Talk:Social contract

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Social contract theories[edit]

the declorTION OF INDEPENDENCE IS SO HARD:Note: the above link now redirects to the article (Social contract) attached to this Talk page. -- 01:20, 19 November 2005 (UTC)

did you know ducks can catch whals? its true! they can cling onto its fin !! wow i didn't knoe that! Also If you do not want you cat to have babies you must remove its liver! The discussion of penis consensus doesn't, I believe, really gibe with the standard sociological treatment of the term social contract. A social contract is one between the individual and the state, from which the states derives legitimacy, rather than societal norms. --The Cunctator

Social contract is going to have several different meanings because it basically comes down to the fundamental rules of humanity and thus numerous groups argue that the social contract has different terms. The social contract is informal as constiutions and codes are an attempt by humanity to formally state what the social contract is. Lir 06:53 Nov 13, 2002 (UTC)

the contract is a tacit agreement we have limited amount of choice in the contract it is a matter of survival of the fittest the strongest in society make the rules that we all mus follow and that we all must abey ar else consquences follow and people are punished

Martin Rice —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:08, 18 September 2008 (UTC) Have you read The Social Contract? The term has a specific meaning in sociology and political theory, just as "particle" and "momentum" have specific meanings in physics, that are not identical to popular usage. --The Cunctator

Some would argue that sociology and political theory are not in the least scientific. Lir 06:57 Nov 13, 2002 (UTC)


So that would mean that The Social Contract only has a specific meaning to some sociologists and political theorists Lir 07:01 Nov 13, 2002 (UTC)

That's not what that would mean. But at least now you're making a reasonable argument. I have to say that I fall on the side of primarily defining terms in Wikipedia based on their most specific and well-defined (and thus often academic/scientific) usage; terms such as nationalism and mass are good examples. The fuzzy vernacular usages can then be described in comparison to the specific concept. Other people have disagreed with this position in the past. --The Cunctator

Nah, Im pretty much down with that. Lir 07:10 Nov 13, 2002 (UTC)

I am a card-carrying sociologist. Social contract has a _specific_ and rigorous meaning in political theory. It is much mushier in sociology. Suggest breaking it out as "In sociology: " "In political theory: " user:clarka

I don't really care how you guys use it. It's obviously going to have a different meaning in different fields. Just know that the way Hobbes and Locke think of social contract are two completely different things, not to mention new social contract theorists such as Rawls and Nozick, whom I added to the article via a public computer. This should be made clear.--Zeplin007 18:09, 16 May 2006 (UTC)

I don't have anything to add. I'm just curious if anyone knows why this page claims it has been accessed 0 times, when that is obviously untrue. Tokerboy 07:01 Nov 13, 2002 (UTC)

I see 250. Lir 07:02 Nov 13, 2002 (UTC)

Huh. I still see 0 now. Tokerboy 07:05 Nov 13, 2002 (UTC)

LOL. See the bottom of Wikipedia:Village pump. --mav

Independent sources(and for that matter, the entry for Thomas Hobbes) seem to indicate that his book Leviathan, written in 1651, touched upon this subject. Is this incorrect or referring to another kind of social contract? If not, I suppose the statement that Rousseau coined the term and the concept in 1762 must be inaccurate? Svk 19:50, 9 Feb 2004 (UTC)

  • Hobbes' ''Leviathan'' is definitely a social contract account of political organisation. No question about it.ElectricRay 20:47, 23 October 2005 (UTC)

Correct, Hobbes articulates the understood concept of "The Social Contract", BUT he never expressly mentions it. Nevertheless, Rousseau writes in reaction mostly to Hobbes' viewpoint that the State of Nature is blah blah blah blah blah. Rousseau uses the term "social contract" in a strictly Hobbesian sense as an express agreement between every member of society.--Zeplin007 18:13, 16 May 2006 (UTC)

Jean Jacques Rousseau versus the rest[edit]

I think the majority historians of philosophy would suggest that JJR's is neither the most common nor the most influential form of contractarian theory, which is not to say that it is unimportant. But I think its emphasis on the role of the group over the individual is outside of the mainstream. Some would suggest that JJR's theories of the state's right to morally educate citizens, as in the case of Plato and others, gave intellectual force to totalitarianism (see, for example, the Encycolpedia of Philosophy). That is not to suggest that JJR intended this or meant this, however, it is only a historical fact. The folks of the Rights of Man and the Reign of Terror, not to mention Marx, and others, were greatly influenced by JJR. But we owe the intellectual dethronement of absolute power, the right to self-govenrment through representative democracy, and the triparte political system much more to Locke more than we do to JJR...for what that is worth.icut4u

JJR is the philosopher most often associated with Social Contract theory, for the simple reason that he was the one who popularized the term (and, if I'm not mistaken, also the one who originally coined it). The idea of moral education done by the state was by no means JJR's invention (see Plato, for example; you even mentioned him yourself), and totalitarian states are only a tiny minority of the states who morally educate their citizens, so I don't see your point in this regard. You are right, of course, that JJR's theories had both good and bad effects. As a general rule, all ideas have both good and bad effects, and it's often a matter of subjective analysis if the good outweighs the bad. I would argue that it's blatantly obvious that JJR and the Social Contract were a huge benefit to humanity, but others may disagree.
Also, when you say "we owe", who is this "we" you are talking about? Anglo-saxon systems (the USA and the former British Empire) certainly owe more to Locke than to Rousseau, but nearly all other European models of government owe more to Rousseau than to Locke. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 11:30, 29 Sep 2004 (UTC)
I seriously doubt that he coined it (contract theory is too old), but he certainly popularized it. I believe his influence is greater wherever there are representative democracies limited by princples of individual liberty, without absolute rulers. I think Locke and the Revolution of 1688...a century before the French Revolution that JJR most certainly influenced, have had a more profound intellectual affect on the English-speaking world, most definitely, but, ultimately, also on Continental Europe, and JJR himself (and several of those who influenced JJR). I do not deny JJR's great influence, however, but I suppose the chasm you and I cannot bridge is that I think it has been more negative than positive, historically speaking ...not wholly his doing, either. Interestinly, JJR has more in common with Hobbes, I think...for his theory of the General Will is a substitute for absolute soveriegnty, except it is the absolute soveriegnty of the people. He took the worst of Hobbes and blended it with the best of Locke....but the result, as you observed, has been put to good and bad uses. In any case, I think it boils down to a matter of preference, an unavoidable POV that cannot be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. icut4u
The philosopher David Hume wrote an essay on the Social Contract in 1742 (it was the second half of a longer essay "On Civil Liberty"), stating that the concept of "The Social Contract" dated from the time of the English Revolution (1688) and that it was a convenient fiction -- actually it probably went back to the late 1500's after the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, which caused Protestants by the score to publish treatises arguing that a bad king (such as one who countenanced civilian massacres) could be removed by consent of the people. The Pope already had argued (and continued to argue into the 19th century) that the Church had a right to remove a bad king. In any case, in writing about the Social Contract, Rousseau was following an established convention, not inventing anything new. He was surely aware of Hume's essay, as they were friends, though they ultimately quarreled (or rather Rousseau quarreled with Hume, who bore him no grudge). Most modern scholars, incidentally, do not believe that the sovereignty of the "General Will" is a license for tyranny. It means the "rule of law". There are scholars who do believe this, however. (talk) 19:17, 25 March 2009 (UTC)
This to the person who wrote the above, if it's the same one who added the section on Rousseau and governments. Unfortunately, the newly added section on Rousseau's views of government is mistaken on some key points, and also adds too much padding to the Rousseau section relative to everyone else. Rousseau does *not* in fact think direct democracy is best where government is concerned, because it makes the people both legislators and executives, thus conflating political roles that must be separate. He thought Athens was disastrous for just this reason - such a system, he thought, could work among angels but not among humans. But, in any case, popular sovereignty is necessary to the creation of *law* for Rousseau, not to the administration of government itself, which is what had to vary according to kind of society and size. So, the newly added section gives largely the wrong impression in this regard, and I've removed it for that reason. Please feel free to respond to this hear, or on my talk page, if you find the deletion unfair, and we can discuss it further. (talk) 19:44, 25 March 2009 (UTC)


The following "rebuttal" to criticisms of the Social Contract idea:

However, the usual response to this objection is that many contracts and acceptances of same in a modern economy also tend to be implicit, e.g. copyright which exists in a work regardless how marked, entry into private spaces where rules of access and exclusion are posted (but not explicitly accepted other than by actually entering premises), and software and web site licenses. hopeless, is not referenced to anyone notable's actual work (for the very good reason that it is bunk) and sounds to me like someone's own research. I have deleted it. My reasons are as follows:

  • Copyright protection is simply not afforded by some sort of implicit contract, but by legislation. There are international conventions on copyright (again, legislated) which have the intent of ensuring copyright law is pretty much the same in most parts of the civilised world - to ensure consistency - but to suggest copyright is contractual (it may have arisen as a *tort* under the common law - but that is a totally different type of civil action and does not amount to saying it's some implied contract between a reader and a writer) is simply nonsense.
  • entry into private spaces where rules of access and exclusion are posted is an explicit contract, with unequivocal offer, acceptance and consideration, on exactly the terms which are posted. This is elementary. There is nothing implied about it. Same goes for software and website licences: you have a choice - either enter, in which case you have no choice but to enter on exactly the terms posted, or don't enter. Action by the user is completely informed, and voluntary. On the other hand, members of a community have no choice as to obeying rules imposed by their government, even if they have specifically rejected it - by voting for someone else. There is no analogy between the two whatsoever.

ElectricRay 20:47, 23 October 2005 (UTC)

  • I have also deleted a rather polite, temperate and absolutely correct rebuttal to the abovementioned argument, which while correct, is not needed if the argument is deleted, and also some other completely irrelevant rambling about freedom of choice.ElectricRay 20:55, 23 October 2005 (UTC)

Comparison of the social contract to the requirements of common law contracts[edit]

This entire section is original research written for the purpose of supporting a specific POV. No sources are given for the comparison; indeed, the author (whoever it was) has virtually admitted to doing original research by stating that the section is based on the definitions used in the Wikipedia article contract. No explanation is given as to why the requirements for common law contracts were chosen as the benchmark of comparison for the social contract. The comparison is even somewhat absurd, because the social contract is a philosophical concept as opposed to a legal one, and particularly because the laws used as a benchmark (common law) were established by governments themselves. If government is illegitimate (as the argument seems to imply), then common law contracts also have no legitimate basis.

