The Social Contract
MELENOVSKY, CHRISTOPHER M
In this introductory level class, we will address a number of basic questions in political philosophy through the works of major historical figures. Among the central questions that we will focus on are: How can legitimate political power be justified? On what grounds can one defend a view of basic human rights? What might justify a system of property? Why would equality be important for society? What are the arguments that favor capitalism over socialism or a welfare state? What are the requirements for a functioning democracy?
We will primarily engage with these questions through the social contract tradition and its critics. We begin by following the development of the social contract view beginning with Thomas Hobbes and continuing through John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. Then, we will look at three criticisms of this challenge--Utilitarianism, Marxism, and Libertarianism. In examining these criticisms, we will examine the work of David Hume, Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith, John Stewart Mill, Karl Marx, and Robert Nozick. The course will end with the contemporary revival of the social contract tradition offered by John Rawls, and we will assess his response to these three alternative views.