A theory of the origin of ethics which states that people have an unwritten social contract with the rest of society so that order can be maintained. Supporters of this theory speculate that, when human beings first gathered into social groups, they had to agree on rules that would foster group survival; rules reduce conflict and chaos. However, there are 2 important problems with this theory.

It does not allow for the common moral basis we all share as human beings.
Boo for Murder, Hoorah for progress!
In this theory, if one isolated social group decides on a certain set of values, then another separate social group will most certainly decide on a disparate set of rules! The resulting conflict of beliefs would have quickly obliterated our race.

The social contract theory also has no explanation for great social heroes. Many seem to go against the social norms of the times ( both Martin Luthers for example ).

"True morality consists not in following the beaten track, but in finding out the true path for ourselves and fearlessly following it."
    -Mohandas Gandhi

The Social Contract Theory played a large role in John Locke's contribution to the constitution of the United States. Basically, the theory states that people gave up power for the good of the order. John Locke theorized that although the people sacrifice power, they have natural rights which they cannot have taken away under any conditions. In this way, the constitution supports the social contract theory, but also limits it (setting a defense mechanism against dictatorship).

A common criticism of Social Contract Theory is that if it were the true origin of government, then people with conflicting views or rules would fight with each other. Proponents of the theory point out war. Humans often fight over territory and food, but there are also holy wars and wars of ideals.

The social contract theory details an agreement between the government of a nation and its people, in which the people agree to give up some liberties (these vary depending on the philosopher) in return for security, protection of rights, or some good stuff similar to that.

The three most widely known social contract philosophers are John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. They each provide a theory for the nature of humanity, which influences their beliefs about the ideal formation of society. All three philosophers brought their beliefs forth during the Enlightenment.

All three social contracts describe a move from the state of nature, which is basically a hypothetical state of existence in which there is no government and people are free to do whatever they want.

John Locke believed that humans were by nature rational beings. In the state of nature, things would function fairly smoothly, but there would inevitably be conflict due to a limited number of resources and lack of accessibility. The way to deal with this, believed Locke, was to form a government. The government would protect the inalienable rights of human beings, known as natural rights. According to Locke, these natural rights consisted of life, liberty, and property. Although people would have to give up some of their extreme liberties in order not to infringe upon the rights of others, people would have a large amount of freedom in Locke's ideal government. Locke believed that at the point when the government failed to uphold the natural rights of its citizens, the citizens had an obligation to overthrow the government and establish a new, just one.

Thomas Hobbes was probably Locke's antithesis. He believed that people were inherently evil by nature. In the state of nature, according to Hobbes, life was "nasty, brutish, and short." Because of this, people would run around wildly, killing other people out of self-interest, stealing their property. Hobbes believed that the best way to deal with this was to have a totalitarian ruler who ruled by force, as force was the only way to keep humans' evil tendencies in check. The social contract would form when the ruler used force to create the government, and it would never end.

And finally, Rousseau, my favorite. Rousseau, unlike the Englishmen Hobbes and Locke, was French. My Lincoln-Douglas debate instructor liked to talk about how Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a sexy name. But anyway. The reason I like Rousseau so much was that he believed that humans were inherently good, but corrupted by society. (See? It's not our fault!) He wasn't explicit about exactly HOW society corrupted these people, but he believed that the best way to minimize this corruption was to have a government that complied with the citizens' general will, or the collective beliefs and desires of society. Rousseau did not believe that the government had any purpose other than to serve the interests of its people; Like Locke, Rousseau believed that the people were free to get out of the government once it failed to achieve its purpose.

While social contract theory is most commonly associated with European enlightenment-era philosophers such as Rousseau, Hobbes, and Locke, one can find its central premises expressed in embryonic form in classical Greek works centuries earlier. Socrates' defense of his choice to accept a death sentence handed to him by Athenian courts in "Crito" is the most notable example of this. In the work, Socrates' student Plato purportedly relates a jail-cell conversation between Socrates and his friend Crito. Crito offers Socrates a chance at escape, which Socrates refuses.