With statements such as "the contract should be rendered null and void" and "the mutual obligations are ultimately unadhereable", which are blatant POV, I am surprised the section was not removed sooner. -- 08:19, 17 November 2005 (UTC)

If no one wants to discuss, then you make the changes. You're right, there is no Wiki policy that requires validation, it's just common courtesy to fellow editors who may be working on the article. Also, since you're an anonymous editor, there's a likelihood that it will be construed as vandalism. I'm going to leave now since I know nothing about this subject, but I'd recommend at least allowing some time for discussion to happen before making such a big change. We have all the time in the world here, and it'll do a world of good to let things simmer, I promise. Blackcap | talk 08:33, 17 November 2005 (UTC)
I disagree that we have all the time in the world. Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites on the internet. I bet this article alone has a few thousand hits, at least. Errors, faulty original research or POV, if left uncorrected, can do enourmous damage. I will remove the section one more time, then leave. You or anyone else can put it back if you wish, though I strongly you read the section itself before making such a decision. I'll return in a few days to see what happened... 08:40, 17 November 2005 (UTC)
Ignore what I said about me doing one last revert. Apparently there's a rule against it. Honestly, if you're going to be this aggressive towards new arrivals, you might as well just ban annonymous editing altogether. Is it so hard to actually read the disputed text before coming in with all guns blazing against the "vandal"? 08:45, 17 November 2005 (UTC)

I completely agree with anon. The section is original research, POV, and doesn't even make logical sense. I have removed it. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 07:29, 19 November 2005 (UTC)

User:Theprivateer83 In reference to the person earlier in this section, common law contracts are, by definition not legislated - that is law defined by previous judgements. My argument is in reverse - we accept common law contracts, and they have evolved in various system over several hundred years. I see this as a sort of thesis, anti-thesis, and synthesis approach - sequential conflict has lead to a commonly used, fair and sensible everyday set of rules. I wanted to apply this sense of the word to the "social contract" as to better understand it. I found that when i did this, the "social contract" bore no similiarity to the common everyday contract - what I generally think of when I think of the word "contract".

I was the author of a lot of the content on this page. There is no need for exasperation! What I meant to do with the comparison of the common law contract - what we normally mean when we talk about the word "contract" was show how the so called "social contract" is nothing like it - There was some blatant point of view issues, that is true...I was hoping that this was going to be a starting point for someone to refine and edit, not to completely remove. I don't think anyone's point of view can do "enormous damage" - at least not on their own. From my writing and thoughts on the social contract, I came to the view that it was a name for quite a nebulous concept, and really it was a bit of a euphemism for "community" or "law" - I still can't quite define what a social contract really is. It is so often evoked as an explanation for the state, but I can't see why say the united states is legitimised but other micro states such as sealand are not. I also can't think why we can't form our own government if we disagree with the policies of our current government - why must we switch under a system which has, basically no justification (except for force)?

A lot of the discussion on this page is about the "proper" definition of the term, and whether it is a legal or philosophical concept. This is an artificial distinction, and I can't therefore see how it bears any real relevance to the rejection of this section. Theprivateer83 17:30, 26 November 2005 (UTC)

Social contract is a philosophical concept, clearly defined by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Rawls. It should not be mistaken with the legal concept, as the social contract is hypothetical and virtual (think of it as a thought experiment), and not all realistic. Santa Sangre 20:07, 2 February 2006 (UTC)

A Question on Transparency?[edit]

I found this page helpful... I had one question as to the material in section 3: Where does the notion of transparency come in? That is, is the notion that one must see and understand the terms that she is agreeing to encompassed partly in Competent Parties and partly in Mutual Agreement? -- 01:20, 19 November 2005 (UTC)

Sorry for the anon edit... was a mistake. -- Joseph Lorenzo Hall 01:22, 19 November 2005 (UTC)
Below a certain age, children cannot understand any kind of contract or law. Thus, we have two choices: (a) remove children from the jurisdiction of any and all laws, or (b) place children under the jurisdiction of some laws that they have not consented to. If you criticize the social contract for doing (b), then you are arguing in favour of (a) - which means arguing that, for example, there should be no laws preventing one from torturing and murdering children, or preventing children from doing anything they want (because children are incapable of entering voluntary contracts and therefore it is illegitimate to place them under the authority of law). Such an argument plainly leads to absurd conclusions that no philosophy - at least none that I know of - deems acceptable. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 07:29, 19 November 2005 (UTC)

Theprivateer83 18:12, 26 November 2005 (UTC)Yes, children cannot consent to contracts...because they cannot understand what it means. This is obvious. Thus they cannot participate in the social contract, whatever that is (but probably the collection of law - is the current definition in my mind) Your choices form a weird dichotomy, and I cannot understand what you are talking about. Why only 2 choices? Indeed kids less than say 12 or whatever cannot be charged with crimes etc...but are still afforded protection under the law. This is because they basically so weak and needy that they cannot harm anyone else. Because of this, laws don't really need to be ACCEPTED by them - but laws in the adult world can APPLY to them. They have rights but no responsibilities - they don't have the responsibilities of not killing children because they simply can't (or have shown a continued choice not to)...

Why only pick kids? the argument is applicable to adults as well. We are placed under new laws without our consent every day. In a representative democracy we cannot consent. We cannot comprehend all of these new laws, so that means I must be in favour of not preventing child molestation? That is a long bow to draw. It is both a rhetorical ploy, and it is an obvious, plodding try at a Reductio ad absurdum.

But what if one is able to understand but signs a contract to which they do not see the terms? -- Joseph Lorenzo Hall 20:31, 21 November 2005 (UTC)
Kids are irrelevant (which does not mean they do not pose a real problem to this kind of theories). This a theoretical experience, it must not be understood in realistic terms. Transparency, as defined above, enters the picture concerning John Rawls, and only him. Santa Sangre

"A first principles formulation and nature of the social contract"[edit]

I'm not at all happy about the contents of this section. It seems to be a cross between an inaccurate summation and a veiled criticism. If the former, it must be made accurate. If the latter, the veil must be removed. As it stands, I don't see it adding value to the article and would gladly axe it. However, I'd rather discuss it here before acting unilaterally, so please respond with your view on this matter.

I think this adds value to the article because it attempts to demonstrate how states form - it attempts to illustrate how a social contract may have come about. Yes, there are references to criticism but they can be removed...but not the entire section. It is again meant to be a starting point from which others can build is not meant to be a be all and end all - it is merely trying to "nut out" what the social contract actually is...(im thinking it is basically law and its enforcement - or something like that)...please add to it and revise it but don't cut it - It will leave the page with almost no explanation. Theprivateer83 18:16, 26 November 2005 (UTC)

I would expect to see a link between social contact, legitimacy, and Voting. By voting, we are engaging in the execution of the social contract by transferring our individual power of sovereignty to our elected. It is because of this transference that government has the power to govern and to execute it’s end of the social contract. This raises interesting questions: at what point does lower voter turnout break the contractual bond? I am not sufficienltly grounded in this subject to venture an entry, but would appreciate it if someone better qualified might look at this. (JDC)


"The social contract, as a political poopie" Is poopie supposed to be there? I didn't want to change it myself, in the case it is there on purpose, but it just doesn't seem right, please fix this. (unsigned)

Be bold. When you see vandalism, revert it. Uhm, also, remember to sign your name with ~~~~. Alienus 05:17, 30 January 2006 (UTC)

chrono_logical disagreement[edit]

Ahm, so what if the criticism is chronological as you say Alienus?? Its still criticism. It is also logical. See what Rosseou claimed "that an individual should submit his own will to the "general will,"" here he presumes that individuals somehow can exists (and did exist) without forming societies, all thouse who should, but didnt. Individuals are not free to submit their will to anything because individuals are formed by the society in the first place. This argument does include a sense of time, but what is wrong with that?? Even the social contract includes a sense of time, ie by submitting their will or forging social contracts -> something else happens. Do you see my point?? Foant 12:28, 31 January 2006 (UTC)

Social contract theory is often explained by means of a just-so story in which individuals living outside of any sort of society (in a state of nature) spontaneously recognize the benefits of a truce and thereby form the social contract. This is not supposed to be taken as a literal history of how the modern social contract came to be, so any argument based on denying the historicity of the just-so story is attacking a straw man.
Instead, we start off inside a society but always exist as individuals. As individuals, we can choose to follow the contract as is, work to modify it or simply disregard parts. We can look at the will of any one individual, but we can also take a collective view, zooming out far enough to be able speak of what the society as a whole wants, at the cost of no longer being able to see individuals clearly. In this way, it is entirely meaningful to speak of submitting one's will to the general will of society, even though society exists only in terms of individuals.
In terms of standard arguments used against SCT, it's quite common for people to say they don't see the social contract or don't see society. This is akin to complaining that there's no forest behind all those trees; it is an argument based on personal intellectual limitations, on par with claiming evolution can't be true because you don't understand it or it violates your intuitions about natural types.
Now, having said all this, it is still the case that NPOV requires us to list significant and common arguments. So I'm not saying we should hide the fact that these arguments exist. Then again, we also shouldn't hide the fact that they're trivially refutable. We should show the argument and refutation, allowing the reader to think it through for themselves. Alienus 16:18, 31 January 2006 (UTC)
No, individuals do not live "outside any sort of society", and there was no sort of war or agression between them in order for individuals to make truce. Its not me who made up this criticism, Ive read about it in "Perspectives on Learning" by DC Phillips and somone else. To support the argument they point to the fact that humans evolved within societies long before any since of contract evolved, ie the chronology which you see. Ofcourse they dont have to point to the chronology of events, it is enough sayin what I said in the first sentence of this answer. Quotin yuo "Instead, we start off inside a society but always exist as individuals. As individuals, we can choose to follow the contract as is, work to modify it or simply disregard parts. " Here is a presumption that some contract exists outside both society and individuals. I see the social contract, but I disregard it as a modern social construct, mainly constructed by Rosseu and other philosophers with intent of explaining why there should be a state (ie we would kill our selfs if there where no contract, we would run amock on each other if there was noone to enforce this contract (Hobbes), ie there is a reason for a truce(a contract), there is a reason to leave the state of nature to form societies based on social contracts). I know it can be hard to understand this criticism, its like looking at a forrest from outside only and not being able to see the complexeties of it from within. Foant 18:18, 31 January 2006 (UTC)
Oh, I do understand the criticism. I just think it's patently obvious that it's wrong. Now, that's my POV and this article isn't about me. That's why I said above that we need to show both the argument and the (alleged) refutation, so that we don't take sides. It would help if we had two sets of citations to work from, then. Alienus 16:14, 1 February 2006 (UTC)
I dont care if its wrong or not, I want it to be on the page because it is regarded by me and probably by you as being a criticism, now whether or not it is based on chronology of human development or something else or not is outside the argument here. It is a criticism, and readers are to make up their mind if its wrong or not, therefor having it on the page is not POV but NPOV. Now, I had already added the criticism, if you could now revert and add the criticism again, and mind you please add your alleged reputation (chronology) but please make sure there is something written on the subject as well by someone else as to not make this original reaserch. If it isnt to much trouble for you, you could add that the source of this criticism is Phillips, D.C. and Soltis, Jonas F in "Perspectives on Learning". Foant 18:32, 1 February 2006 (UTC)
You know, someone who read your response without reading what you responded to might think that we were disagreeing. In fact, there is no disagreement here about how things ought to be. There is irrelevant disagreement over which side we think is correct, though. What's left is the next step. You made an insertion that was not cited or balanced, so I reverted. If you want to reinsert your text with citation, I wouldn't delete it, but I'd likely hunt down a cited refutation. Alienus 18:36, 1 February 2006 (UTC)

Explanation regarding recent change[edit]

I recently reverted a pair of changes my by RJII because I thought they made the article worse and didn't see a way to modify the content so that it contributed positively. However, RJII might be able to, and deserves an explanation regardless.

