizens
who are concerned with advancing their self-interests.For this contract to work, every member of society must be presumed to agree to itsterms.While this hypothesis makes sense in the abstract, the problem it poses concerns avery concrete matter: How are individua
l members of society “contracted”?
 Some have asserted that the obligation to conform to the terms of social contract is aconsequence of birth. Baldly stated, children are born into a particular society at aparticular point in time, are reared within that society and, thus, are obligated to followits laws.Others have argued that the obligation to conform to the terms of the social contract is
strictly legal, that is, anyone living in any particular locale is obligated to follow “the lawof the land.”
Some laws are penal, carrying with them penalties for failure to comply (anegative view of the social contract). Other duly-approved and promulgated laws, likelaws structuring marriage and setting standards with regard to basic needs, includingamong others safety, health, and education, make social life possible (a positive view ofthe social contract). These laws assist human beings to function, flourish, and perhapseven to prosper because they are members of society.
In contrast, social contract theorists reason that the free choice to remain a member ofsociety
not birth and not locale
is what binds each member of society to thecontract's terms.
In this sense, human beings “volunteer” to belong to society simply
because it is rational and in one's self-interest to do so (Lessnoff, 1986). Laws
whether penal or non-penal
are non-coercive in that, once children have observedsociety and matured, they can choose as adults to stay or to leave. The choice to stayis what binds a citizen to the social contract and to abide by its terms. This is how the
“contract” emerges, as has been argued at least as early in intellectual history by Plato
(1981). In
, Socrates maintained that a decision to remain in society conferslegitimacy to the social contract and imposes its obligations upon a citizen; a decision toleave society signals illegitimacy and, although relieved of its obligations, a citizen nowmust submit to suffer the consequences of this decision or to leave society.Taking their cue from Hobbes (1985) in
, other proponents of social contracttheory have argued that in order for citizens to keep from perpetrating injustices againstone another and to live in peace, there must be a guarantee in the event that one citizenperpetrates an injustice against another citizen society will not retrogress to the law ofnature. For these theorists, the social contract emerges not from birth, law, or thechoice to remain, but from the virtue of justice. Deliberation about what justicerequires
reason alone
then, convinces members of society not only to cooperate withone another but also to adhere to their agreements as well (Gauthier, 1986).
The opponents' arguments 
...Feminists and race-conscious philosophers, in particular, have argued that socialcontract theory is deficient for the reason that it subjects individuals and groups to anagreement that does
advance their particular self-interests. The issue for thesephilosophers concerns how the social contract has systematically excluded women andnon-Caucasians from its provisions solely by means of the reasoning from which thesocial contract has been derived.For feminists, what is wrong with the social contract is that much of Western philosophywas written by men and is based on instrumental rationality which supports the
subordination of women (called “patriarchy” and “partriarchal right”).
Women and theirexperience, then, are excluded from the social contract and its provisions.Pateman (1988) argues that the social contract, as an exemplar of this patrimony, wascrafted by brothers, literally or metaphorically, who, after overthrowing their father's rule,agreed to share their domination of the women previously controlled by the father.According to Pateman, the social contract, then, is nothing more than a means by whichmen continue to exert hegemony over and to dominate women, especially as thisideology evidences itself in the marriage contract (which prohibits the legal category ofmarital rape), the prostitution contract (which accords males sexual access to femalebodies), and the contract for surrogate motherhood (which requires access by men to
women in the instance of women’s reproductive rights).

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