Me, Learning Ethics: Social Contract Theory

I was aware that the founding fathers were inspired by various philosophies and doctrines, but, as usual, I had not taken a closer glimpse. The United States still follows Social Contract Theory, which has been interpreted in several ways–from Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques. It seems that John Locke had the most influence, though.

Social Contract Theory seems very logical and ideal to me. This statement may seem odd since the theory is atheistic, and I am not, but it’s the other factors that I found myself agreeing to. Social Contract Theory is defined by the need for social order. Everyone must follow a certain set of rules for society to function at its best (Rachels and Rachels, 2017, p. 87). Also, everyone is expected to do their duty and get along with one another. This also sounded fine, since I tend to follow most of the rules and usually do what is expected of me. Minority groups within this kind of society are also capable of protesting any rules that result in lesser benefits for them, compared to the majority. Balance is important to achieve the kind of order that Social Contract Theory seem to promise.

I began to find issue with the idea that I may have less freedom and personal choice if I approved to follow Social Contract Theory, under Hobbes. The priority is what is best for the group versus the individual (Rachels and Rachels, 2017, p. 101). Many actions only benefit one person, but that doesn’t mean that they are wrong. Civil disobedience is allowed (Rachels and Rachels, 2017, p.99). I do believe that civil disobedience should be allowed in every society, as long as there is no violence. Also, the protesters should have proof that the government or establishment is violating their rights and tipping the balance that a society under Social Contract Theory promoted in the first place. Some forms of civil disobedience are not necessarily violent, but they can defeat the message; this includes the blockage of traffic, nudity, public defecation, and nonverbal screaming.

I guess if I think about it, the United States does happen to follow Social Contract Theory. John Locke’s version of Social Contract Theory seems to have influenced the Declaration of Independence: “In this social contract theory, everyone had the right to life liberty and estate (Gregorio, 2016, 00:03:57-00:04:03).” I do believe that America’s use of Social Contract Theory benefits its citizens. This country has a set of written laws and duties that everyone is expected to follow. Those who do not, are usually punished. I say usually because it’s become obvious, I believe, that certain people of a more prosperous background, avoid being penalized as severely as those in the lower social classes. This country allows quite of a bit of individualism, as well, even if it is not always rewarded. Overall, I have experienced fairness in the United States, not perfection, but I have few complaints.

I think I agree most with Locke’s view of the theory. I don’t think humans are equal, I must say. This doesn’t come from a racist perspective–there are differences, though, based on mental and physical capacity. Some people are better than others. Also, I cannot say that I agree that humans are inherently good, overall. I wouldn’t say we are inherently bad, either, but there is more of that in-between that tends to shift to one end or the other–depending on the person. Yes, I do find greed, competition, and vanity to be the root of many problems. Often enough, there are positive results, but it tends to be indirectly. I am just glad that we have the kind of government and rules that we do. It could be so much worse. I am not a fan of anarchy, monarchy, or collectivism.

~Here are the replies I received to my post~

Fellow student #1:

Hi Jacquline,

I think you bring up a good point when you mention in your post that the sct focuses more on the group than the individual. I hadn’t thought of it like that. I also think it’s interesting that individuals aren’t given a choice over weather they want to commit to their specific sc or not.

Me:

It seems important for a balance to be struck between being an individual and being part of a group. This level probably depends on the country or culture, as usual. Even we are not given a choice, when it comes to living with a government that is inspired by Social Contract Theory, there is room for smaller changes within the framework.

Fellow student #2:

Jacquline,

I think its crazy that you are required to not mess up while being in this. God post and good examples!

Professor:

Jacquline and Class,

Thoughtful analysis and text integration, Jacquline. Just one point of clarification: Hobbes’ contract is not necessarily atheistic. He merely raised the hypothetical of “no God” to create an image for consideration. Given that, and the other features of a state of nature, would it not be best to agree to a set of rules?

Me:

Well, thanks for the clarification. I guess it makes sense that it could go either way. This country did adopt the theory, after all. Yes, I would prefer to agree to a certain set of rules and for everyone involved to agree to follow them, as well. Though, I am usually intrigued by that occasional act of rebellion–just to keep everyone on their toes.

Fellow student #3:

Prof.

Excellent point. One of the arguments against the Social Contract Theory is that Hobbes’ state of nature argument never existed. At no point in history can we show that humans roamed the earth as individuals outside of a social group. Without the assumption of God-less individuals guided by no ethical basis, Social Contract Theory looks more like a social experiment than a real plausibility.

Fellow student #4:

Awesome post Jacquline! And you made a good point about people who are on a different “social class” than others aren’t punished to the fullest. So then does that make our SCT as good others? Like I had brought up in my post, the double standard. I steal a car as a no name blue collar worker and I am in serious trouble. A punk kid who has their whole world given to them because mommy and daddy are millionaires just gets a slap on the wrist because of the monies. Kind of makes a person think.

References

Rachels, James, and Stuart Rachels. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. 8th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2017. Print.

Gregorio, M. (Host). (2016, March 4). Social Contract Theory Explained! [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/FPREAw6VIyQ

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