First, RJII changed the second paragraph's start from:

The social contract, as a political theory,


The most popular version of social contract theory

As far as I can tell, the definition of SCT in that paragraph is general enough to encompass most, if not all, variations. In other words, it's not describing a specific version, just generalizing about many versions. Also, if we say that this is just the most popular version, we need to give some indication of what less popular ones might look like.

Perhaps this is what RJII was trying to do with the following sentence, which he added to the end of the paragraph:

This theory conflicts with individualist theories of social contract that hold it is a contract to refrain from infringing on individual liberty, by the state or other individuals.

I'm still not sure if I understand this sentence correctly, but my impression is that RJI is referring to libertarian versions of SCT that emphasize negative right and downplay or remove positive rights. So, for example, it's typical for a social contract to grant the right not to be shot at, with the matching obligation not to shoot at others; that's a negative right. However, all but the most libertarian of versions includes positive rights. For example, you might have the right to be actively protected from certain forms of economic harm, which means others have the obligation to actively protect you. Being fired due to your sexual orientation might be one example of an economic harm that society protects you from.

Now, if that is in fact what RJII was getting at, then it still doesn't make sense in that location. After all, the paragraph had little to say about negative and positive rights to begin with.

I'd appreciate it if RJII could explain his intent so that we can figure out how to best integrate it into the article. Alienus 06:41, 1 February 2006 (UTC)

The most common form of the social contract (Rousseau's) says that the individual submits his will to the "general will." But this is directly contrary to the social contract espused by Proudhon, that says, individuals agree to not rule over each other (ruling over each other includes forming a state and coercing people, through taxes, etc). The first is collectivist, and the latter is individualist. In the latter, the individual does NOT submit his will to the general will --he retains his autonomy. RJII 16:25, 1 February 2006 (UTC)
Ok, I went in and did a rewrite of the intro, keeping most of your text. Hopefully, it all makes more sense in context. Alienus 22:29, 1 February 2006 (UTC)

Rm of Glaucon (history of contract)[edit]

I'm removing this misunderstanding :

"Contract theory is certainly not new; in Plato's Republic (c.360 BCE) Glaucon suggests that justice is a 'pact' among rational egoists, while Cicero (106-43 BCE) posited such a theory in the latter stages of the Roman Republic".

I'm not sure what exactly is refered to about Cicero, but concerning Glaucon, it is a misunderstanding. Glaucon is simply an advocate of conventionalism concerning the definition of justice, which basically means he's a positivist and relativist who thinks there is no absolute justice, as he argues, as a sophist that he is, that there is no universal truth. Contractualism, as understood in terms of history of philosophy, is relevant only for the school based on natural rights (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau). Santa Sangre 19:05, 2 February 2006 (UTC)

I don't know about it only applying to natural rights. Im doing a crash course in morality at university at the mo, and one of the advantages that has been put forward is that contractarianism does not necessarily rely on any natural rights at all, but rather is a practical solution to a practical problem. It does not assume that we possess "natural rights" (natural in that we somehow are entitled to them, naturally), but rather asks which rights would improve our overall standard of living and then makes them a part of the contract. These rights are not natural and so must be regulated, or enforced by some sort of government. Khain.Khain 19:37, 7 June 2006 (UTC)
This is certainly interesting but is a modern interpretation of it. If you read Hobbes, Lockes & Rousseau you will see that they clearly refer to "natural rights". You may claim that's only a strategy for them, but that's another topic. Santa Sangre 17:10, 8 June 2006 (UTC)

About writing on social contract: have a quick look at Hobbes, Locke, Roussean & Rawls![edit]

Not to sound too pretentious, but anybody editing this page really ought to have a look at Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and John Rawls. And better yet, read them! This will insure mistakes about comparing social contract in philosophy with contract in law, or adding in Glaucon as a surprising ancestor of contractualism. Santa Sangre

You've added a lot of good material, but there are clearly some language problems and other errors. I've done my best to clean it up. Alienus 05:20, 3 February 2006 (UTC)
Also, please sign with ~~~~ so that there's a timestamp. Alienus 05:20, 3 February 2006 (UTC)

About the fictional "nature" of the social contract, etc.[edit]

The introduction states:

"All members within a society are assumed to agree to the terms of the social contract by their choice to stay within the society without violating the contract; such violation would signify an attempt to return to the state of nature."

This is wrong, because the social contract is basically a thought experiment or just-so story, a fiction with an heuristic purpose. In no way this is original research as someone claimed (I wouldn't have thought it alone! - see John Rawls for just one famous example of an author supporting my claims). Rather, it is the classic view taught when approaching contractualism in philosophy. Why should it be fictionous?

  • Because the authors themselves do not claim to make realistic attempts. Have a look at Rousseau's Social Contract or Essay on Inequality (available online)... At most, they related the "savages" of the New World to this hypothetical state of nature, or, as did Hobbes, compared - using therefore an analogy - the polemic state of nature to civil war. But nowhere did they write that the state of nature actually happened historically. It is an hypothesis with an heuristic purpose.
  • One can't leave society (even Robinson Crusoe lived in society: human-being, even if he lives as an ermit, is a social being, as did Aristotle defines him centuries ago... - see Deleuze in particular concerning Robinson Crusoe). One can't be excluded from society. This is to be understood in an ontological way: of course one can be banished, etc. But to be really excluded from society would be to approach the state defined by Robert Antelme and Primo Levi in their books (what Giorgio Agamben calls "bare life").
  • Henceforth, state of nature is only a metaphor, and must not be hypostased in something more.

In "state of nature & social contract", it is written:

"To avoid this, we jointly agree to an implicit social contract by which we each gain rights in return for accepting the obligation to honor the rights of others, giving up some freedoms to do so"

I don't know exactly to which philosopher this refers to, but if it concerns Hobbes, it's wrong. We gain no rights under Hobbes' contract: quite to the contrary, we abandon all sovereignty to the state, who, of course, afterwards protects us against potential violence (as in Max Weber's Monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force). And, again, the social contract is not "implicit", it's a fiction - careful, saying that the social contract is a fiction does not mean it has no legitimity nor reality (as did Deleuze show for example, there is no reason to conceive imagination and imaginary as devoid of reality: it is another form of reality). However, this expression - implicit social contract - could be defended; but it tends to accredite the idea that's it's a "real" contract, just like a juridical contract. This is why I propose to replace it with:

"To avoid this, we jointly agree to an implicit social contract by which we transfer all our individual rights to a collective body, sovereignty, which incarnates itself in the state or Leviathan as does Hobbes call it. The sovereign state then bestows upon each of us civil rights in return for accepting his full authority and monopoly of legitimate violence."

About Lysander Spooner - who should probably be joigned with Proudhon, as they are both considered to be anarchists -.

"Spooner bolstered his argument by noting that the Federal government, as established by a legal contract, could not legally bind all persons living in the nation since none had ever signed their names or given their consent to it - that consent had always been assumed, which fails the most basic burdens of proof for a valid contract in the courtroom."

This is the same argument that Philip Pettit would later use in his theory of Republicanism, and certainly should be taken into account. Pettit, using Popper's concept of falsifiability, argues that the contract can't be said legitimate simply because of an implicit consent, it can only be said legitimate in the measure as it is not explicitly contested (i.e. there is no rebellion against the government). Henceforth, the social contract is legitimate as long as there is no explicit rebellion (or civil war). I probably went a bit too far when saying Spooner misunderstood it (i hadn't read this yet); but you will notice that his argumentation goes with mine: Spooner, as Pettit, are criticizing the notion of an "implicit consent". Thus, they are saying: the contract is not legitimate because, as implicit, it is unreal, false, imaginary, fictionous! Not that the contractualists ever argued against that; but philosophers criticizing contractualism feigned to understand that they claimed it was a real contract (this kind of displacements or "misunderstandings" often happens in philosophy). The contract is not real, it's more of the symbolic order (although i'll be careful about that term). And the alternative is not: entering the social contract or not (as a human being, we've all already-entered the social contract); rather, it is: is the social contract legitimate or not? Open rebellion, if justified, proves (according to Pettit) that it is not legitimate, and thus entitles us to a "right of rebellion".

The problem therefore centers on the justification of rebellion - and you notice, that with Locke's right of rebellion and Rousseau's "we will force them to be free", we've been only talking about that. Pettit will be more explicit about it:

  • either the social contract is legitimate, and there is no legitimate rebellion possible;
  • either it's not (henceforth, we're submitted to tyranny), and rebellion is not only legitimate but is also a moral imperative.

But the state, because of its repressive nature (see Hobbes and Weber), always consider rebellion as a crime - thus, a "breach" of the social contract; while so-called criminals may actually be heroes (and that's the alternative "terrorists"/"freedom fighters" - during World War II, opponents to nazism were considered terrorists, thus criminals; state legitimacy would be bestowed on them only a posteriori, after their victory).


"of those philosophers have attempted, in a spinozist inspiration, of thinking some sort of transindividuality which would precede the division between individual subject and collective subject (i.e. society)."

