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Compare the Social Contract Theories of Locke and Rousseau.

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13CA 23rd September 2003 Compare the Social Contract Theories of Locke and Rousseau Locke's starting point for his social contract theory is from a state of nature, a stage before civil society where the state does not exist. It is an uncertain climate in which to live as there is nothing to enforce what he calls the Law of Nature. The Law of Nature states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and property. In the state of nature there is no one to enforce the Law of Nature so individuals have the right to take it upon themselves to enforce it leading to an unstable environment. Locke maintains in his theory that a social contract is formed when people give up these individual rights to the sovereign thereby consenting to the rule of the state. ...read more.


Rousseau maintains that people are born "noble savages". They are strong and self sufficient and live highly isolated lives only coming together to reproduce. Rousseau states that as people begin to cooperate by forming families and developing technology, civil society is formed as people form a dependence on each other, for example, a farmer producing crops needs tools, so someone has to become a blacksmith as the farmer is needed for producing food. The farmer and the blacksmith then both depend upon each other. Rousseau argues that once the natural paradise of the state of nature has been corrupted, it is not possible for people to revert to it. He argues that socialised individuals are weak and timid like domesticated animals and are trapped by their need of one another: "man is born free and is everywhere in chains". ...read more.


Like Locke, Rousseau aims to protect the interests of the people through a social contract by emphasising consent. However he goes further than Locke as Rousseau's social contract theory is democratic. Locke's social contract theory seems to consider revolution as the only escape from an inadequate sovereign, whereas Rousseau uses democracy. However, acknowledging the danger of an inept government and preserving the people's right to deal with this is something both social contract theorists regard as important and attempt to make provision for. Locke and Rousseau do nevertheless begin from totally different premises as their ideas of the state of nature are totally different. Locke believes a social contract can protect people's liberty and be a help to society, while Rousseau maintains that all people are "in chains" because of the amour propre developed in society and seeks to limit the damage that socialised people can do to one another. ...read more.

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