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Social Contract Theory

Social Contract Theory based on the thinking of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jaques Rousseau.

Vinny Chiaramonte

on 14 January 2014

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Transcript of Social Contract Theory

Social Contract Theory
Very important social studies concept

- existence of government
- foundations of democracies
Why do we need police officers?
1. To enforce the rules. 2. To allow us to trust that others won't take advantage of our cooperation.
What would life be like without police officers, judges, teachers, principals, soldiers, etc?
Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679)

Presented an idea about what life would be like before government and social institutions.
“they (people) are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man”

“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.
State of Nature:
Civil Society is Social
Limited Resources
Individuals compete over scarce resources.

Individuals fight to have or take resources.

The stronger or smarter can hurt, kill, or trick others and take their property. They can force others to do what they want.

But then someone stronger can come along and do the same thing to them.

No one is safe for long.
People don't want to always fight and worry about being stolen from, hurt, or killed.
So how can people escape from the state of nature?
Maybe they can make a contract / deal!
e.g. I won't kill you if you won't kill me.
e.g. I'll give you these bananas if you'll give me that bread.
Consider this though...

State of Nature has no one to enforce the rules, and a cheater can gain advantage!
Ha ha! Fool. No bread for you!
So how can there be order if people are better off breaking agreements?
Rational people, who want to live without fear of stronger people, agree to create a sovereign!
Sovereign means having ultimate power.
Sovereign ruler, like a king

Sovereign country
Scarce Resources = limited resources but humans have unlimited wants
Angry stick man breaks the contract!
Happy stick man can seek help from the sovereign
Sovereign can enforce the contract by punishing or even killing the angry stick man!
People give up some of their natural rights to the sovereign. For example, the right to hurt or kill others.
Now people can cooperate in society happily, knowing that any cheaters / free riders will be punished.

They can build social institutions without fear that their work will be stolen or destroyed.

e.g. markets, schools, hospitals, etc.
Sovereign has the right to use force. He/she can hurt or kill people in order to enforce contracts and social rules.
In return for giving up some of our rights to the sovereign, he/she guarantees order, peace, and security.
So from Hobbes' starting point, the solution to the State of Nature is to get together, and create a sovereign, giving up your individual rights to a force, and letting him/her enforce the rules!

Hobbes believed the sovereign should be very powerful, because he believed people were all selfish, and we need a strong power to keep us under control.
Hobbes was one of the first modern thinkers to consider this type of problem
Hobbes helps us answer a very important question:

Why do we need government?
Hobbes was a very smart man, but no one is perfect.

Can you see a flaw (problem) in his theory?
Beyond Hobbes
But what if the sovereign breaks the contract?

She/he has ultimate power, so why can't the sovereign steal and cheat and kill to gain advantage?!
Social contract is between the sovereign and the people.

It involves give and take.

People give up some rights, and take the guarantee of safety, order, and security.
Social Contract
The Sovereign
The People
We would need a second sovereign to enforce the social contract, but this leads to an endless cycle!
Sovereign 2
Sovereign 3, etc
The solution comes from another important philosopher.
John Locke (1632 - 1704)
Locke starts with a different idea about human nature and the state of nature.
-People get along
-People cooperate
-People obey rules in the state of nature
But people are not perfect. The strong can still break the rules, take property and life.

In the state of nature, there's no one to stop them!
Therefore we still need an authority to guarantee us life, property, and freedom.
People entrust rights to the government, but don't give them up 100%.

Contract between government and people is
valid if the government keeps its side.
If the government doesn't behave properly, then the people have the right to resist;

b/c if gov't doesnt behave properly, then contract isn't valid!
civil disobediance
rebelling / revolting
If necessary, people have the right to remove the government, and put a new one in its place.
Locke also believed:

- People are sovereign
- Gov't is our servant
Strong gov't can ignore the people,

so we make sure it's not too strong or too big to do this.
Using separation of powers:
(Branches of Government)
American Revolution:

Locke had a big influence on the creators of the American government system.
Checks & Balances
Separation of Powers
-right to rebel
-sovereignty of the people
-gov't as servant of the people
-division of powers
Locke's ideas important for democracy:
Following Hobbes and Locke
Hobbes' view of "State of Nature":
People's "State of Nature":
-rational, logical, can reason
-sovereign(Ultimate Power) over themselves
-are selfish
-have a right to take anything, by any means
-can steal and kill to get stuff / survive
Environment of State of Nature:
- no institutions (schools, hospitals, religions, governments, police, military, economic, etc.
- no limits on behavior
- scarce resources
Pretty negative / pessimistic
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
Following Hobbes and Locke is another social contract thinker.
Rousseau had a different way of thinking about human nature and the state of nature.
He thought people lived peacefully, simply, honestly, and naively.
He lived in the Enlightenment period (18th century), or the Age of Reason.

Many believed that by using reason, civilization as a whole would continue to progress and improve peoples lives.
He thought differently
. He thought progression would increase inequality.

He thought civilization was moving us away from the peaceful state of nature.
Therefore we should try to "return to the state of nature" by creating social structures that mirror it.
At the time:
Humans (e.g. the King)
Humans (subjects)
Very unequal,
lack of freedom
can replace King/ruler if we remove them?
Rousseau thought the
"General Will" could replace the King/Ruler/Sovereign

"General Will" = what people want = "Will of the People"
"Will of the People" would become known as "Common Law" = Law
Rule of
Common Law:
Allows people to be:

b/c law reflects people's will (general will)
b/c all are equal before the law
The rule of law is another extremely important concept for our democracies today!
Hobbes showed us why we need government - to escape the state of nature. He said a Sovereign should rule
Locke gave us ideas of government as public servant, the right to resist government, and the need for division of powers

People give up some freedoms, in return government promises to protect life, liberty, and property. All are equal. If government misuses power, the people should change the government-rebel.
Rousseau - "General Will" =
"Common Law"
Ideas of bringing freedom and equality through rule of law, a government that enforces the laws but dosen't control people
Thomas Hobbes
John Locke
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Can you summarize what these men contributed to social contract theory?
Can someone explain Hobbes' version of Social Contract Theory?
Out of Hobbes, Locke's and Rousseau's conceptions of Human Nature and the State of Nature, which do you feel is most accurate?

Which do you believe more? Why? *Provide REAL LIFE examples to support your position.*

Hobbes - we
give up
rights to sovereign
Locke - we entrust or
rights to sovereign
-We'll see this fixed in the Magna Carta
Full transcript