Compare and Contrast 3 Philosophical Works Term Paper

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Social Contract

Jean Jacques Rousseau's work 'Social Contract' occupies a very significant place in the political discourse of 19th century France. It did not present something very new or different than previously held beliefs but definitely encompassed some original concepts including the idea of general will and the elusive lawgiver. Rousseau's rejection of Social Contract was grounded in the premise that by contracting with a man or assembly of men, individuals are forced to part with some of their natural liberty. In other words while he knew that freedom was compromised to an extent with social contracts were entered into, but he maintained that the relinquished freedom should be social freedom and not natural freedom. Those who argue that Rousseau was against social contract theory miss a crucial point: Rousseau rejected the social contract theory as it existed in his time and tried to reform it in a manner that could ensure natural freedom of everyone. In his own words, the argument was based on the idea that: "What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and the absolute right to anything that tempts him and that he can take: what he gains by the social contract is civil liberty and the legal right of property in what he possesses." (p. 65)Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Compare and Contrast 3 Philosophical Works Assignment

Rousseau opposed the idea of a sovereignty based on paternal lineage or dictatorship rather he called for a system quite similar to a democracy where people would choose a person or assembly of men and give up some of their social freedom in favor of complete natural liberty. During his days, French monarchs were considered the absolute power exercising complete sovereignty as Nannerl Keohane wrote in 'Frenchmen who welcomed consolidation of power in the monarchy were...not unconcerned with the securities and liberties of subjects. They believed that concentrated power provides more effective protection for all the members of a community than divided power'. For Rousseau it was unacceptable to allow someone to rule the public without their consent and thus monarchy was not an option since in those days, 'The king embodied the public aspect of the State as against the private character of his subjects'. 3 the essential premise on which Rousseau based his theory was that man must be allowed to function in a system of society that protects his natural freedom and works for the common or greater good of the community. This originated from his argument that: "Since no man has a natural authority over his fellow-man, and since force produces no right, conventions remain as the basis of all legitimate authority among men" (SC, p. 44).

Thus Rousseau was essentially a democratic supporter who believed in allowing the public to choose the person who would implement laws but the system should be one that would work on the principle of general will. This is a very contentious and rather perplexing concept. General will, according to Rousseau, is the will of those involved in a social contract and one that seeks to procure the greater good. In other words, Rousseau maintained that when people enter a social contract, they do so to maintain a social order. But while this order must not hurt their natural liberty, it must also aim at greater good through collective consent. This collective consent or general will is "the commitments which bind us to the social body are obligatory only because they are mutual, and their nature is such that in fulfilling them one cannot work for others without also working for oneself" (SC, p. 61).

However since every man may not possess the ability to understand what is in the best interest of those involved, we need a lawgiver or a sovereign power. Rousseau argues that general will in itself is free of vested interests as he writes: "The general will is always upright, but the judgment which guides it is not always enlightened. It must be made to see objects as they are, sometimes as they should appear to be, shown the good path which it is seeking" (SC, p. 68). The guidance required is thus provided by the lawgiver or that sovereign power which people choose. Critics are divided on the subject of Rousseau's lawgiver. Was he referring to God when he described the characteristics of the lawgiver? Critics wonder. Since his lawgiver seems to possess no worldly vices or attributes:

To discover the best rules of society suited to each Nation would require a superior intelligence who saw all of man's passions and experienced none of them, who had no relation to our nature yet knew it thoroughly, whose happiness was independent of us and who was nevertheless willing to care for ours; finally, one who, preparing his distant glory in the progress of times, could work in one century and enjoy the reward in another. It would require gods to give men laws (SC, p. 68).

Rousseau had not been the only one to present his views on social contract, John Rawls had also been a significant influence on theory of social contract- though his work came under serious criticism. His theory of social contract was found in the book called Theory of Justice, which invited a barrage of criticism when it first came out in 1971. These attacks were aimed at the contractual reasoning of Rawls on which he based his hypothetical social contract theory. Rawls maintained that though there are many rules and laws present in the society, the basic question is: why would anyone want to follow those laws unless there is some social contract that everyone agrees on. To explain this theory, he developed the idea of original position whereby all men and women in a society would be put behind "veil of ignorance" in order to develop the most fair and just contract. He felt that if people were denied "all knowledge about everything that makes them who they are: wealth, age, talents, race, religion, skill, sex and any conception of the good life, [they] would choose a low-risk strategy in which liberties and the highest minimum levels of wealth, opportunity and power are promoted even at the expense of lowering average levels of one or another." (UPI, 2001)

For example, it is absolutely impossible for people to think as if they were behind a wall of ignorance. In other words to deny people knowledge of such characteristics as sex, race, religion would be like taking away the basic ingredients of their 'being'. Without these traits, they would no longer be their real selves and hence would stop being normal human beings. Instead they would be in a vegetative state where they would be unable to think or ponder the important issues concerning well being of others. Then, how can we expect such individuals to be able to discuss important clauses of a hypothetical social contract or contribute towards the development of such an agreement?

However idealistically speaking, we can say that such a contract might prove useful for maintenance of peace because indeed much of the trouble in this world is grounded in differences of race, gender and religion. Violence and discrimination would then be minimized since everybody would be compromising their selfish motives for the general good of the society. But such a contract doesn't ensure justice in the society because lack of competition and a chance to improve one's social conditions might result in even more violence, frustration and disruption. The economist agrees saying, "it [social contract] hardly offers a conceptual yardstick for evaluating the presence or absence of justice in a society. And it is peculiar, and a bit disappointing, to watch one of the high priests of liberalism striving to construct a theory which would insulate non-liberal societies against liberal critics at a time when the idea of universal human rights, and of rules of international law based upon them, are becoming more widespread than ever before." (the Economist, 2000)

John Locke has been another influential name in this regard. His theory of social contract was based mostly on the concepts of freedom, property rights and an ideal government. Locke urged to frame up constitution or other legislative framework for the protection and safety of property. According to Locke, for the proper accumulation of property and its preservation the most appropriate thing that a government can do is to make laws. Locke emphasized that Government or Monarch should play its part for the preservation of property but he also pointed out that the Government should not act in an overwhelming manner. He implied that the government should function to moderate the conflict between the unlimited accumulation of property and a more nearly equal distribution of wealth. According to lock a legitimate government can be formed if it takes care of the inalienable birth-rights of man. Lock gave the idea of three main natural laws of life, liberty and property and a valid government must honor these three natural laws. It is the protection of life, liberty and justice that warrants legislation… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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