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The Practicality Of The Social Contract

2193 words - 9 pages

I.) Introduction
Society’s structure has been debated and contested as far back as ancient Greece. Since then, man has developed social systems that greatly differ from anything the ancients had in mind. One such system is the social contract theory, which first came to prominence around the time of the enlightenment. Simplified, social contractarians argued that in order to achieve a balanced and stable society, all of its members must sacrifice certain liberties to a government or similar authority. As Rousseau explains, the contract begins when “Each of us places his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will” (148). Essentially, it is an agreement between the rulers and the ruled that produces a stable political state. John Locke’s The Second Treatise of Government and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract are both enlightenment works that detail contractarianism, yet each has a unique and different way of considering the social contract. Although John Stuart Mill is also known for his work with Utilitarianism, his essay On Liberty considers consent and other issues relating to contract theory. These authors provide different insights into the social contract, and frequently one will reject another’s idea and offer a new solution. Even after this meshing of ideas and solutions, contract theory falls short of practicality. The idea is appealing, appearing on the surface as a fair and just way of governance. However, true liberty cannot arise from a contract, as man cannot be “forced to be free” (150). There are two fundamental flaws with contractarianism: it is not practical and it ignores human nature, and even if were possible to establish a true contract-based society, the citizens would not be enjoying true liberty.
II.) Contract Theory, Human Nature and Practicality
The Second Treatise is fundamental in that it was the first work to outline the basics of contract theory, but it falls short in a number of ways. For instance, Locke does not tell us how to set up a contract-based society; he simply provides the foundations. Additionally, and more fatally, he does not account for the complexities of human nature. The law plays a key role in Locke’s method as well as Rousseau’s, a topic which will be described in more detail at a further point. For now, assume there is no inherent problem with the law. Locke explains that a “known and indifferent judge, with authority to determine all differences according to the established law” is needed (Locke 351). He justifies this by correctly acknowledging that “Men [are] partial to themselves, [thus] Passion and Revenge is very apt to carry them too far” (351). The question that arises, then, is where can a truly impartial judge be found? Just as man is partial to himself, isn’t he partial to others like him? In theory it sounds it sounds ideal; an impartial judge executing the law—the backbone of contract theory—justly and fairly. In the real world...

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