An Essay on Social Contract Theory

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SOCIAL CONTRACT THEORY Social contract theory (or contractarianism) is a concept used in philosophy, political science and sociology to denote an implicit agreement within a state regarding the rights and responsibilities of the state and its citizens, or more generally a similar concord between a group and its members, or between individuals. All members within a society are assumed to agree to the terms of the social contract by their choice to stay within the society without violating the contract; such violation would signify a problematic attempt to return to the state of nature. It has been often noted, indeed, that social contract theories relied on a specific anthropological conception of man as either "good" or "evil". Thomas…show more content…
Jean-Jacques Rousseau Du Contrat social (1762) Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), in his influential 1762 treatise The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right, outlined a different version of contract theory, based on the conception of popular sovereignty, defined as indivisible and inalienable - this last trait explaining Rousseau's aversion for representative democracy and his advocacy of direct democracy. Rousseau's theory has many similarities with the individualist Lockean liberal tradition, but also departs from it on many significant points. For example, his theory of popular sovereignty includes a conception of a "general will", which is more than the simple sum of individual wills: it is thus collectivist or holistic, rather than individualist. As an individual, Rousseau argues, the subject can be egoist and decide that his personal interest should override the collective interest. However, as part of a collective body, the individual subject puts aside his egoism to create a "general will", which is popular sovereignty itself. Popular sovereignty thus decides only what is good for society as a whole: The heart of the idea of the social contract may be stated simply: Each of us places his person and authority under the supreme direction of the general will, and the group receives each individual as an indivisible part of the whole... Hence, Rousseau's famous sentence: "We shall force them
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