Somebody wrote "what gibberish is that?". I'm sure it is not the perfect statement for someone not used to studying philosophy. It would be worthwhile taking time to see how to explain it better (hence the wikilink yet to be made). However, i think - personal opinion - that it should stay here, as i'm sure some Wikipedians perfectly understand what's meant by there; beside, they may actually do a better job at explaining it than me. Wikipedia is a work in progress! Let's just say that the spinozist concept of transindividuality intends to bypass the dualistic opposition between the Society and the Individual, thinking them as intertwined, and as always creating each other simultaneously. This is a main objection to contractualism, as the social contract is founded on the natural rights of the individual subject. Santa Sangre 16:00, 3 February 2006 (UTC)

One of the problems with the recent changes is that the first example of a social contract theory was moved to Hobbes, instead of a composite of Hobbes and Rousseau, or just Rousseau. Quite frankly, Hobbes' conception is in many ways out of touch with how social contract theory is viewed today. The notion of a Leviathan seems like an incongruous insertion intended to placate the monarchy (and, yes, I can support that with cites).
The reality is that there are many concepts of the social contract, so we have to explain their commonalities before getting caught up in the details. One area of substantial variation is in the exact nature of the contract. The straw man version is that it's intended to be a piece of paper that people were supposed to have signed, but failed to. Most versions are clear on this contract NOT being explicit, and explain this fact in a variety of ways, often by analogies. The key is that the social contract is intended to provide an explanation for why we should have rights today and how we should have them. There is no intent to be historically accurate.
Likewise, there is no state of nature, but it can be approximated during times of anarchy and unrest, as well as in situations where people are far from the reach of civilization. In fact, many just-so stories speak of hermits and castaways and such, just to take advantage of this understanding. When people violate the contract, they're acting as if part of it doesn't exist, restoring the hypothetical state of nature in that context. Alienus 17:29, 3 February 2006 (UTC)
I agree that it would probably be better starting to explain their commonalities. However, this can only be done stating their differences (Locke's right of rebellion, Rousseau's popular sovereignty...). So I don't know how easily this can be done. About your comment that "Hobbes' conception is in many ways out of touch...", well, I'm sure some theorists don't view social contract theory like he does. I'll even go further: all the social contract theory can be considered as anachronic, according to many thinkers (for one, it's based on the liberal conception of an individual subject, harshly criticized since Nietzsche). However, he is the inventor of the concept, so his place definitely is fundamental (it's like not discussing Plato when one speaks of ideas or objectivity). Beside, your opinion on the notion of Leviathan seems to me to bypass the fact that Leviathan basically defines the state & sovereignty. It's certainly not limited to absolute monarchy, although I'm sure he did used it to defend such a regime (but philosophers always are thinking strategically, aren't they?).(unsigned)
The first version of something is not necessarily the clearest or the most influential. If anything, it's more likely to look incomplete, since it was the initial step away from previous thinking. Social contract theory is too broad to be attributed to any one person, but the commonalities among definitions point to an idea closer to Rousseau's and Locke's than Hobbes'.
This isn't to say that we should avoid explaining the versions associated with each philosopher, or that we shouldn't point out the differences. However, we should explain social contract theory as it is understood today, not only as it was understood in the past by specific people. The concept of the Leviathan is an element that particularly sticks out as unique to Hobbes and atypical of the modern conception of social contracts.
As for Nietzsche, if you want to add mention of his opposition to social contract theory, feel free, so long as you have solid citations.

21:23, 6 February 2006 (UTC)

According to Wikipedia's article Leviathan:

In the book, Thomas Hobbes argues for a social contract and rule by an absolute sovereign. Hobbes wrote that chaos or civil war — situations identified with a state of nature and the famous motto Bellum omnium contra omnes ("the war of all against all") — could only be averted by strong central government. He thus denied any right of rebellion toward the social contract, which would be later amended by John Locke and conserved by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. [1] (talk) 19:46, 25 March 2009 (UTC)March 26, 2009

I totally agree with your explanation as a straw man version and that it's a just-so story. I also agree that there is debate on the exact nature of it (only a thought experiment or a reality). Whereas I disagree is with your statement according to which the state of nature "can be approximated" (anarhy or "far from the reach of civilization" (sic - I gather you're only speaking about hermits and not implicitely stating anything about so-called "civilization") and to the possibility of "violating the contract". As you point out, there's the straw man version. The social contract is basically of the domain of ideology (however ideology be defined). So you just can't violate it. The state can claim that you violated it. That's a big difference... So you can't restore the state of nature. So, globally, I think we're pretty much of the same opinion. However, I do think it very important to explain Hobbes's conception without downgrading the importance of the Leviathan; I'm more of the opinion that it would be better to reserve two subsections at the end concerning 20st century understanding of the concept (John Rawls, Pettit, etc.) and criticisms (Nietzsche, Foucault, Deleuze & who ever you may add). Santa Sangre 11:19, 6 February 2006 (UTC)

The state of nature is defined as the absence of civilization and of rights. If you and I are out in the woods alone, the situation approximates the state of nature because there is nobody there to enforce the social contract if one of us decides to violate it. For example, I could club you to death with my walking stick and nobody could save you. In some areas, I'd even have an excellent chance of disposing of your body without ever having it found, allowing me to get away with murder.
As for violating the contract, it means breaking the rules by refusing to honor your obligations. In the above scenario, I was obliged not to club you to death, yet I did so anyhow. If I had done this within reach of society, I would have been punished.
I mentioned Hobbes in my other response, but I'll repeat what I said: we absolutely should mention that Hobbes included a Leviathan, as part of our summary of Hobbes. But we shouldn't mention the Leviathan in our general description of what social contract theory entails.
I'm all for having sections at the end to explain specific modern versions and criticisms, but I still think the initial description should be neutral and modern, not merely a restatement of Hobbes' peculiarities. Alienus 21:23, 6 February 2006 (UTC)
Hobbes (and specifically Hobbes' Leviathan [2]) belongs as the first example of a Social Contract because the other, (arguably) more influential Social Contract theories (by Locke and Rousseau) were written in direct reaction to and disagreement with Hobbes. We are in the business of explaining what it is, why it is important, and how it came to be, not whether it is right or wrong. The expression of the "body politic" probably derives from Hobbes, and the "general will" is equivalent to the brains of the Leviathan. (talk) 19:33, 25 March 2009 (UTC)March 26, 2009
The article should mention that the concept of a Social Contract goes back to antiquity -- It is present in Cicero and it was also used by Spinoza, whose influence, it has been argued, has been much underestimated. Spinoza ties it to the Covenant of the Bible. (talk) 18:34, 27 March 2009 (UTC)
The article mentions Plato, which is at least antiquity in some form. I'd be happy to add something on Cicero, but I can't remember which section it's in - perhaps somewhere in "On Duties"? (Although I recall there that he's more interested in the role of rhetoric in unifying society, than in thinking in terms of contracts.) In terms of Spinoza, my sense is that it's best to leave him out. Even if he had an underrated influence, he's not part of the canonical story of the social contract, so including him here verges close to "original research". That is, almost no one who teaches a course on the social contract teaches Spinoza, so it's probably inappropriate to give him much weight in this forum, even if research will eventually show that he belongs here. (By the way, I'd be curious to know the source - who says Spinoza deserves more credit? Presumably the connection is through Locke, and the Dutch exile?) (talk) 02:27, 30 March 2009 (UTC)
Jonathan Israel in his Radical Enlightenment argues persuasively that Spinoza deserves more credit, but that his contemporaries and even the French philosophes considered it too dangerous to mention him. Therefore they acquainted the public with his theories by devoting huge space to them, all the while pretending to denounce him. I read Israel's book but don't exactly remember the relationship between Spinoza and and Hobbes, except that both rejected divine intervention in human affairs. I don't know if Spinoza actually used the word "contract" (or Covenant, more likely), I think, but Israel states that Spinoza's Mens una is identical to Rousseau's "general will".
For Cicero see:

Recent work by Gary Glenn has directed the attention of political theorists to the existence and possible significance of natural rights and social contract language in pre-Hobbesian thought. Quite incidentally this has opened anew attention to social contract images and affirmations of human equality in the writings of Cicero, so influential in pre-Hobbesian Western thought. The paper recalls an earlier and long-standing perspective of seeing Cicero as a first major thinker of modernity or at least as one who takes important steps toward understanding politics in the manner of modern social contract thinking. Three key passages in Cicero's texts are examined to probe in what sense he might be seen as a social contract thinker. They concern consent's role in forming a political community, a pre-contractual and asocial state and a direct statement about human equality. Despite similar terminology and images, the paper finds critical differences in how Cicero understands the authority of consent, the status of a primitive, pre-contractual state and the extent of equality's role compared with prevalent modern understandings.

See also:
There is little that is new under the sun, and you can hardly go wrong invoking Cicero and Aristotle (along with Livy and Plutarch) as influences on early modern thought, they were the basis for all education in that era, not to mention Sallust and Polybius. Wikipedia has a good entry on Classical Republicanism, by the way. (talk) 05:50, 30 March 2009 (UTC)
"Looking down I see that there is little new under the sun" is a myth. Oh, well, but Cicero is certainly considered by scholars a social contract thinker, and Cicero did not pretend to be original, but was a synthesizer of previous strains of thought. Nevertheless, I do think that the article is right to concentrate of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. (talk) 05:59, 30 March 2009 (UTC)

'Social Contract in Ancient and Medieval World As Opposed to the Seventeenth Century' (This was written circa the eighteen nineties):

The mediaeval world was a rational world ; indeed, as has sometimes been suggested, its defect was that it was somewhat too rational. The great schoolmen [such as St. Thomas Aquinas], especially, appear to us sometimes to have too great a confidence in the power of the human reason to analyse the complexity of human life. However this may be, the political thinkers of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries are to us intelligible and rational.

It is very different when we come to some of the political ideas of the seventeenth century ; it is difficult to say which seems to us most irrational : the absurdity of the theory of the divine right of the monarch, or the absurdity of the theory of the absolute sovereignty of the State as represented by Hobbes. It is no doubt true that we can recognise behind both these absurdities some historical conditions which serve to explain their appearance, but they do not justify them. To us these conceptions seem, and indeed they are, irrational and mischievous. The conception of the divine right of the monarch has happily, even if only in our days, disappeared, and the theory of the absolute sovereignty of the State [this was written before Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin] only lingers on among politically uneducated people or societies.--R.W. Carlyle, A History of Political Theory in the West, vol. 6, (University of Toronto Press)

Carlye maintains that throughout the Roman and Medieval periods the law (understood as combining both custom and "positive law" as well as Natural Law) was was held to be sovereign -- over Emperor and people alike -- and that the theory of the Consent of the Governed (i.e., the Social Contract) applied. An unjust law was held to be no law at all, and an unjust ruler, a tyrant, who could be deposed, though with difficulty. The theory of Absolute monarchy only began to appear in sixteenth century France. It was not ancient and not medieval, according to Carlyle. (talk) 16:52, 5 April 2009 (UTC)

Natural rights & others[edit]

Alienus, you erased again the link to natural rights, alleging that it is the contrary to social contract. This is not so. Natural rights theory is not only closely related to social contract theory, it is the same! According to Hobbes & Locke, we have natural rights in the state of nature, which we accept to transfer to the sovereign by this fictional social contract. In no way are they opposed! To continue the dialogue (we haven't been working enough on this page, but time is on our side!), I'll answer your precedent comment:

