ETHC445 Principles of Ethics
Week 3 Discussion
THE SOCIAL CONTRACT
Social Contract theorists say that morality consists of a set of rules governing how people should treat one another that rational beings will agree to accept for their mutual benefit, on the condition that others agree to follow these rules as well.
Hobbes runs the logic like this in the form of a logical syllogism:
We are all self-interested,
Each of us needs to have a peaceful and cooperative social order to pursue our interests,
We need moral rules in order to establish and maintain a cooperative social order,
Therefore, self-interest motivates us to establish moral rules.
Thomas Hobbes looked to the past to observe a primitive “State of Nature” in which there is no such thing as morality, and that this self-interested human nature was “nasty, brutish, and short” — a kind of perpetual state of warfare
John Locke disagreed, and set forth the view that the state exists to preserve the natural rights of its citizens. When governments fail in that task, citizens have the right—and sometimes the duty—to withdraw their support and even to rebel. Listen to Locke’s audio in this week’s lesson and read his lecturette to be able to answer this thread.
Locke addressed Hobbes’s claim that the state of nature was the state of war, though he attribute this claim to “some men” not to Hobbes. He refuted it by pointing to existing and real historical examples of people in a state of nature. For this purpose he regarded any people who are not subject to a common judge to resolve disputes, people who may legitimately take action to themselves punish wrong doers, as in a state of nature.
Which philosophy do you espouse?
In coming to grips with the two and considering your experience of society as it is today, think out loud about what you experiences as the State of Nature, and tell us what you would be willing to give up in exchange for civil order and personal security?
You might consider what you have already given up in exchange for security as well as what might be required in coming days.
CASE STUDY: THE DEATH PENALTY
First, here is a word of caution. With this discussion comes a tasking to discuss the death penalty in two ways: first, as an expression of the social contract, where one person has killed another in a violation of that other person’s right to peace and safety, and second, as a rules-based function of the justice system being applied to a difficult situation.
What do you see going on that is a violation of the Hobbes/Locke social contract idea?
And you might also connect it with any of the Three Schools, plus Aristotle, that you have read in past weeks—and especially with the rules-based ethics model.
Here’s the situation: In Manatee County, Florida, a judge sentenced a man to death—the first time this had happened in the county for over 19 years. Sentenced to death was a 25-year-old man for the January 7, 2004, murder of both of his parents by bludgeoning them to death in their bed with a baseball bat.
Now, with your social contract ethicist hats on, tell us what you make of this quote by the judge at the sentencing, quoted from the front page of the November 17, 2007 Bradenton Herald: “You have not only forfeited your right to live among us, but under the laws of the state of Florida, you have forfeited the right to live at all.”
Remember to keep your responses in the context of our social contract discussion for this week and also connected with ethics of justice.