Social Contracts


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Lecture discussing:
1. The definition of Social Contracts
2. The difference between the Group v. the Individual

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Social Contracts

  1. 1. Consider Ethics: Theory, Readings, and Contemporary Issues Third Edition Bruce N. Waller
  2. 2. Chapter 7 Social Contract Ethics
  3. 3. Framing the Social Contract <ul><li>In the “state of nature” there are no rules </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The strong prey on the weak </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Instead of enduring a state of nature, we can decide to contract together </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For example, one person may want to kill and rob another. But that person could also be killed by another with similar intentions. It makes more sense to give up that state-of-nature right to kill and rob if everyone agrees not to do it. </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. Framing the Social Contract <ul><li>Even with rules, they still have to be enforced </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Government with police powers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Must be limited, so that the government itself doesn’t indiscriminately kill others </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Violating the rules leads to legitimate punishment for breaking the contract </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Social contract theory develops a substantive ethical system based on those general principles </li></ul>
  5. 5. Social Contracts and Human Strife <ul><li>Social contract theorists focus on a negative picture of human nature </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Often develop in times of political and social upheaval </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Thomas Hobbes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Crafted a social contract theory when Europe was torn by war </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Social contract theory helps to maintain a more peaceful society </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Because the contract governs our vicious natures, the government must have great power and authority to control our impulses </li></ul></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Framing the Social Contract <ul><li>Rousseau’s Social Contract </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Jean-Jacques Rosseau </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>The natural state of mankind is basically good </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We are all motivated by the emotion of pity </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Pity checks our self-interest </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>The social contract creates an association in which we all share common goals and principles </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>John Locke </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Also believed in the goodness of humankind </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Insisted on preserving the individual rights of citizens against the temptation of social rules to become tyrants </li></ul></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Social Contracts and Human Nature <ul><li>Criticisms of social contract theory </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It is implausible that people in a “state of nature” will sit down together and craft a social contract </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Too literal </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Rather, social contract theory examines justice and fairness of political, social, and ethical systems </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>The question is not whether you did, but whether you would sign such a social contract </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The contract may not be perfectly fair, but if it is fair enough we will likely accept it </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Fairness and Social Contract Theory: John Rawls <ul><li>John Rawls </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Veil of ignorance” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What rules would you adopt under the veil? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Behind the Veil of Ignorance </li></ul><ul><ul><li>We would more likely want: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Rules to make us all equal </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>A wide range of basic freedoms </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Prosperity – enough for all </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>This idea addresses policy questions about justice as fairness </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Gauthier’s Contractarian Ethics <ul><li>David Gauthier </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Developed a contemporary version of the social contract theory </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Designed to provide a rational justification for at least a minimal set of moral principles </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sought to demonstrate that as rational self-interested beings there are rules that we should follow, even if they are not to our immediate advantage </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The Prisoner’s Dilemma </li></ul><ul><ul><li>If people always pursue their interests, they will end up with less desirable results than if they sacrificed immediate advantages for cooperative mutual gains </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. The Social Contract Myth and Its Underlying Assumptions <ul><li>The idea of the social contract is a myth that theorists use to develop their position </li></ul><ul><li>Underlying Assumptions: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Radical Individualism </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Each of us, individually, fought against every other individual in the state of nature until we sat down and created a contract </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>An assumption of individuality </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>But individualism can create problems </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We cannot each be totally self-sufficient </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We are blinded by family and community dependence </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  11. 11. The Social Contract Myth and Its Underlying Assumptions <ul><li>Underlying Assumptions – continued </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Narrow Obligations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Because we are radically individual people coming together, the only obligations we incur are those we voluntarily and individually approve </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Choosing Morality </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Just as we “choose” our obligations to others, all moral principles are a matter of “choosing” to accept the moral system </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Outside the Social Contract </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>If you can’t join in the contract, and you can’t live up to the demands of the contract, then you aren’t part of the moral community </li></ul></ul></ul>
  12. 12. Social Contract Ethics <ul><li>Thomas Hobbes </li></ul><ul><ul><li>17 th -century British philosopher </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Denied the divine right of kings, but argued that a powerful king is needed to prevent disorder and disaster </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Saw the state of nature as savage </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Leviathan </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Social Contract Ethics <ul><li>Marsha Nussbaum </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Modern philosopher </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Developed a powerful critique of the social contract model of ethics </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Focused on the underlying assumptions of that model and the problem of who is left out of the social contract </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Frontiers of Justice </li></ul></ul>
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