"state of nature is defined as the absence of civilization..." What you are pointing out, is not the "absence of civilization" (what does that means?), but the absence of the state (and of its monopoly on legitimate violence). This is what Hobbes conceived by his "Leviathan" artefact, which should be stated because it's another word for "state". There is no social contract without a sovereign, and this sovereign incarnates itself in the state, according to Hobbes (in popular sovereignty according to Rousseau).
"violating the contract means breaking the rules". Of course, what it could it means otherwise? Otherwise, do you really think that "violating the contract" means that it doesn't exist? Don't you think, rather, than "rules" and "law" are real and truely existant only so long as we break them? Breaking a rule is, long from destroying it, enforcing its reality, in lots of ways. "If i had done this within reach of society, i would be punished"; you mean "within reach of state": the state punishes. As a human being, i doubt you can manage to escape from society. Nazis tried to expell Jews from human being, as did Primo Levi and Robert Antelme write, and even they couldn't succeed at this impossible task.
Generality. Wikipedia suffers from a "general NPOV policy" which transforms it into an "abstract weasel encyclopedia". In other words: I've seen on many occasions introductions to articles which, arguing the holy NPOV, loose all consistency. For example, the black sites pages which used not to mention the USA in its intro, as if black sites were a general kind of stuff. But black sites are historically determined, and currently refers, of course, to the CIA prison system. Same goes here, especially in philosophy: the best way to be NPOV is not to make a general and empty definition of the social contract, which, attempting to conciliate various views, end up being an empty shell. Rather, it is to procede according to classic history of philosophy (and an encyclopedia can not wish to be more than a recipient for history of philosophy, or it would break the "no original research" rule which forms the basis of philosophy); henceforth, to start by Hobbes, then Lockes, then Rousseau, and then we can talk about the 20th century. It is as when you talk about Plato: why always talk about Plato? maybe because he defined a frame for Western thought? Well, didn't Hobbes define a frame for the social contract? Whatever your view on the Leviathan & stuff, and how Hobbes would be "outdated" (a problematic concept indeed), I assure you that the Leviathan, as a state, is very real stuff, and that Hobbes' theory is far more universal and abstract than the specific historical combination known as absolute monarchy). Santa Sangre 14:38, 15 February 2006 (UTC)
Allow me to address each of your points in turn:
  1. There is more than one formulation of social contract theory, and while there are important commonalities, there are also significant differences in the details. Some versions of SCT seek to justify the state, while others go further than that, explaining the basis of rights in terms of our implicit agreement to accept the obligations that constitute rights. We need to cover all significant variations, so we can't just stick to one side of this.
  2. In a few places where you refer to the state, I sometimes refer to society or civilization in addition. This is because the state is a very specific form of societal arrangement, and not the only one justified by SCT. For example, a simple contract might result in a society organized at the level of a band, or with a headman but no chief. Moreover, the state is just the abstraction that constitutes the head of society, not the whole of it. The point of the social contract is to create a society, not simply to create one specific version of governmental power.
  3. You're right that the text "violating the contract means breaking the rules" is a bit redundant. I'd clean it up to say "when you violate the contract by breaking the rules that oblige you to constrain your behavior", and so on. The rest of that section, I'm less in agreement. If I violate the contract, society will punish me. In a state-level society, this punishment will be meted out by the state, but that's only one way it could work. In a simpler society, I might be shunned or cast out, instead. In addition, what makes a contract meaningful is that it's enforceable and enforced. When you're out in the woods, out of reach of enforcement, the contract lapses.
  4. The history of SCT is long and complicated. While we do need a section to cover the high points, including the major contributors, we also need a brief summary of their commonalities and what the modern view looks like. A specific version, like Hobbes', is important historically but doesn't define the totality of SCT today. In fact, no version possibly could, because there's too much varation. For example, is the state of nature unpleasant or pleasant? Do we start with natural freedoms or natural rights? Does the contract require a leviathan or not? Different philosophers have answered these questions differently.
For now, I'm going to constrain my edits somewhat, adding balance but not making major changes, at least until we can come to more of an agreement. Alienus 18:55, 15 February 2006 (UTC)
Ok. Just some questions&comments:
  • what do you mean by "natural freedoms"? I mean, how do you distinguish this from natural rights?
  • if the state is an abstraction, as you say, than what is "society"??! "society will punish me": with what, except by the state? what else holds the legitimate power to punish?
  • you say social contract theory would be valid for stateless society. Who knows? But at least we may consider that it was invented in a state society, and that we still live in such a society. "State" or "sovereignty" are central concepts, and tightly linked to contractualism. Your example of being shun or cast out in state-less societies seems to me like an undue metaphorical extension of the concept of social contract, if i express myself correctly...
  • and concerning the essence of the state of nature, well basically there's the optimistic view (Rousseau) and the pessimistic one (Hobbes)... that's it... Santa Sangre 20:35, 16 February 2006 (UTC)
  1. Your natural freedoms are what you are free to do in nature. In nature, I am free to try to kill you. Alas, you are also free to try to kill me. We give up this freedom by accepting an obligation not to try to kill each other, granting us each the right to not have others try to kill us. The right of each individual under the contract comes from the obligations of all other individuals (collectively termed "society") to honor that right.
  2. Society is an abstraction referring collectively to all of the individuals bound by the implicit social contract. The state is an abstraction of a particular form of governmental organization. If society is the body, the state is its head. However, just as a society exists only in terms of the individuals who make it up, the state exists only in terms of society's commitment to create it. In a society without a state, enforcement of the terms of the contract is up to individuals acting without special authorization. For example, if I try to kill you, everyone has to stop me. What makes their use of force legitimate is the contract itself. In a state, however, we've specialized this role so that it's the job of the police to stop me, and everyone is obliged only to call the police. If I succeeded in killing you, a stateless society could cast me out, removing my rights. At that point, they could even choose to kill me, since I'd be an outsider without even the right to live.
  3. Optimism and pessimism about the state of nature are only the two extremes; there's much ground in the middle. Consider the idea that people would like to live without constant war but, lacking any way of out of the prisoners' dilemma, cannot do so without an implicit social contract. Alienus 21:46, 16 February 2006 (UTC)


Does anyone think that Kant's notion of the social contract should be illuminated here? Kevin L. 18:22, 16 February 2006 (UTC)

Kant will always be relevant! Santa Sangre 20:28, 16 February 2006 (UTC)


I was just looking to see if there was any information on T.M. Scanlon and discovered that the wikipedia page of Contractualism redirects to this page. Reading over the article, it seems like there is a major conflation of contractualism, contractarianism, and social contract going on that at least deserves it's own subheadings. Furthermore, the article, it it's all going to remain under Social Contract, might benefit from being split into a section on social contract as it refers to jurisprudence and a section on social contract as it refers to metaethics. The ideas are connected but not the same.JFQ 00:29, 29 March 2006 (UTC)

Article vague[edit]

After reading the first couple of paragraphs, I can't make out what a social contract is. An "agreement within a state regarding the rights and responsibilities of the state and its citizens" - that sounds like a normal legal system? Perhaps someone can add a couple of easy to understand examples? - sYndicate talk 16:53, 16 May 2006 (UTC)

Greeks & the Internet Encyclopedia[edit]

Someone asserted that contractualism could be already found in Plato & Epicure. This is an obvious anachronism for any student of political science, and obeys to the common myth of "nothing new under the sun". There is in fact little to do between Hobbes & Rousseau's theories & the sophist' conventionalism. Stating, as did Glaucon or Epicure, that justice is the product of social conventions is nothing close to social contract, which is based on natural law and is a theory of sovereignty. I allowed myself to relativize the statement, which is supported by a quickly-read reference to the "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy", which in no ways contradict my statement (the reference, which abusely speaks of "social contract" - demonstrating that this "Internet Encyclopedia" should in no ways be considered as a definite reference for Wikipedia -, clearly states that it was Glaucon who proposed it, that it was rejected by Plato, and that in fact it wasn't "social contract" but moral conventionalism, which is not at all the same thing). Furthermore, I removed the quote of Machiavelli, whose inclusion is difficult to understand here & should be in the least sourced with some authoritative reference. Lapaz 19:56, 27 May 2006 (UTC)


Since this page refers to the theory, not what a social contract is, shouldn't the name be either 'Social Contract Theory' or 'Contractarianism'? Spyforthemoon 20:59, 23 October 2006 (UTC)

Or "contractualism". At the very least, there should be a brief description of the differences, if any, between "social contract," "contractualism," "social contract theory," and "contractarianism." -- 00:50, 10 December 2006 (UTC)

The Sophists[edit]

Could some expert in the field add some information about the pioneers of the social contract, the sophists? Protagoras in particular. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 20:34, 6 December 2006 (UTC).

Feminist Criticisms[edit]

These could go in the section on natural rights, but it seems such a glaring omission I'm giving it its own section here. This is not my area of expertise so I won't attempt to to summarize the various feminist arguments against the way the individual has been constructed within the social contract. However I urge someone more familiar with feminist work in this area to undertake this project.--Shiny Shellac 19:30, 24 January 2007 (UTC)

State of nature & social contract[edit]

"According to Hobbes' and canonical theory, the essence is as follows: Without society, we would live in a state of nature, where we each have unlimited natural freedoms. The downside of this general autonomy is that it includes the "right to all things" and thus the freedom to harm all who threaten one's own self-preservation; there are no positive rights, only laws of nature and an endless "war of all against all" (Bellum omnium contra omnes, Hobbes 1651). To avoid this, we jointly agree to an implicit social contract by which we each gain civil rights in return for accepting the obligation to honor the rights of others, giving up some freedoms to do so."

I have a number of problems with this section.

1) it is muddled. What is meant by cannonical theory? Why are "a right to all things" and self-defense a downside? The term "positive rights" is introduced without definition etc. 2) it is incorrect in its assertion that "we gain civil rights" under social contract. Rather according to Hobbes/Locke/Rousseau we gain an improved quality of life defined as the absense of war (Hobbes), protection of property (Locke) and equality/security (Rousseau).

