Essays by Locke, Hume, and Rousseau Authors: Oxford University Press Publication Date:
Why should the state exist, and how much power should it have?
The social contract may provide the answer. Although similar ideas can be traced back to the Greek Sophists, social-contract theories had their greatest currency in the 17th and 18th centuries and are associated with such names as the Englishmen Thomas Hobbes and John Locke and the Frenchman Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
What distinguished these theories of political obligation from other doctrines of the period was their attempt to justify political authority on grounds of individual self-interest and rational consent. They attempted to demonstrate the value and purposes of organized government by comparing the advantages of civil society with the disadvantages of the state of nature, a hypothetical condition characterized by a complete absence of governmental authority.
The purpose of this comparison was to show why and under what conditions government is useful and ought therefore to be accepted by all reasonable people as a voluntary obligation. These conclusions were then reduced to the form of a social contract, from which it was supposed that all the essential rights and duties of citizens could be logically deduced.
According to Hobbes Leviathan, the state of nature was one in which there were no enforceable criteria of right and wrong.
Locke in the second of Two Treatises of Governmentdiffered from Hobbes insofar as he described the state of nature as one in which the rights of life and property were generally recognized under natural lawthe inconveniences of the situation arising from insecurity in the enforcement of those rights.
He therefore argued that the obligation to obey civil government under the social contract was conditional upon the protection not only of the person but also of private property. If a sovereign violated these terms, he could be justifiably overthrown. Rousseau in Du contrat social, held that in the state of nature man was unwarlike and somewhat undeveloped in his reasoning powers and sense of morality and responsibility.
When, however, people agreed for mutual protection to surrender individual freedom of action and establish laws and government, they then acquired a sense of moral and civic obligation.
The more perceptive social-contract theorists, including Hobbes, invariably recognized that their concepts of the social contract and the state of nature were unhistorical and that they could be justified only as hypotheses useful for the clarification of timeless political problems.
Learn More in these related Britannica articles:The Social Contract Theory Hume’s main claims in “Of the Original Contract”: i) The idea that one’s duty of allegiance to one’s government stems from one’s At the very beginning of his essay, Hume seems to agree with the social contract idea if it This was John Locke’s view.
Hume has .
Note: Citations are based on reference standards. However, formatting rules can vary widely between applications and fields of interest or study. The specific requirements or preferences of your reviewing publisher, classroom teacher, institution or organization should be applied.
Contents: Introduction, Sir Ernest Barker; An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government, John Locke; Of the Original Contract, David Hume; The Social Contract, J.J. Rousseau/5. An early critic of social contract theory was Rousseau's friend, the philosopher David Hume, who in published an essay "Of Civil Liberty".
A Critical Exposition of Social Contract Theory in Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, This is a review of a volume including Locke's Second Treatise, Rousseau's Social Contract, and Hume's "Of the Original Contract." The Rousseau essay is translated by Gerard Hopkins, and Ernest Baker provides an introduction to the texts.
Get this from a library! Social contract; essays by Locke, Hume, and Rousseau,. [Ernest Barker, Sir; Gerard Hopkins; John Locke; David Hume; Jean-Jacques Rousseau].