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Is The Idea Of A Contract A Good Way Of Explaining Why We Ought To Do Things?

1728 words - 7 pages

Theory of Politics - Week 1 Is the idea of a contract a good way of explaining why we ought to do things even though we do not want to? Is it a good way of explaining anything else? A working definition of a contract, for students such as myself who are largely unfamiliar with the definition of the term, is a promise that the law will enforce. The law provides remedies if a promise is breached or recognises the performance of a promise as a duty. Thus a contract arises when a duty comes into existence, and this would be because a promise is made by one of the parties involved. I will add on to this definition the usual legal binding of a contract, namely that a promise must be exchanged for adequate consideration - this being, a benefit or detriment which a party receives which reasonably and fairly induces them to make the promise or contract. In our field, we may wish to be more concerned with the social variety of contract, and in particular what if anything binds us to do certain things, and whether there are any laws which can bind us to act as if against our will. The 'social contract' is defined as a belief that political structures and the legitimacy of the state derive from an explicit or implicit agreement by individual human beings to surrender (some or all of) their private rights, in order to secure the protection and stability of an effective social organisation or government. There have been a number of distinct versions of social contract theory which were proposed by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Rawls. In this brief study I hope to look at some of these proponents theories, and decide whether contracts are the best way of explaining why we are bound in obligation to do certain things though we do not want to.Beginning with Hobbes 'Leviathan', we can see that this key work has over the last three and a half centuries has given many sound reasons as to why we may need a form of social contract. The main proponent behind this work is the fear of a 'state of nature', which would be so anarchic that people would want to institute a sovereign to avoid becoming embroiled in 'a state of warre'. In order to comprehend the 'Leviathan', it may be necessary to understand Hobbes view of human nature, along with the assumption that this leads him to make. Hobbes believes that the fundamental characteristics of man are products of their social existence, and that rational individuals therefore will be self-interested, seeking to increase their power and glory so that it will be possible for them to obtain their desires. Clearly this kind of view would cause conflict in the 'state of nature', as with no natural social ties, there will be little limit to what they can do, and this makes "the life of man solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short'. Within this framework we can begin to see the need for the idea of a contract as a way of staving off this life of man that Hobbes...

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