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Social Contract Theory The Origin Of The State Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1709 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This state or life-pattern of men is described as the “State of Nature”. Then the state was created through the voluntary agreement of all individuals who constitute the state.

Three prominent thinkers known as social contractualists are-

Thomas Hobbes-(1588-1679)-belongs to England.

John Locke-(1632-1704)-belongs to England.

Jean Jacques Rousseau-(1712-1778)-belongs to France.

They are known as Social Contractualists as they were the ones who gave a systematic exposition to the theory of Social Contract.

Thomas Hobbes

He was a tutor to Charles II of England. He sought to justify the absolute power of the sovereign in his famous work “Leviathan”. He condemned the Civil War of 1642 as he saw in it the forces of disintegration. He sought to establish the absolute sovereignty of the state as an essential condition of social solidarity.

His view about human nature and motives constitutes the foundation of his entire political philosophy.

Men are as much driven by impulses as animals are;

Men have two original and primitive feelings-Desire and Aversion

Man is completely self-centered;

Men desire objects which will satisfy their wants;

Life of men thus becomes a perpetual and restless desire for power after power, which ceases only in death;

The chief characteristic of man is that he seeks power as the best means to secure future apparent good;

Man is selfish; all his passions refer to his self or ego;

“So that in the nature of man we find it here principal causes of quarrel. First competition, secondly diffidence, thirdly glory [1] .”

Hobbes presents a gloomy picture of the State of Nature.

Life of man in the state of nature is one of constant warfare on account of essentially selfish nature of man.

“There is continual fear, and danger of violent death, and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short [2] .” State of nature is a stage of constant warfare, the will to contend is ever present.

Man seeks pleasure, and to ensure pleasure he wants power over others.

“Kill whom you can, take what you can” is the order of the day.

The only reason why men found the State is that it is the indispensable means for contributing to their security and welfare. It is not the expression of the inherent social nature of man; it is not a natural growth as Aristotle taught, but an artificial device made by man to satisfy a specific need.

Hobbes also states that the state must have coercive power as the social contract by which the political society is instituted must be perpetual and irrevocable. The problem for Hobbes is how to make it so, because, though the state is the demand of reason, complete submission to its coercive authority is contrary to man’s nature. The only way to achieve this purpose is to keep the king or ruler who is the beneficiary of the contract outside it and make him all-powerful.

“Covenants without the sword are but words [3] “

The reason is that the sovereign is no party to the contract which is a covenant of each member of the multitude with all by which all of them surrender their natural rights to the sovereign who gives up nothing and retains all his rights.

The sovereign cannot be properly accused of doing any injustice to his subjects, for injustice consists in violating the terms of an agreement, and the sovereign does not enter into any agreement with any of the subjects. The contract thus gives no rights to the subjects against the sovereign; it rather binds them to complete obedience to him. This is the reason for the statement that, instead of being a charter of liberty, Hobbes’s contract is a bond of slavery for the people.

John Locke

He sought to justify the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He was an ardent advocate of constitutional monarchy. In his “Two Treatises of Government”, Locke argued that if the monarch ever behaved in a despotic manner, the people had the right to remove him from authority.

Locke analyzed human nature in terms of essential social virtues. Man, he believed, is reasonable and sympathetic. Locke considered human beings as pretty decent fellows, far removed from quarrelsome, competitive, and selfish creatures of Hobbes. Locke believed that desire is the springboard of all human acts and a feeling of pleasure comes when desire is satisfied. The object of all human action is the acquisition of pleasure and avoidance of pain. Locke believed in the goodness of human nature.

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According to Locke, state of nature was one of peace, goodwill, mutual assistance and preservation. The individual was endowed with sound natural rights. To quote him, “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it which obliges ever one; and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

Therefore, in the state of nature, people experienced certain inconveniences. There was no clear definition of the law of nature. There was no common and independent arbiter having authority to decide dispute in agreement with the law of nature. There was no sufficient authority to enforce those decisions. Everybody interpreted the law of nature in his own way. That created trouble, anarchy and disorder.

If men become judges of their own cases, justice would not be secured. In this respect, the state of nature proves to be inconvenient. Now it not safe and proper that a man should be a judge in his own case; for self-love will make him partial to himself and his friends; ill nature, passion and revenge might carry him too far in punishing other persons. Confusion and disorder can follow from it.

In order to rectify this defect, men abandon the state of nature and enter into civil or political society by means of a contract.

The contract is of each with all; it is social. Under it each individual agrees to cede to the community as a whole (and not to an individual or a group of individuals as is the case with Hobbes).

The contract of Locke gives only limited power to the community; it is not a bond of slavery but a charter of freedom.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau was born in Geneva in 1712 but he settled down in Paris after many wanderings. He gave a theory of social contract in his books The Social Contract and Emile. Unlike Hobbes and Locke he had no axe to grind. He had no purpose to serve. He was deeply affected by the political situation of France. Plato, Montesquieu, Cicero, Hobbes and Locke also affected his views. His ideas were vehemently criticized and his books were burnt. However, his views had tremendous influence on the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789.

Rousseau found that there are two instincts which must be supposed to constitute our original nature. One of them is self-love or the instinct of self-preservation. “His first law is to attend to his own preservation; his first cares are those which he owes to himself.” If men were not endowed with this instinct by nature, they would have perished at the very start. It must be regarded as good as it enables self-preservation.

The second is sympathy or the gregarious instinct, or the instinct of mutual aid. What mitigates the rigors of the struggle for existence is the spirit of mutual help. Family rests upon this instinct. This too must be judged to be good, because it is beneficial in its operations.

Since these two instincts have been shown to be good, man must be assumed to be good by nature and not evil.

Rousseau’s version of the social contract contains the following:

Everyone surrenders to the community all his rights and the result was that the community became sovereign, which is absolute.

Under the pact no one is a loser, while everyone is a gainer. Nobody stands to lose anything because in giving himself up to all, he does not give himself up to anyone; and what he gives to all, he receives back as an indivisible part of the whole.

Even after the contract, the individual remained as free as he was before.

The surrender is made, not to an irresponsible sovereign as it is in Hobbes, but to an entity of which every individual is a constituent part and over whose activities he has the same degree of control as any other members of the community.

The contract is between two aspects of individual. Men are at once and the same time, ‘a passive body of subjects and an active body of sovereigns’.

The ideal society, which is to be ushered in by the social compact, is organic in character. It is a moral and collective being having its own life, will and entity; described as a public person.

What lifts a man above the level of the brutes and makes him truly human is the membership of the civil society. It enables him to replace instinct by the idea of duty and confers on his acts a moral quality they did not possess before.

Sovereignty could never be alienated or represented or divided.

In the words of Rousseau, “There is only one contract in the state and this excludes every other.”

Creation of the government; first, a law was passed by the sovereign to the effect that there will be a government and after that, the governors were appointed.

According to Rousseau, the individual is free in the state because he does not surrender his rights to an outside authority but to the corporate body of which he himself is a member. Any restrictions on the liberty of individuals are self-imposed.


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