I think the points this section attempts to make are covered in the introduction and advocate the removal of this section.Jpat34721 01:55, 8 March 2007 (UTC)

Rousseau also agreed with Locke that the state protected property rights. This is especially explicit in his Encyclopedie article, "The Discourse on Economy." Canon and Medieval law were essentially the same thing, I believe, no? The definition of "Positive law" is man-made law (or, legislated as opposed to Natural law --i.e., found all over in all human societies) and not passed down by custom or part of common law. I agree that positive law should be referred to here. (talk) 19:21, 5 April 2009 (UTC)
Correction -- according to Wikipedia canon law refers to the internal laws of the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and possibly some other churches. (talk) 19:48, 5 April 2009 (UTC)
Also, it is inconceivable that canon law and Hobbes would share the same theory. Hobbes was an atheist. (talk) 19:51, 5 April 2009 (UTC)

Article's title[edit]

The title of this article should be "Contractarianism," not "Social contract," because the subject of the article is not the social contract itself (i.e., the actual agreement by which individuals subordinate themselves to a social order in order to enhance their freedom) but rather the theory of such a contract (i.e., the set of reasoning that gives cogency to the concept of a social contract). If nobody objects, I will change the article's title accordingly. -- WGee 04:33, 11 March 2007 (UTC)

Also, if it is of any interest to anyone, this article's counterpart in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy uses the title "Contractarianism" [3]. Like this article, it discusses a theory rather than a fact of life. -- WGee 04:39, 11 March 2007 (UTC)
How about "Social Contract Theory"? - 20:30, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

Criticisms of natural right[edit]

"Contractualism is based on a philosophy of rights being agreed to in order to further our interests, which is a form of individualism: each individual subject is accorded individual rights, which may or may not be inalienable, and form the basis of civil rights, as in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. It must be underlined, however, as Hannah Arendt did on her book on imperialism, that the 1789 Declarations, in this agreeing with the social contract theory, bases the natural rights of the human-being on the civil rights of the citizen, instead of doing the reverse as the contractualist theory pretends to do.[12] However, this individualist and liberal approach has been criticized since the 19th century by thinkers such as Marx, Nietzsche or Freud, and afterward by structuralist and post-structuralist thinkers, such as Lacan, Althusser, Foucault, Deleuze or Derrida. Several of those philosophers have attempted, in a spinozist inspiration, of thinking some sort of transindividuality which would precede the division between individual subject and collective subject (i.e. society)."

huh? - 20:30, 6 August 2007 (UTC)

I thought I was the only one, but I second the "huh?" Also, I saw on the wiki article about Benjamin Tucker that Natural Law theorists attack the social contract theory. I would like a serious, but readable, discussion of these issues, particularly from the anarchist perspective. Until then, I be confused. (talk) 07:27, 21 January 2008 (UTC)

Writing Style[edit]

The writing style of the overview seems to be taken straight from someone's essay and given headers. I'm not sure if this sort of tone is frowned upon in Wikipedia, as I'm a fairly new contributor, but I thought I'd point it out and see what more experienced editors have to think. Vendretta 16:24, 20 September 2007 (UTC)

Locke must have his own section![edit]

Locke must have his own section! And Hobbes should be expanded. The other ones are interesting and should be kept but the above should receive far larger mention —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:21, 25 December 2007 (UTC)

Hello —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:08, 2 March 2008 (UTC)

"give up some rights to a government"[edit]

Shouldn't that be "give up some rights to society"? — Omegatron 00:33, 21 March 2008 (UTC)


No more cat.!!! Vandalism? -- (talk) 16:02, 26 September 2008 (UTC)

Tacit Consent Section[edit]

The answer to Long's argument does not mention any references and appears to be original research. Claims such as "This is actually the theory of law for real property in every country." are very general and not verifiable unless supported by references.
Also, the answer does not appear to be logically sound. The passage "The true owner is the sovereign, or supreme lawmaking authority, because it can make and enforce laws that restrict what one can do on one's estate." uses an element of legislation created by one such authority. The problem here is that Long is questioning the legitimacy of exactly that authority, and therefore questioning the legitimacy of any legislation created by the said authority. In other words, the answer is making the very same assumption Long is talking about in the first sentence: "I think that the person who makes this argument is already assuming that the government has some legitimate jurisdiction over this territory."
For the moment I will be adding the "No references" category to this section. If the answer is not better supported by the end of the month I will be deleting it.

Zack (talk) 07:14, 12 October 2008 (UTC)

A dedicated section for Consent[edit]

Consent is broken into explicit, tacit and hypothetical consent. Hypothetical consent is difficult to get your head round and so would be welcome. Even though explicit consent is impractical it is still a type of consent and can be used as a criticism of SCT all together. Is anybody opposed to expanding the tacit consent to consent generally then breaking it down into the three different types? El.numbre (talk) 12:24, 26 October 2008 (UTC)hmjnjjdfngjkhthtmjnhjnjnhjnhjntbvjn vxmmmmmmmmmxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx,mvx2602:306:CFC4:8430:A0D3:BEC0:8414:1180 (talk) 23:59, 25 August 2015 (UTC)

John Locke; More than a man[edit]

Yes, there should be a Locke section, and then this could be incorporated as a point of interest into it, and also more uses of the social contract in daily lives can be added. However as long as there is no John Locke section, it should remain it's own point. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:51, 10 December 2008 (UTC)

Chopped some stuff out[edit]

I chopped out a few sections of the page that weren't helping things. But, in overall terms, this page is a mess anyway, badly written and full of fairly profound confusions about the central issues. I'd do more, but it's too exhausting to think about, mostly... —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 08:32, 26 February 2009 (UTC)

Also edited a bunch of sections, in a somewhat piecemeal fashion. It might be cleaner just to start over with this article, though. On the other hand, at least students won't copy from it for their essays! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:17, 26 February 2009 (UTC)

A section really needs to be added on the notion of tacit consent (presumably in the Locke section), but I'm not likely to get a chance to do it soon. Anybody want to take a shot at it, in a way that's clear and concise? (talk) 16:42, 26 February 2009 (UTC)

Nice article[edit]

I like this article.

There is another form of philosophy of the polis that does not make explicit mention of any contract. Instead, it uses the "myth" of a god that takes the interests of the citizenry as his own interests, or, in other words, a god who is a kind of corporate expression of the general will and welfare of the people.

Like social contract theories described in this article, it views the sovereign as an agent of the will or generalized desire for the welfare of the people. It sees the general citizenry of the country as enthusiastically buying into an arrangement in which the general welfare of all is protected.

It takes a less "rational" view than some of the European theories when accounting for willingness to give up on selfish interests, since it claims that humans are by nature gregarious and find intrinsic rewards in acts that in general support the unity and the continuity of the community.

This philosophy, Confucian (and more specifically Mencian) philosophy, found its way to Europe at the same time that social contract philosophies were being developed in Europe.

Where would an article on this group best fit in? P0M (talk) 00:42, 14 March 2009 (UTC)

Good question as to where this kind of information would fit in. I assume, from what you've described above, that you have in mind the notion of the "mandate of heaven", or is this something different? (I seem to recall a bit more overt social contract view in either Mozi or Xunzi, but it's been a while.) My sense is that, if there's something explicit that can be quoted, a paragraph in here right after that on ancient India might be helpful. I thought about adding one myself, because it helps to show that contract-like notions emerged multiple times, but don't really know the Chinese sources well enough to do so.

And, thanks for saying that it's a good article. I did most of the recent editing down, and I think it could still use some pretty radical changes - I teach this stuff, so it's a professional interest - but it's at leas somewhat coherent these days! (talk) 14:56, 15 March 2009 (UTC)


People who venture to write these articles would benefit from reading general popular histories. The following is a quotation from Will and Ariel Durant's The Age of Reason Begins: A History of European Civilization in the Period of Shakespeare, Bacon, Montaigne, Rembrandt, Galileo, and Descartes: 1558-1648(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961 ISBN 0671013203, 9780671013202), which may be considered the wikipeida of the past.

Note: The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew is the black hole in people's general historical knowledge (even those who "teach" the social contract) because of our ongoing refusal (even after 500 years!) to come to terms with that event (without which The United States of America probably wouldn't have been founded). See the polemics on the discussion page about that!

[Seven years after the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew of 1572, in] 1759, an unidentified author, perhaps Philippe du Plessis Mornay, one of [Henry of] Navarre’s councilors [and a survivor of the massacre] sent out from Basel a stirring pronunciamento entitled Vindiciae contra tyrannos (A Vindication [of public rights] against Tyrants). It was written in Latin, but was soon translated into vernaculars. Its influence lasted for a century; it was used by the Huguenots in France, by the Dutch against Philip II of Spain’’, by the Puritans against Charles I, by the Whigs to justify the dethroning of James II. The old story of an implicit “social contract” between a nation and its ruler here took definite form; we shall see it again in Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. Government is first of all a covenant between God, the people, and the king to uphold and obey the “true religion” – in this case Protestantism; any king failing to do this may be deposed. Secondly, government is a pact between king and people: the one to rule justly, the other to obey peaceably. King and people alike are subject to natural law – that is, a law of reason and natural justice comformable to the divine moral code and superior to all “positive” (manmade) law. The function of the king is to maintain the law, positive, natural, and divine; he is the instrument, not the dictator of the law. “Subjects . . . , considered in a body, ought to be esteemed absolute rulers and owners of the kingdom.” But who shall determine whether the king is a tyrant? Not the people as a multitude, “that monster with countless heads”; rather, let the magistrates decide, or some such assembly as the States-General of France. It would not do for each private individual to follow his own conscience; he would mistake his desires for his conscience, and chaos would ensue; but if the magistrate summons him to armed rebellion he must obey the call. If however, the tyrant is a usurper, he may justly be killed by anyone. --Will and Ariel Durant, Age of Reason, p. 359. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Mballen (talkcontribs) 18:55, 3 April 2009 (UTC)

As a source document of the Social Contract the Vindiciae contra tyrannos is so far from being controversial that it is one of the documents on the Website, as one of the sources of the U.S. constitution.Mballen (talk) 19:12, 3 April 2009 (UTC)

