Contractualism – What is it, definition and concept

Contractualism is a philosophical current that explains and defends the union of man in society and the appearance and necessity of the State. This through the social contract.

Contractualism is a philosophical current that affirms the theory of the social contract. That is, man in the state of nature, before societies and any state figure were formed, lived in isolation and in freedom.

But that, faced with common needs, they came together to further their own interests. Thus configuring the constitution and integration of man in society and the appearance of the State.

The social contract

The social contract is, therefore, the tool that articulates said abandonment of nature and the beginning of life in society. This is not an explicit and literal contract, but a symbolism. It is an unwritten contract and the inflection point at which the transition between these two scenarios occurs is so called.

When the human being becomes a society, he acquires a series of rights and obligations. Rights such as being respected and not attacked by other components of society. And obligations such as not attacking other humans and contributing to the development of the society in which it is integrated. These are the consequences derived from the social contract.

Authors of contractualism

The classical contractarian authors, the first philosophers to develop contractualism, have some similarities, as well as some notable differences.

The points in common are found in the meaning of the components of the social contract. They all share that man, in ancient times, lived in a natural state; with full freedom; but in a situation of constant uncertainty.

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Also that all of them, through the social contract, are aware of said situation and want to unite in order to reverse said situation. And that, finally, this gives rise to the origin of society and the State.

Likewise, they interpret in a different way what life was like in the state of nature, what were therefore the reasons for constituting a society, and what the State resulting from said union must be like. These authors were Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. We are going to briefly review how each author understood his idea of ​​contractualism.

Contractualism according to Hobbes

Hobbes, a 16th century British philosopher, had his life and work marked by the English civil wars. As such, he had a very negative view of the human being. For the author, man in the state of nature is selfish, independent and cruel. He lives in the so-called state of war, characterized by the multitude of conflicts between his fellow men.

Man becomes aware of this situation and joins society through the social contract to seek security. In other words, freedom is renounced in favor of peace. For Hobbes, man gives his freedom to a sovereign who is constituted as a supreme figure and who represses the violators of the pact. This figure is the State, whose power must be absolute.

Contractualism according to Locke

Locke also developed his life and work during the seventeenth century, and is considered one of the most influential thinkers in history.

He affirmed that in the state of nature we could see the true essence of man: freedom, equality and rationality. And, unlike Hobbes, he did not share that constant war between equals, but there was a certain cooperation.

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In order to preserve the rights of the natural state: life, liberty and property, man renounces his full freedom through the social contract. But, unlike Hobbes, he does not grant the State absolute powers, but rather it must limit itself to defending the rights and freedoms of individuals. That is why he developed the division of powers.

Contractualism according to Rousseau

Rousseau developed his work in the later century, and is considered the inspirer of the French Revolution. He was the author who most deeply developed contractualism and the social contract, he did so throughout four books. Rousseau’s contract theory differs the most from his predecessors.

For the philosopher such a state of nature had not existed, but in this hypothetical scenario is where we can observe its true essence. Man is good, free and equal by nature. It is when society is formed that it becomes an evil being. If he was happy and good in nature and bad in society, why did he join? Due to the scarcity of resources caused by natural disasters and population growth.

The resulting State must be guided by the will of the people, popular sovereignty is the supreme value and must prevail over private interests.

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