Socrates has a number of reasons for obeying the laws of Athens, even to this extreme. One of the most persuasive is his belief that having been a citizen of the city of Athens for so long, having received from Athens the benefits of citizenship, he therefore owes the city and its laws a debt of gratitude and service. Imagining a conversation between himself and the laws of Athens, Socrates asks himself, “So decisively did you choose us and agree to be a citizen under us... will you then not now stick to our agreements?”

This reasoning closely resembles social contract theory articulated by later European thinkers. The central logic is similar. Socrates voluntarily forfeits a degree of his freedom in order to enjoy the bounty of Athenian citizenship, this city which has “given you birth, nurtured you, educated you, we have given you and all other citizens a share of all the good things we could…”

That's not to say that social contract theory as espoused by Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke were simply regurgitations of Classical thought. For example, Socrates refutes the (very convincing) argument that the city has broken the “agreement,” as he calls it, by wrongfully convicting him. He explains, again in the voice of an imaginary personification of the laws, that he has been “...wronged not by us, the laws, but by men...” It is the stewards of the laws that have gone astray, not the laws themselves, and thus Socrates still owes deference to the laws of Athens.

In contrast, John Locke, a 17th-century English philosopher who helped articulate the modern version of social contract theory, would likely disagree with Socrates’ rationale. Locke’s views, as found in his "Two Treatises on Government", eloquently express the cynic’s objections to Socrates’ arguments. Locke felt that the state was conferred power through the discretion of the citizens, which it is therefore bound to serve. When government fails to meet its end of the contract, the citizens have a moral right to defy and even overthrow the government.

Nevertheless, Locke and his contemporaries owe much of their ideology to their classical peers. While Socrates' philosophy may have been unfairly one-sided and inequitably placed the onus entirely upon the citizen, in his work we clearly see the foundations upon which social contract theory was built.

We have this notion of social contract theory- which helps us understand the origins of political power as well as its legitimacy, insofar as it suggests that in the early evolutionary steps of man we lived in a so-called “state of nature”. The differences in view are glaringly obvious when it comes to this socio-political state. Some argue that anarchy is a dangerous, near evil station that needs to be purged from our animal brains with rules of order and discipline whereas others believe anarchism to be the purest form of the human (societal) condition.

Intellectual masturbation over our political predispositions is never too much of a concern because it continually deals with the ever changing nature of man instead of the construction of the State which is the “path” we have chosen. Government ideal being: people living in a specific geographic region choose or are given a compulsory sovereign, thusly giving up some freedom so as to build the State and form governing laws.

The State begins and exists to check man’s inherent egotist position so that we can live in relative security with the benefits of “free” education, regulated health care, and so forth. This social contract theory tries to show us how the State originates and draws authority from the consent (or implied approval) of its population.

Now we are wrapping our little jingoistic crusade against Iraq. Although I don’t like Saddam Hussein- he does not seem like a fellow I would like to drink beer with- he was the legal sovereign (albeit a totalitarian dictator) of the nation of Iraq. The argument that America has been, somehow, “liberating” the Iraqi’s from Hussein’s rule seems not only fallacious but diametrically opposite of the very policies that the United States constitution was based on; considering that Hussein is just as legitimate a leader as George W. The populace of Iraq had allowed him (either explicitly or implicitly) to rule for a quarter century. Should we not have given them the opportunity to ask for help before bombing their cities and throwing an already unstable country into a violent chaos?

If the Iraqi’s did not support their government it should have then, necessarily, been the responsibility of the people to depose it. As we “topple Hussein’s regime” by attacking the people of Iraq we become a direct threat to our own concept of the sovereignty of nations. If one nation can overthrow another without the request or support of the general populace then our model of the self-determining nation is seriously jeopardized and we have the potential for an illegal war on our, already, busy hands.

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