Rachels, Ch 11: The Idea of a Social Contract
- Political philosophy deals with origin, justification and limits of
- Feinberg's "liberty limiting principles" concern the limits of
legitimate government authority over the individual.
- What is authority?
- Not power, but legitimate power
- Authority is an evil in itself, because it involves
- Is this true?
- Here are some reasons to think it is
- Violation of individual autonomy (self-governance)
- Inequality of power--involves inegalitarianism
- Authority though an intrinsic evil is a necessary evil
- What justifies authority?
- What justifies the state having authority over the individual?
- As when a policeman may legitimately tell you what to do
- In virtue of what does government have a right to exercise authority
- Social contract theory of state (political) authority
- Answers the above question
- There is a social contract and you are a part to this agreement
- It gives the government the right to exercise power over you
- Because you agreed to let the state tell you what to do
- You promised you would obey
- Why agree to creation of such an authority (the state)?
- How/why did the state arise?
- Reply: To avoid a state of nature (SN)
- State of nature
- SN a situation where there are
- No laws, no government, no police, no courts and everyone is looking
out just for herself
- SN is highly undesirable for all
- Why? Because
- We have the same needs
- Resources to satisfy those needs are scarce
- So we are in competition for them
- We are equal in power
- We have limited altruism
- Without organized way of adjudicating conflicts (government) there
is a constant state of war of one against all
- Hobbes: "and the life of man, solitary, nasty, brutish and short"
- So we agree to the social contract to avoid a state of nature
- It is in each person's self-interest to cooperate and get our of SN
- Without cooperation there is no division of labor and we need this for
a better life
- To get the benefits of mutual cooperation need guarantees
- We won't harm each other
- Keep our agreements so we can rely on each other
- Need government to provide these guarantees
- Government: a system of laws, courts, police
- Why is government authority legitimate according to social contract theory?
- Because we gave the government power to enforce laws necessary to
avoid a state of nature and to get the benefits of social cooperation
- Why should I obey the law?
- Because I promised to do so to get the benefits of social living
- Social Contract Theory of Morality
- Morality is
- A set of rules necessary for social living
- That rational people will agree to accept
- For their mutual benefit
- On the condition that others follow the rules (reciprocity)
- Social contract theory of morality answers the questions of why be moral,
why obey moral rules and why reasonable to be moral?
- It is in our self-interest; to our advantage to live in a system where
- Our compliance with these rules is the price we pay to make
sure others comply
- Also, we agreed to obey the rules
- Some possible implications of the social contract theory
- Which laws/moral rules are legitimate?
- Those necessary for social living: prohibitions on lying, murder, theft.
- Laws banning prostitution, sodomy, fornication, private drug use, and
so on - if not necessary for social living - may be illegitimate
- When is it permissible to break the rules/laws?
- When reciprocity violated
- So the civil disobedience during the civil rights movement can be
seen as legitimate and reasonable response to a violation of the social
- We accept the burdens of social living (obeying the laws) in order to
gain the benefits of social living
- But for Black Americans, many of the benefits of social living were
not extended to them, and so they were release from the contract and
from the burdens of social living
- Rachels considers two objections to the Social Contract Theory
- One: The social contract is a fiction both historically and currently
- I did not agree to obey any rules
- While no explicit consent was given, implicit consent exists
- By accepting the benefits of social living we are implicitly agreeing
to the burdens as well (to obey the law and morality)
- Worries about implicit consent
- Two: The problem of duties to being that can't be part of the contract and
- If moral obligations between individuals arise (are created by)
agreeing to obey moral rules on the conditions that others do
- Then for those who do not (or cannot agree) no moral obligations
exist (they have none to us and we none toward them).
- So animals and mentally impaired humans are not owed any duties on
the social contract view.