Presentation on theme: "The idea of morality as a social contract offers an explanation of why its reasonable to act in accordance with the dictates of morality As such it provides."— Presentation transcript:
The idea of morality as a social contract offers an explanation of why its reasonable to act in accordance with the dictates of morality As such it provides us with an answer to the question Why Should I Be Moral? Morality as a social contract tries to find a basis for morality in self-interest
People who believe in this concept of morality tend to be rational egoists: someone who is only interested in what is best for them It works on the premise that if we can show it is in everyones self-interest to be moral then everyone has a reason to be moral Our self-interest is better served if we cooperate with others (this is the basis for a social contract). We agree to restrict our own actions in return for others doing the same
Is the social contract theory something you see in the world? Do you think self-interest is the only thing that would make people agree to behave morally with in society?
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was an English philosopher who agreed with the social contract theory He claims that human beings are naturally self-interested but that it is rational for them to behave morally in order to maximise this self-interest
Hobbes begins his account of the origins of morality by asking us to imagine the state of nature – by this he means the condition humans would have enjoyed prior to any social organisation He thought that all human actions are motivated by the effort to satisfy our own desires and improve our own situation Because humans are naturally self-interested, in this state we all pursue benefits without qualms as there is no such thing as right and wrong: anything goes
Although at first this might seem ok, the downside of everyone doing whatever they please is that there are no restrictions on how people may treat others People would be in competition with each other for food and resources and this means everyone will live in constant danger of being robbed or killed The result would be a kind of war against all in which each of us would live in continual fear and danger of violent death.
Given that the state of nature is bad for everyone, Hobbes reckons it is rational for everyone to want to escape it Since the only escape consists in following rules which require cooperation between people (a kind of social contract) it is rational for us to agree to follow such rules so long as we can rely on others to do so too So Hobbes is claiming that there is no such thing as right and wrong independently of what is agreed by people living in civil society
Do you agree with Hobbes? Can you have a good morality without conforming to the same morals of the civil society youre living in?
Complete the tasks on the handout Be ready to discuss your answers
Hobbes claims we are self-interested creatures. If this is true then even if we made an implicit contract with everyone else in society when it comes to the crunch surely we are going to break the contract before we risk our own skins. To give an example from this point we can look at Ian McEwen's novel Enduring Love.
The novel begins in the Chiltern Hills with a man clinging to a hot-air balloon shouting for help. Inside the basket of the balloon is a child. 5 strangers rush up to grab the ropes to bring the balloon back down. A sudden gust of wind takes the balloon up into the air, with the 5 men still hanging from the ropes. If everyone holds on then the weight would be enough to bring the balloon back down – but the higher they go up the more chance theyll die from the fall.
Will the men stay holding the balloon and conform to the social contract and try to help each other, or will one or all of them let go to save themselves? The question here seems to be us or me? If one person says me in this case there is nothing to be gained by saying us.
In the balloon example all but one let go. The clear loser was the one who put others first and clung on, eventually falling to his death. This suggests that cooperation is a high risk strategy. The fear and distrust of others means we are all highly likely to opt out rather than risk being the one left dangling. So does this mean that even if we had made a Hobbesian contract to bind ourselves together with others we are bound to resort to self-interest? – clearly it is to my own advantage if others behave morally, but if Im given the opportunity to cheat and steal why not do so? But then if it is in my interests to break the rules, then surely others will have reason to do the same and the system will quickly descend into anarchy
Hobbes answer to this problem is that we need a powerful sovereign to enforce the law So the social contract involves handing absolute power over to the state It is only if know breaking the rules is likely to lead to more harm than good for ourselves that we can be protected from our selfish natures and so gain from the benefits of cooperation