Re the benefits of reading basic histories - well, fair enough, but it depends on how one wants to outline the story of the social contract. If wikipedia is intended to serve as a basic introductory level source for these sorts of things, it seems best to hit upon the ideas of the social contract that have had the most resonance afterward, and that have been most discussed. Historians and others will have lots of specific accounts of where the ideas come from, but generally those accounts aren't necessary for giving a basic overview. I'm the one who wrote above that I teach the social contract (and indeed I resent your scare quotes a bit), and it's a freshman-level approach to the information that's seemed appropriate to me here. That said, the article is still pretty awful - it's current state is a pastiche of two hours cutting-and-pasting of what was already there, and so on - so please do make improvements where possible and helpful. (talk) 02:25, 6 April 2009 (UTC)
Thanks. I guess I am a bit taken aback by the decline of general knowledge, even among experts. In my father's generation everyone used to read Will Durant, to the point where he was looked down on as a popularizer. For the present I am going to collect information and leave it here. I am no expert, just an inveterate reader (of more or less basic histories, among other things) and I remember on numerous occasions reading that the idea of the social contract is found in Cicero (de Inventione), was common throughout antiquity and the middle ages, and was revived by the Italian humanists and revived again by the so-called "monarchomachs" -- or Huguenot pamphleteers after the massacre of Saint Bartholomew in 1572. I think the same information is found in Quentin Skinner, a very esteemed modern political historian at Cambridge University (although quoted in a weird way here). Social contract theories, because they entail the consent of the governed, are used to justify the legitimacy of political authority and they bring up the problem of how to get rid of a tyrant. Although Cicero was a lawyer, and all lawyers used to be educated by reading him (including my great grandfather, who was a judge, and used to quote him all the time), I don't think they have very much to do with the development of contract law. Cicero, as a lawyer, was the chief proponent of the use of persuasion [4] as a tool of governance.
Throughout the middle ages many European towns were nominally ruled by Bishops, but actually ruled by a variety of citizen councils and other groups of "notables"[5]. With the consolidation of nation states in the Sixteenth century, the councils began losing their power, and this led to a revival of interest in Social Contract theories, among Catholic thinkers as well as the most radical Huguenots. This is my impression.Mballen (talk) 18:47, 6 April 2009 (UTC)
I would also say that the Social Contract theories of Hobbes Locke and Rousseau won wide readership because they resonated with familiar ideas and thus were an example of cultural continuity along with novelty. The editor of my edition of Rousseau's Social Contract mentions that Rousseau considered using another title, such as "Civil life" (I forget the exact term), because Social Contract was by then a sort of worn out old-fashioned term. Note though that Rousseau recapitulates Cicero in positing an eloquent and wise lawgiver to persuade people to get them to agree to give up their wild ways outside civil society. And Seneca says, in the same context, that we must all bow and be ruled by Sapientia (Wisdom), just as Rousseau's Emile will be ruled (without his knowing it) by his Sophie (which means Wisdom, i.e., the wisdom of Nature). She will rule him and his household, though he will be unaware of it, because she too has had an upbringing "according to nature" (that is, according to her nature as a female, as Rousseau saw it). Jacques Barzun thinks that Tom Jones's Sophie in Fielding's novel is modeled on the Sophie of Emile. (talk) 20:44, 6 April 2009 (UTC)
But this couldn't be because Tom Jones (1749) predates Emile (1762). —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:52, 6 April 2009 (UTC)

Renaissance developments[edit]

Quentin Skinner has argued that several critical modern innovations in

contract theory are found in the writings from French Calvinists and Huguenots, whose work in turn was invoked by writers in the Low Countries who objected to their subjection to Spain and, later still, by Catholics in England.[2] Among these, Francisco Suárez (1548-1617), from the School of Salamanca, might be considered as an early theorist of the social contract, theorizing natural law in an attempt to limit the divine right of absolute monarchy. All of these groups were led to articulate notions of popular sovereignty by means of a social covenant or contract: all of these arguments began with proto-“state of nature” arguments, to the effect that the basis of politics is that everyone is by nature free of subjection to any government.

However, these arguments relied on a corporatist theory found in Roman Law, according to which "a populus" can exist as a distinct legal entity. Therefore these arguments held that a community of people can join a government because they have the capacity to exercise a single will and make decisions with a single voice in the absence of sovereign authority — a notion rejected by Hobbes and later contract theorists.

This section seems unclear. The paragraph suggests that Quentin Skinner was the first to observe that the Huguenot treatises were the the most important instances of social contract theory in modern historical times, whereas this is settled historical knowledge agreed on by consensus (see Will Durant, below), and by no means unique to Quentin Skinner. The paragraph does not reflect that fact. The treatises (or at least the most influential one, the Vindiciae contra tyrannos, and its supposed author, Philippe de Mornay, ought to be named).

It is true also that idea of consent of the governed was invoked by Suarez as well during this period. I gather that the reason they were invoking the Social Contract theory at this point is because of a totally new idea that had come on the historical horizon in the sixteenth century -- namely the consolidated nation state and along with it the theory of absolute monarchy, dreamed up in France (by French humanists?), which threatened the traditional power of the various advisory groups (such as parliaments of Nobles and other nobles) whose consent had hitherto been needed for taxation in Catholic countries as well as Protestant. Sixteenth century State of Nature arguments were not "proto" but had been used in Roman (stoic and legal) and Patristic writings for millennia. Also, the sentence about a "corporatist theory found in Roman law" appears unnecessarily technical, in that it refers specifically to Skinner. Other writers don't use it. In fact I think it would improve the article if Skinner and his ideas were relegated to the footnotes. (talk) 00:59, 6 April 2009 (UTC)

I now find that the paragraph quoted above, including the heading, are taken verbatim from this website Don't think this meets the wikipedia standard of an "authoritative source" -- suggest it be redone. (talk) 02:19, 6 April 2009 (UTC)

Agreed re the Skinner section, although I suppose one could argue that Skinner deserves to be named because he's a pivotal figure for the Cambridge School of political thought folks. But, yeah, it's not a great section. Cutting it entirely would in some ways be easier, but having some section giving a rough sense of what the pre-Hobbesian thinking looked like seems helpful. Please do revise it if you have the chance, however! (talk) 02:33, 6 April 2009 (UTC)
In his book Visions of Politics (Cambridge University Press 2002), page 54, Quentin Skinner quotes "the Stoic and anti-Aristotelian" writings of Cicero and Seneca about the Social Contract:

There was a time when men wandered in the fields in the manner of wild beasts. They conducted their affairs without the least guidance of reason but relied largely on bodily strength. There was no divine religion and the understanding of social duty was in no way cultivated. No one recognized the value inherent in an equitable code of law.--Cicero, De Inventione

Skinner states that Cicero theorized that "some great and wise man" ("quidam magnus videlicet vir et sapiens"), a lawgiver must have used his eloquentia and sapientia to persuade men to “keep faith, follow the rules of justice and work for the common good", since they would not have abandoned their ways voluntarily.
Skinner states that Seneca wrote: "Sapientia ought to act as our mistress and ruler. Sapientia being, “wisdom which disposes us to peace and calls mankind to concord."
Renaissance Humanists, most of whom were lawyers and many of whom were chancellors of their cities, use exactly the same language in writing about civic government.
The Stoics were anti-Aristotelian because they believed in the equality of man, even slaves. This in contrast to Aristotle who believed that some men were born to rule and others born to be slaves, implying a sort of caste system. Carlyle, the political historian (not Thomas Carlyle the essayist) quoted above, says that after the spread of Hellenism throughout the Western world it became impossible to maintain inequality as Aristotle had done. (The main stoic philosopher, Epictetus was a Greek of course --- and was probably born a slave). Stoicism, which was mono-theistic, was predominant among the Roman upper classes, including the Emperors (according to the Wiki article). The Christian fathers adopted it into Christianity, with which it was largely compatible. There was a big revival of Stoicism, incidentally, in Catholic countries at the beginning of the Seventeenth Century.Mballen (talk) 02:53, 7 April 2009 (UTC)
I've thought about integrating the part you mention above from Cicero, but have worried that it doesn't precisely constitute a "social contract" in the relevant sense. That is, in my reading Cicero is arguing that rhetoric can lead people in a direction they would not otherwise go, which seems inconsistent with the (purported) voluntarism associated with the idea of the social contract. On this standard, of course, one might suggest that Rousseau doesn't fit either, given his quasi-Senecan conception of the Lawgiver, but since he believes that assent of the governed is necessary once things are up and running, perhaps that puts him in a different category. Any thoughts on this regard? If it seems appropriate, maybe I'll re-add the Cicero part to the "ancient views" section, and also put in something from Chinese tradition (Mozi, I think). (talk) 21:08, 8 April 2009 (UTC)
Reading more, the disputed paragraph seems to make more sense to me than it did at first. The book everyone refers to about the history of the social contract before Hobbes is J.W. Gouch, The Social Contract: A Critical Study of its Development, which seems to have gone through multiple editions (last one in 1963?-- Oxford). I am sure he would be the place to look in about Cicero, but it is now a rather rare book. It is Cicero who assumed there was a lawgiver, according to Skinner, though Seneca may have also. (They would have been thinking of Numa and Lycurgus.) I gather that leading by persuasion is contrasted compelling assent by force, even though one can use deceit in persuasion. But persuasion as Cicero means it doubtless implies appealing to people's capacity for reason. When one uses one's reason one assents freely. This free assent by the use of reason is precisely the heart of what Rousseau means by the Social Contract. In any case, compared to Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, these earlier ones were implied social contracts. But they do propose consent of the governed. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a paragraph about Spinoza's Social Contract and his democratic tendencies. But as he is after Hobbes, he can't be considered a precursor, obviously. (In Spinoza the contract is called a covenant and the leader is Moses.) The Stanford Encyclopedia also has an article about Rawles' modern revival of Social Contract theory. This should be referred to somewhere on this page, I guess, if it isn't already.Mballen (talk) 19:18, 9 April 2009 (UTC)

Skinner states that Cicero theorized that "some great and wise man" ("quidam magnus videlicet vir et sapiens"), a lawgiver, must have used his eloquentia and sapientia to persuade men to “keep faith, follow the rules of justice and work for the common good", since they would not have abandoned their ways voluntarily.

It is unfortunate that in paraphrasing Skinner, I used the word "voluntarily" -- I should have said "since they would not have abandoned their ways, if left to their own devices" -- that is, they were attached to their old ways until they were persuaded by the rational arguments of the Lawgiver to voluntarily to agree to give them up and institute a just government. Mballen (talk) 04:41, 10 April 2009 (UTC)
I have procured the Gough book and from a quick skim of it, I gather that Herbert Spenser and T.H. Huxley's versions of the social contract ought to be included in the history of the develpment of the Social Contract (before Rawls).
As far as the theory before Rousseau, Gough states that implied Social Contracts of governmental legitimacy were the norm in antiquity. The practice of Germanic barbarian tribes such as the Burgundians when electing a king would be to present the candidate with a "covenant" in which they promised to obey as long as the king ruled justly and accepted the advice and consent from the wise men of the court. The Magna Carta was an offshoot of this type of practice. The is was not a "theory of origins" so much as a continuing custom. The Barbarians did not have positive written laws. Gough maintains that the Barbarians (who were Christian) derived this custom from the numerous examples in the Bible, which he cites.
Roman law also embodied an implied Social Contract, via the Stoics. Roman law held that the Emperor's word was law, but that his power derived from the consent of the people. Roman law also postulated a State of Nature (for some a "Golden Age", for others a solitary and brutish one) under which all men had and equal rights. That all men are equal was a Roman precept as was the concept of individual rights. St. Augustine took his theory of government almost word for word from Cicero and even uses the term "pact", which is not exactly the same, but which "lies along side" and is compatible with, the concept of the legal contract as it was developed in Roman law. But where Cicero had said that the king's role was to introduce a just government and provide for the happiness of the people, Augustine omitted the notion of just government. For him, government was a divine remedy (or punishment) for man's sinfulness.
The word "pact" was used extensively by medieval writers on government, including Thomas Aquinas, who also emphasized the Aristotelian view that man is a political (civil) animal and that to live outside of society was to be a beast and not a man. Medieval writers also held that people were naturally social and had a duty to help their fellow man. This was the will of God, acting through Nature.
The impetus for modern Social Contract theory originates in the Protestant Reformation. Renaissance and sixteenth century political theorists sidestep Medieval writings and go straight back to classical and Biblical sources. It is they who are preoccupied with origins, for they seek to rebuild the Social Contract from the ground up. The problem, for Reformation thinkers was: where does the authority of the magistrate come from and does the state have the right to enforce one religion over a minority on pain of death? Both Catholic and Protestants tended to be monarchist and neither were at first interested in human rights or toleration. Both tended to push their theories to the limit, alternately making use of the same arguments.
I think myself, there is room for a wikipedia article on the topic of the Social Contract before Rousseau.
As for Herbert Spencer and T. H. Huxley, according to Gough, they originated the reductive, "police state" theory of the Social Contract, in which the government is seen as solely responsible for protecting property and maintaining an army. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Mballen (talkcontribs) 19:08, 18 April 2009 (UTC)

