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© Michael Lacewing The state of nature and social contract theory Michael Lacewing

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1 © Michael Lacewing The state of nature and social contract theory Michael Lacewing

2 The origin of the state How does political organization begin? Why have a state at all? –Historical –Philosophical: imagine being without it – what reason is there to bring it about? State of nature: no political organization, no laws –Everyone is free; how do we become bound by laws?

3 Hobbes on state of nature Self-preservation Conflict of natural right –Justice depends on laws State of war Life is solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short

4 Hobbes on contract Self-preservation is threatened: it is rational to agree to political organization Laws of Nature: rationality in the service of self-interest –First: That every man, ought to endeavour Peace, as farre as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre Agree with others to give up natural right and submit to law

5 Why agree? Egoism: because it is in my self-interest Contractarianism: the state is the result of an agreement about how to behave that people have reached because they realise it is in their self-interest This is also rational: it is rational to do what benefits oneself

6 The social contract Better not to be harmed by others – hence constraints on others behaviour; but better not to be constrained Solution: agree to constraints given that others agree; not best for me, but best I can get But before we have agreed, how can we trust others to keep the contract? –Irrational emotions –Short-sighted

7 Prisoners Dilemma Barry confessesBarry doesnt confess Adam confesses Both get 7 yearsAdam is free, Barry gets 10 years Adam doesnt confess Adam gets 10 years, Barry is free Both get 2 years

8 The free rider problem In a situation of trust, if everyone else is acting morally, it is even better to act self- interestedly – at least if you can get away with it. But how can I trust others to keep the contract? The contract is collectively in everyones self-interest, but it is in each persons self- interest to break the agreement – knowing this, we wont trust each other!

9 Locke on state of nature Law of Nature is moral: no person may subordinate another, harm his life, health, liberty or possessions (except in self-defence), and furthermore, that we should help each other when this does not harm ourselves No scarcity: each can provide for themselves, and prefer this over violence But what if some are violent?

10 Contract and punishment Equality: we all have the right to punish violations of the Law of Nature –But can we enforce punishment? Three problems: –Disagreements on violations –Biased application –Lack of power State solves these problems

11 What kind of state? Hobbes: we can only be sure that people will keep the contract if they are forced to –State must have the power to create and enforce whatever laws it judges are necessary –Absolute sovereign: a single person or political body on whom there are no restraints of law. Locke: this is more dangerous than state of nature –Only rational to agree to some form of democracy, in which equality and liberty are preserved

12 Objections Social contract theory is an unhelpful fiction, because social organization is natural for us –Because it is natural, we dont need to justify it – we never gave up natural freedom Hume on cooperation: We need more than we can provide ourselves –We lack power –We lack ability –We can face misfortune

13 Objections Working as a group: –We have greater power, through division of labour –We can get what we cant produce ourselves, through exchange of good –We can provide mutual support through misfortune Rules of justice and punishment are also in our self-interest, and evolve as a result


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