Renegotiating the social contract: Hobbes to Rawls

Abstract
Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Rawls set out different versions of the social contract theory. In this dissertation, these different versions are treated as iterative accounts within an on-going meta-conversation. To facilitate this conversation, a generic social contract is developed that sets out a uniform way to look at the different versions of the social contract. The generic social contract highlights specific features of the contract process for comparison by creating a set of questions that are posed to each theorist. This conversation reveals a series of progressive choices regarding the values and standards incorporated into the moral and political institutions designed to bring about social order. Taken as a whole, the different versions are subsumed under a social contract paradigm that reinterprets the social contract as a diagnostic tool that goes back and forth between assessing problematic moral and political situations and the societal institutions that manage them. The social contract paradigm offers a technique of continuous inquiry that permits renegotiation of the social contract in light of progressive refinement of the demands placed upon moral and political institutions
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