Section on India[edit]

Virtually every ancient culture has writings to this effect, I'm wondering why India gets singled out here. Further, some preliterate cultures have oral traditions with the same kinds of maxims. Surely we don't want to go into all that on this page. I think this section should go (although it could go into a separate article on philosophy in the Rig Veda), or else, more anthropological and classical citations should be added, for balance.--Levalley (talk) 19:06, 22 April 2009 (UTC)

Who stated the cited portion of this section? There needs to be clarification on what is being discussed by whom. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:29, 26 January 2010 (UTC)

Social Contract[edit]

Social Contract was something different, an agreement among a whole society that it would be governed by the general will. Individuals who wanted their own self-interests must be forced to abide by the general will. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:19, 22 July 2009 (UTC)

A Social Contract is a philosophical concept that attempts to establish legitimacy for the vesting of putative authority in a governing body over the life of the individual in a society. It is not an actual agreement between any one individual and the governing body. It bears no philosophical or logical difference from the parallel argument for the authority arrogated by Monarchs under the "Divine Right of Kings" that Locke used logic to refute (i.e.; broken inheritance chains, coups, revolutions, etc., where force and not divinity created ascendency to thrones--all were logical proofs that no current reigning monarchy can trace its authority in an unbroken chain back to God). The purist and shortest unbroken logical chain of authority between divine authority and any particular government is the one proposed by Locke. God--->Individual(s)--->Governing body. And, since, unlike the despotic Hobbesian model, that logical chain carries with it the concept that the individuals, collectively, can change their governing authority when it proves to be incompetent or injurious, Locke's model was far more appealing to the founders of the U.S. who were fed up with despotism. So the most important aspect of a social contract is the ability for the governed to periodically renegotiate it and/or replace the governing authority. The problem that I see with some of the discussion here is the failure to recognize that any acceptance of government-short of anarchy-falls under some definition of a social contract, whether it be Hobbesian, Platonic, Lockian, or Utopian. In terms of comparing the different contractual forms, America's founders chose a form much closer to Locke's than Plato's or Hobbes's with the intent to prevent it from deteriorating into a Hobbesian or Utopian (Plato and Moore) tyranny in which the individual liberties would ultimately be minutely circumscribed by a totalitarian authority. This was a first and inspired both admiration and surprise in Tocqueville, whose analysis of American society and politics is very instructive in what makes the American form of social contract unique.KingStork (talk) 00:39, 21 June 2014 (UTC)

Which declaration of independence?[edit]

The last line of the introduction begins "The Social Contract was used in the Declaration of Independence as a sign of enforcing Democracy", but which declaration does it refer to? There have been many ( and while I would think it refers to the American declaration without a reference one can't be sure. If this is the case then regrettably it seems as if some editors are under the impression that only Americans read the English-language version of Wikipedia! Hasfg (talk) 23:15, 13 March 2010 (UTC)

There is no Internet outside of the United States, so it doesn't matter. (talk) 03:17, 30 December 2012 (UTC)

Recent revisions in regard to Rousseau[edit]

I've recently made some revisions to this still-awful page to reverse some misunderstandings in regard to Rousseau. It's clear that whoever the author of those sections was did not like Rousseau, but also that the author didn't really understand Rousseau very well. The section stated that the Legislator enforced his will on the citizens, which is multiply mistaken. Rather, the Legislator used *deception* to "remake" the citizens into new kinds of people. Still nasty, but not any sort of force, unless we want to change the meaning of that word. The previous author also seemed to believe that Legislator was a permanent position in Rousseau's state, when in fact the Legislator is intended as a founder and nothing else. Roughly, this is based on Rousseau's understanding of the role of Calvin in his own native Geneva. (I know, that's a contentious claim if you're a professional, but I hope it's clear enough for non-professionals.) The Legislator is a bizarre idea, a sort of superman with almost impossible powers, but nonetheless someone who establishes the fundamental laws and customs for the society and then leaves, dies, or remains as a non-citizen and non-participant afterward.

I understand the instinct of the previous author, who I assume was probably an undergraduate newly exposed to Rousseau, or someone who remembered reading Rousseau some years back. In any case, the previous version of this section wouldn't pass basic muster in any college course in America or anywhere else. The previous author seemed concerned to defend the honor of John Locke, which is a task I can respect. However, Locke is best defended through accuracy, rather than through confusion. (talk) 05:04, 3 May 2011 (UTC)

Me again. I actually ended up making a bunch of changes to the introductory material, and to a few other spots throughout. I hope this doesn't turn into an ideological hack job again. Much as I like Locke, it pains me to see him defended by shoddy means... —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:08, 3 May 2011 (UTC)
Although the above comment is a year old, I just want to clarify for future that Rousseau did not invent the figure of the Legislator -- "Lawgiver" would be a better translation. This was a stock way of talking about what we would call a "founding father" for over 2,000 years. The figure of the Legislator appears in Cicero, which is probably where Rousseau got it, but was old when Cicero wrote. Solon was understood to be the Lawgiver of Athens, Numa of Rome, and Moses of the Hebrews. Needless to say, it is not that the Lawgiver uses "deception" to shape the behavior of the citizens, i.e., to "force" them to be virtuous, it is the Law (or legal system) that guides them better behavior. It is strange that people today have become so unfamiliar with concepts that are the basic foundation of our civilization and until recently were widely known to all educated people. Mballen (talk) 13:50, 11 April 2012 (UTC)
Re the above, since it was in response to what I'd written earlier and (more importantly) it's relevant for any future edits. It is in fact the case that that the Legislator uses deception in Rousseau's account, even if other lawgivers used force, wisdom, or something else. Consult paragraphs 10-12 of Book 2, Chapter 7, for evidence on that score. "It is this sublime reason, which transcends the grasp of ordinary men, whose decisions the legislator put in the mouth of the immortals in order to compel by divine authority those whom human prudence could not move." Then see his footnote to Machiavelli in the same context. So, yes, it is strange that people don't know much about the character of Lawgivers, but also inappropriate to hold court on this when lacking familiarity with the specific text. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:46, 10 June 2013 (UTC)

Du contra(c)t[edit]

I see by its article that Rousseau The Social Contract was published both with the archaic spelling contract and with the modern French spelling contrat. Has the MOS anything relevant to say about choosing between them? Do new French editions use the old spelling? —Tamfang (talk) 19:08, 4 November 2011 (UTC)

Taxation and religion[edit]

What do the various historical religions say about Taxation?

What of Islam, and the rest? CaribDigita (talk) 00:43, 1 January 2012 (UTC)

Claiming that sociobiology confirms the insights of Hobbes is a gross error[edit]

E. O. Wilson[edit]

POV. don't think sociobiology needs to be mentioned here. This is article about a concept in political science. Claiming that sociobiology confirms the insights of Hobbes is a gross error and is doubly absurd given that E. O. Wilson, founder of Socio-biology, who is cited in the opening paragraph as having confirmed the theories of Hobbes, has recently completely recanted and now disowns his former views precisely because ideologues used them to make claims like these.Mballen (talk) 14:46, 11 April 2012 (UTC)

Correct. Anyway Sociobiology doesn't confirm Hobbes view it just asssumes it.·ʍaunus·snunɐw· 17:21, 11 April 2012 (UTC)
Contracts require assent, either overt or implicit. Obviously genes and lower animals do not consent, they just act out of instinct. I am going to remove it. Also, I advise anyone wanting to work on this page to do some homework and at least listen to the BBC In Our Time podcast on the Social Contract. The vocabulary of the contract goes back to the Greeks and Romans, and through them to Cicero, St. Augustine and Roman Law, in the form of words like "pactum" and "societas" (a group of individuals) and universitas (an artificial person or corporation) , and also the Bible: covenant. But the full- fledged social contract theories begin to flourish in the sixteenth and especially the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They arise in opposition to (or support of) the rise of absolutist government. Social Contract theory goes into abeyance in the nineteenth century and is revived in diluted form as a hypothetical construct by Rawls, or so I gather from miscellaneous readings. Hobbes writes with the express purpose of contesting Aristotle's dictum that man is a political animal. Aristotle had been the moral authority all through the middle ages. Mballen (talk) 18:20, 20 April 2012 (UTC)


As someone said above, Epicurus does not belong here. Rather, Aristotle, the Stoics, Cicero, and St. Augustine are missing and ought to be mentioned. As for the section on Plato (which concerns an implicit or tacit social contract), it is very vague and unclear and needs to be sharpened. For the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas should be noted, as his views influenced Locke (via Hooker). Then then there should be a little section mentioning pre-seventeenth century, Renaissance and Reformation developments: Suarez and the Monarchomarchs (Hotman, Beza, and Mornay) would go here; and finally the anglican thinker Hooker, who influenced Locke (who through him went back to Aristotle and Aquinas, according to some). Questions the social contract attempt to address, such as what makes a government legitimate, have never been answered, IMO, but that is just my opinion. Mballen (talk) 10:25, 21 April 2012 (UTC)

Biblical idea of the covenant[edit]

Within the introduction, second paragraph, I removed the statement "as well as in the Biblical idea of the covenant" because: (1) it contradicts an earlier statement in the introduction - "Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights." which excludes any association or reference to God; and (2) the link to Biblical idea of the covenant, as well as the other links within the article on biblical covenant, say nothing about a social contract and instead discuss a contract between humans and God. PeterEdits (talk) 16:23, 18 August 2015 (UTC)

OR tagging[edit]

Please point this out so it can be addressed. Lycurgus (talk) 05:07, 29 October 2015 (UTC)