THE SOCIAL CONTRACT
This is an introductory course in modern political philosophy, beginning with Thomas Hobbes (1651) and ending with John Rawls (1971). The organizing theme for this survey will be the question of political legitimacy – what gives a government rightful authority? – and an examination of whether the social contract can satisfactorily answer this question. Although we will see it change and grow over three hundred years, the basic concept of the social contract is the seemingly intuitive idea that people ought to be governed only by those political institutions and practices to which they have consented. The idea of the social contract was one of the motivating forces behind the American Revolution and the rise of the modern, liberal state. Throughout the course, we will consider a number of secondary issues, including: What basic rights, if any, do all humans have? Do moral duties exist independently of legal obligations? How is the institution of property-ownership justified, and how ought wealth, income, and control of the means of production be distributed in a society? What are the appropriate limits of the state’s power? Are there legitimate alternatives to democracy? Is revolution against the state ever justifiable? In addition to exploring how various social contract theorists answer these questions, we will also consider criticisms and responses from some of the social contract’s historical and contemporary alternatives, including utilitarianism, Marxism, libertarianism, and communitarianism.