3: The Social Contract



U. S. Constitution

Key Terms

State of Nature
Social Contract
Hypothetical Imperatives
Categorical Imperatives
Autonomous Lawmaker

Hobbes on the State of Nature

...which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short

  • Define and appropriately use important terms such as state of nature, the prisoner’s dilemma, implicit and explicit agreements, social contract, categorical imperative, hypothetical imperative, maxim, and autonomous lawmaker
  • Demonstrate knowledge of major arguments for and problems with social contract theory and deontology
  • Apply ethical concepts and principles to address moral concerns.

I. Introduction

  • Contrasts with
    • Divine - Divine Command Theory, Theory of Natural Law
    • Society - Social Contract Theory

II. The State of Nature

Hobbes’ State of Nature

  • Hobbes’ Innovative Approach
    • Eliminate all assumptions about morality
    • No God to give commands
    • No natural purpose or law
    • Psychological egoism is true
    • We pity people because we fear the same could happen to us
    • What then is the basis of our morality?
  • What then is the basis of our morality? 
    • Practical need
    • Morality depends on practical solutions to problems
    • We need a peaceful cooperative society
    • Rules that come from need are our morals
  • The Hobbesian State of Nature
    • Suppose there were no authority or government institutions
    • Bleak picture of the world
    • Constant fear and danger
    • Self-interested individuals, when given no security, seek their own security first
    • Basic Facts of Human Life derived from the state of nature hypothetical
      • Humans have equality of need
      • There is scarcity of resource
      • Humans have a basic equality of power
      • Humans are basically selfish
    • State of nature is not a hypothetical conclusion
    • When governments fall or international crises occur, this is the result

III. The Social Contract

  • The Social Contract in Brief
    • We collectively agree to follow rules that benefit society
    • We collectively agree to enforce those rules
    • We collectively agree to accept punishment for breaking rules
    • Enforcing the Rules
      • The law
      • The court of public opinion

Prisoner’s Dilemma

Prisoner’s Dilemma

IV. Justifying the Social Contract with the Prisoner's Dilemma

  • A. The Scenario
    • Best outcome with no contract vs Best outcome with a contract
  • B. Approaches to the Scenario
    • Logic: confess
    • Social Contract Theory: don’t confess
  • Applying the Prisoner’s Dilemma
    • Logic: being selfish is safer, but this leads to the state of nature
    • Social Contract Theory: contract allows us to be benevolent

V. Advantages to Social Contract Theory

Social Contract in TV

  • We follow rules that allow us to live together harmoniously
  • Following rules is mutually beneficial
  • It’s ok to break the rules with someone, if they broke the rules with us
  • Being moral is reasonable, it doesn’t expect self-sacrifice
  • Civil disobedience is justified because the state is not fulfilling its contract

VI. Objections to Social Contract Theory

  • It’s based on a historical fiction
    • There is no contract we signed
    • Implicit vs. Explicit agreement
  • What happens when people disagree?
    • Seems to promote division
  • It’s based on self-interest and reciprocity
    • Thus, if a group cannot benefit us, we are not bound by the rules
    • Vulnerable groups: infants, animals, future generations, oppressed populations