The Function of a Social Contract

Philosophers have been concerned with the theories of a social contract for thousands of years. Plato mentions the concept in Crito and in Republic. These theories have stemmed from the concept of justice and for our society to be just. I will look at the works of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau and finally with John Rawls after which a overall view into the function of a social contract can be derived as well as any problems with the theory(s). The basic concept of a social contract is for members of society to enter into a voluntary contract, which allows society to go from a state of nature to a state of civilisation.

What is meant by a state of nature is quite similar to how the rest of the animal kingdom works. A person? ¦s security depends on his or her own personal power. The fittest survive and the weakest suffer. Every person is concerned with his or her own ends. Plato outlined two types of contract within society. These were the contract of citizenship and the contract of community. The contract of citizenship was tackled in Crito. He regarded it as a contract made by each individual citizen with the state or law.

If a man is to remain in a political society he will have to accept its obligations for he has enjoyed it privileges and benefits. The contract of community was covered in Republic Book II. This theory is based on the assumption the man is an egoist. With this assumption of ?? every man for himself? ¦ it is likely that he would either cause harm to others or sustain harm from others and therefore there would be a need to combat this. Thomas Hobbes published his work, the leviathan, which included theories of a social contract. His view is very similar to Plato? ¦s in regards to contract of community.

He felt that there was a need for members of a society to Curtail the war of all against all and without these theories this war would spiral out of control with everyone competing against scarce resources. He talks about how a person? ¦s strength is all that protects them from others. The only way he saw fit to counter this predicament would be for a person to voluntarily agree to a contract where their natural freedom is given up in return for personal security. This freedom would be give up to the supreme authority, the Leviathan, which would serve as a ?? common power?

¦ protecting society from foreign invasion as well as maintaining peace internally. Hobbes however does not outline what the characteristics of a ruler should be, be they autocratic or democratic. Hobbes felt this was not important and what was more important was that fulfil the contract and ensure security to the society. John Locke adopted a similar standpoint as Hobbes in his theory of a social contract. He starts with the same original position of man in a state of nature where there is no common superior and all men are equal.

This state gives man all the benefits of his own labour but Locke felt this situation was ??uncertain and constantly under threat? ¦. This threat is what Locke regards as a reason to move to a civil society. Like Hobbes, Locke regards this move as a voluntary act. This allows a person to enjoy the benefits of their labour and protection of their property. Although many people have an interest in preserving their personal property the question of how someone may consent to this is raised. Locke explained that if a person stayed in a state even for a little time that would account for consent in itself. This means that if a person is enjoying the benefits a state is providing they have automatically consented.

Jean Jacques Rousseau had also theorised on social contract in his book the Social Contract. The main concept of Rousseau? ¦s theory was that ?? each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will? ¦. Rousseau also states that we cannot ?? enjoy the rights citizenship while refusing to fulfil the duties of a subject? ¦. However, the argument is raised about how we can follow a general will and how that can serve to be just. Rousseau attempted to tackle this by the fact that for a society to be set up there is a need for unanimity and ?? the majority binds the rest?

¦. This concept can also be threatened by a corrupt government who can appear to be projecting the general will when they are just serving their own ends and benefits. John Rawls is regarded as one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century. His works included the theory of Justice and Justice as Fairness. He is particularly concerned with the concept of justice in a society. The question is raised on what would be regarded as a just society. Rawls basically stated that just was seen as fairness. Arguments are also raised on why there should be a just society.

This was tackled by the fact that there are many injustices in society and this needed to be remedied. There is however no example of a just society existent in the world today. Also if there is no existence of justice how can we know what injustice really is. It is important to remember that because of this that the concept is an ideal type. It can be used to measure existing societies against this ideal type. This also provides society with a goal and the will to move towards improvements. It is safe to say that it is a process not a product. Rawls theory was formulated after the other thinkers already mentioned.

He tried to develop his theory with regards to them, as well as striking similarities to the Kantian view of ethics. Although it was not explicitly called a social contract theory, it does start with the use of a contract, which has been agreed by individuals of society to move them away from the original position of equality. This original position corresponds to the state of nature, which is mentioned in traditional social contract theories. Rawls tries to create a ?? level playing field? ¦ for all members within a society. He uses a concept called the ?? veil of ignorance?

¦ to try and maximise the effectiveness of this level playing field. The veil of ignorance is a concept, which creates a situation where everyone is unaware of their personal characteristics like sex, race, class etc. allowing the individuals to make decisions on the principles of justice in an impartial way, thus allowing fairness. He strives for equality for all in basic liberties and duties but states that economic gain is only to be allowed if it benefits the least advantaged individuals as well. He calls for society to uphold justice, mutual respect and to abstain from injuring other members of society.

If society is to remain equal everyone must do their part in society. He also states that a person’s rights can be interpreted as their duties. Rawls not only called for this justice in society but also in institutions, which in today? ¦s society are very influential to society. He set two principles for institutions. The fist principle states that each person should have equal rights to the liberties within the same system. The second principle asks for social and economic inequalities to be arranged in such a way so that they are of the greatest benefit to the least advantaged.

So what are the functions of a social contract? A social contract functions to create a society with justice. It tries to protect society from the war of everyone against everyone. It ensures the protection of the person and their property from others within society and from foreigners. It gives everyone equal rights and liberty. It also tries to project the general will of society back onto it thus giving the people what they want. There are how ever problems with the theory. Social contract theory is dependent on an agreement to moral rules.

However, these cannot be obtained before the creation of a society because men in a natural state cannot obtain the concept of agreement to a contract. This argument was tackled by Hobbes who stated the need for a sovereign authority, which kept the rules in order. The state of nature and the assumption of man as a solitary individual looking out for himself only is also untrue. This objection is pointed out by Hobbes and also by Glaucon in Plato? ¦s Republic. Man is regarded as a species being, someone who is social by nature. It is in man?

¦s nature to associate with his fellow man and to show affection to relatives and close associates. The theory of general will also has problems. What can protect society from unjust rulers who say they are working in the way of general will? General will does not allow for difference in taste. It also identifies moral obligation with general interest. This is a problem because people may have similar morals but have different interest. The rulers can also work with regards to the interest of the state but not with regards to morals. Bibliography ?? Leviathan; Thomas Hobbes edited by Richard Tuck; 1991; Cambridge University Press ??

Rousseau? ¦s Political Philosophy; Ramon M Lemos; 1977; University of Georgia Press ?? The Second Treatise of Government; John Locke edited by Thomas P Peardon; 1952; Bobbs and Merrill company inc. ?? Problems of Political Philosophy revised edition; DD Raphael; 1976; Macmillan Press ltd. ?? The Social Contract and Discourses; Jean Jacques Rousseau translated by GDH Cole; 1973; JM Dent and Sons ltd. ?? The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right second edition revised; Jean Jacques Rousseau translated by Henry J Tozer; 1898; Swan Sonnenschein and Co.