Natural Law vs Social Contract


Natural Law used to be the prevailing wisdom back in the day of the ancients (Greeks and Romans to up to Machiavelli) and it proclaims that human nature is basically good and the state augments that good – it extends it. The Greeks thought that the state under the natural law idea is the extension of an individual and it, like an individual, is ontologically good. Good in and of itself. However, people like Rousseau believed that the state had a corrupting influence on humanity’s natural goodness.

Social Contract theory started with Machiavelli and proposes that human nature is essentially rotten and that society is needed to reform it. Locke later refined Machiavelli’s ideas to make them more palatable with his mind “as blank state” concept that had it that we must nurture the individual so that as one grows one becomes useful and productive. Hobbes had it that life was “nasty brutish and short’ and thought that if we didn’t have society we would all club one another into oblivion.

Which society do we live in today?  In my opinion, it’s a toss up.  There are two major distinct factions within the US and I think that both parties borrow from both the Natural Law and the Social Contract. For example, one faction believes that the market is the cure of all that ills us and that if we left it alone all would be like paradise. What staggering optimism. On the other hand, that same faction would demand of us that we disallow homosexuality and practises such as abortion, which I  rather think belongs in the societal regulation camp, ergo Hobbesianism.

The other faction believes in regulation of the market, yet dismisses the idea that we must regulate personal expression and control over ones own person. Pessimism on one hand and optimism on the other.

Now, my opinion is just forming on this.. since I’m just a recent student of philosophy. This will change, so you can expect to see revisions here as time goes by. If you have an opinion feel free to comment !  I’m positively Roussean in this way in that i feel that someone’s kind human nature will give me constructive feed back.

Update: I feel it worth pointing out that I got my basic understanding of these two concepts from a popular philosopher named Peter Kreeft. A lot of what he has written looks like it might not agree with a lot of what I’ve read today in wikipedia. But, that’s OK.  It’ll give me fodder for more posts once I know enough to be able to compare and contrast.


4 Responses to “Natural Law vs Social Contract”

  1. Your description of Social Contract instantly reminded me of Stephen King.

  2. 2 faeyin

    I’ve never read Stephen King but I can easily imagine him as using the Social Contract concept to develop scary plots.

  3. 3 reyhn

    Basically, the Invisible Hand of Self-Interest will allow market to run freely and openly but if we are selfish about what we want to be in our lifestyle, government should step in and control us so we don’t make a mistake.

    On the other hand, government should control market because self-interest only leads to anarchy and no dependence on one another while taking a personal stance for our lifestyles is upright and causes no harm.

    True free-market or civil liberty? This is why I hate factions.

    I also disagree entirely with the social contract theory. Essentially this theory states that we, as citizens, agree to give up certain liberties in exchange for the government protecting and regulating us for “the benefit and betterment of the common man”.

    In what way is it EVER okay to take away my natural born rights to keep me safe? Is it not those very liberties that allow me to protect myself against those who seek to control me? In war times, most civil liberties are revoked so that the government can find traitors. Patriot Act? In what way does it help me to lose my freedom of speech against my government just so that they may silence revolutionists and dissenters?

    Who was it… my teacher mentioned it. I’ll go back and find it in my notes later. It said something like “Better to let an evil-doer go unpunished than to let the thousand innocents suffer on his behalf”. Basically, they are called natural rights for a reason and there is NO excuse in my book to why we should ever “willingly” give them up in exchange for anything.

    Man I’m ranty today.

  4. 4 faeyin

    I’m a bit in both camps. Really i think these two concepts are more like thought exercises. Neither one has the truth but we divide and categorize so we can further think..and woe be unto the person or civilization that mistakes the thought experiment for the reality of life. Like.. i believe in natural rights… but on the other hand I’ve seen children..have you seen children? OMG! They need to be house trained STAT before they grow up to be lil bullies/narcissists. So there’s room both for natural rights AND for social contract theory.

    Plus some sources Ive looked into put social contract theory a bit differently that I did above.. and they admit to natural rights AND the need for social contracts. I guess it depends on who you read and which axes they have to grind.

    and yeah .. we’ve gone nuts in this country over things like patriot acts and refusing gay marriage (although I think the republicans stepped on it on that one.. by drafting amendments against it they helped it become a bigger issue than it was)

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