The Foundation of Society: A Review of Social Contract Theory

The Social Contract Theory works as a rule of moral constraints in society for the common good. For Rachels’ perspective, “The Social Contract Theory: The right thing to do is to follow the rules that rational, self-interested people would agree to follow for their mutual benefit. ” (Rachels 158) Based on “self-interested” criteria, people “need another enforceable agreement” to last harmonies which are built on this social contract. (Rachels 88) However, compared to the national civil and criminal laws, it outmatches them because they overlook some other important elements of human’s responsibilities.

Those legislations operate more like the bottom line, but social contract theory requires people to do more for the healthy development of society. In Hobbes’s argument, he gives out the definition of the social contract: People must agree on rules to government their interactions. They must agree, for example, not to harm one another and not to break their promises. Hobbes calls such an agreement “the social contract. ” As a society, we follow certain rules, and we have ways to enforce them. Some of those ways involve the law-if you assault someone, the police may arrest you.

Other ways involve “the court of public opinion”-if you get a reputation for lying, then people may turn their backs on you. All of these rules, taken together, form the social contract. (Rachels 84) Undoubtedly, the main objective of enacting laws is to ensure the effective functioning of society, as laws serve as a basic set of guidelines for behavior. However, simply obeying the law is not enough. The purpose of social contract is to protect the general good of the society and protect the inalienable human rights in a society.

It contains not only national civil and criminal laws but also moral laws. Furthermore, social contract theory is like a string in everyone’s mind, reminding people to obey their moral laws together. Those “Moral Law”, “which was said to spring from human reason rather than from God, was a system of rule specifying which actions are right. Our duty as moral persons, it was said, is to follow those rules. ” (Rachels 158) The classic moral justification for social contract is the Prisoner’s Dilemma scenario of being “self-interested” first and then looking for “cooperating”.

(Rachels 88) People should obey these moral laws chiefly because it can keep the harmonious atmosphere in society in order to maintain everyone’s interests. Besides, the article explicitly states that “the Social Contract Theory is grounded in self-interest and reciprocity; …” (Rachels 97) Nevertheless, whether our society should generalize the Social Contract Theory has long been a controversial issue. In the contemporary business world, some people might be strongly in favor of the Social Contract Theory, claiming that business can assume responsibilities their own good.

It cannot be denied that many industry standards are of even higher level than corresponding government regulation. But what about the interests of the whole industry conflict with the public good on a larger scope? As a matter of fact, the refrigeration industry was reluctant to apply CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) free technology even after the Montreal Protocol was signed. A black market was even formed to import CFC materials from China and India. The customers preferred to buy refrigerators of low cost and the whole industry was happy to continue the production of these products.

Moreover, under these circumstances, only government has the necessary resources and authority to maintain order and justice in society. Although it is undesirable for government to intervene too much in the affairs of businesses and other organizations, government regulations are by no means unnecessary. Businesses and organizations will benefit a lot from complying with the regulations of the government. Consequently, when the Social Contract Theory is not functioning sometimes, governments had to step in so that common good can be protected.

Admittedly, when we consider future generations, responsibility for preserving the natural environment ultimately belongs to each individual person. However, experience informs us that individuals and private corporations owned by individuals tend to act on their self-interest, not on behalf of the environment or the public at large. In so far, if everyone agrees to follow the Social Contract and contributes a little to maintain the environment in practice, the environment as a whole will be greatly preserved for the future generations.

Nearly everyone would agree in on kind of principle, or “Social Contract Theory”, which certain efforts to preserve the natural environment is in humankind’s best interest. On the one hand, the natural environment belongs to each person living on the earth, and therefore, the duty to protect it should also belong to all. We human beings are living interdependently in the same environment, that is to say, any practice of polluting the natural environment- no matter where it takes places- would ultimately do harm to all of us.

Take the depletion of ozone for example. Although such depletion happens only in the polar region at present, all human beings are suffering from the excessive ultraviolet radiation which would otherwise be absorbed by the ozone. On the other hand, the environmental pollution will never be eradicated unless each individual realizes the importance of protecting the natural environment. Without so-call “Social Contract Theory” of the serious consequence of environment problem, people may probably have no motivation to protect the environment.

All these facts demonstrate that it is not unrealistic to expect individuals to make sacrifices for self-interest, notwithstanding they are motivated to do this simply for benefit of their own. At the same time, the Social Contract Theory will encourage them to make voluntary and independent efforts to protect common good for future generations, which reveals its beneficial values. As far as I am concerned, the Social Contract Theory’s existence serves some ultimate purpose.

Many problems of modern society cannot be solved by laws and the legal system because moral behavior cannot be legislated. For citizens, the Social Contract Theory serves as social norms that the most important responsibility is to devote themselves to the well-being of the society. If compliance with laws is the primary responsibility, the world would not be the world we see today. Therefore, we need the Social Contract Theory to regulate our society and make it function well and progress.