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Uses of the social contract method: Locke to Paine.

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posted on 19.11.2015, 08:56 by Michael. Levin
This study attempts to place Social Contract theory within its philosophical and historical context. Eighteenth century manners used the notion of Social Contract to explain the manner in which transition to a stipulated political Ideal has been, or should be, implemented. The period before this event is referred to as the State of Nature, and its characteristics are usually sufficiently detrimental to make its removal appear highly desirable. This whole manner of argument is referred to as ' the Social Contract method', the relationship of whose parts is examined in the first chapter. It is suggested that usage of this method is closely related to acceptance of certain political values. These include belief in the construction of society by men, in a minor role for religion, in government by consent, in the value of human reason and in the possibility of social change. Together they form that will be referred to as 'the Social Contract value-system'. Consideration is given to the extent to which Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Paine and Burke can be associated with the Social Contract method and its value-system. Locke, Rousseau and, to a lesser extent, Paine, may be regarded as Social Contract theorists. Hume opposed the method while retaining mazy of its assumptions. Burke used Social Contract terminology to reach conclusions not usually associated with it. They all, however, made a distinctive contribution to our understanding of the method's potentialities. During the eighteenth century the implications of Social Contract theory gradually became apparent, and eventually proved destructive of the method from which they had emerged. Consideration is given to the decline of Social Contract theory, and the manner in which the ideas contained in the value-system were gradually separated from the method that had earlier furthered their emergence.


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Politics and International Relations

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University of Leicester

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