The only social contract theory I know about, is the one propounded by Hobbes in The Leviathan. Can one chracterise england at that time as a primarily mercantile community. Have other social contract theories arisen in similar circumstances?

I maybe giving too much emphasis to the word contract in the phrase social contract theory here.

One reason I'm asking this question, is that a contract in the ordinary sense, in something one can give assent to when one is a mature adult. But one becomes an adult in the womb/embrace of a city, one absorbs its manners and its customs naturally, so that one has ties of natural affection, which doesn't come into play in an ordinary contract.

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    I should point out that Hobbes' social contract theory - as with most social contract theories - was very heavily influenced by, if not a direct extension of, the probably original idea of the social contract presented by Plato in the Crito (50c-54c) – commando Dec 2 '12 at 0:00
  • Could you clarify what you mean by "mercantile"? It strikes me that a large fraction of modern philosophy came about in mercantile societies, if only because that's where most of the universities are. – Xodarap Dec 2 '12 at 0:04
  • @Xodarap:Good point. I would imagine all communities have some form of trade. I'm calling a community mercantile if that is its main activity, and that they form the political establishment if not explicitly then implicitly. For example, contemporary england is a mercantile community, even if its constitutional head is a monarch. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 2 '12 at 0:09
  • @commando: Thanks for the clarification. Does he tie this in with his conception of the city as the primary political entity in the republic? I should say I haven't read either. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 2 '12 at 0:11
  • @MoziburUllah I hadn't thought about it, but it does seem that he does. His presentation, very roughly, is along the lines of "Athens has been your home, protected you, will protect your children, etc. etc. and you could have gone to any other city, but didn't, so you owe it to us to follow the law." So he's talking about cities as the unit, not countries or regions or anything. – commando Dec 2 '12 at 0:35

To quote the SEP:

Social contract theorists from the history of political thought include Hobbes, Locke, Kant, and Rousseau. The most important contemporary political social contract theorist is John Rawls, who effectively resurrected social contract theory in the second half of the 20th century, along with David Gauthier, who is primarily a moral contractarian.

These thinkers were all born in Europe or North America within the last 500 years, which it sounds like you consider "mercantile" economies. With the exception of Kant (and the possible exception of Gauthier, whose biography I cannot find), they were all born to white collar fathers.

  • Locke - Born in England, 1632. Son of a lawyer.
  • Rousseau - Born in Geneva (modern day Switzerland), 1712. Son of a watch maker.
  • Kant - Born in Germany, 1724. Son of a harness maker.
  • Rawls - Born in America, 1921. Son of a lawyer.
  • Gauthier - Born in Canada, 1932.

Confucius is sometimes considered to have promoted a form of social contract theory. He would be an exception, having been born into poverty in rural China.

  • I know nothing about chinese political theory, and very little about confucious, although I spent a bit of time a while ago reading his analects. I do recall that they have the notion of 'the mandate of heaven' which is something close to the divine rule of kings, but in hobbes leviathan he explicitly states that the subjects have no legal means of removing a sovereign, whereas the mandate of heaven can be removed if the conduct of the sovereign is displeasing. This could be another point of difference between the european concept of social contract theory and that of china. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 2 '12 at 1:29
  • One could wonder that confucious having been born into rural poverty evolved that concept if the soveriegn rule become intolerably burdensome on the rural peasantry – Mozibur Ullah Dec 2 '12 at 1:34
  • Of course, according to commando, the european concept of social contract theory is rooted in Platos Crito & Republic, and I imagine that he envisaged this as not an oligarchy=mercantile city, but a city ruled by aristocrats, the philospher-kings. Which would make it another exception, unless of course enough distinction can be made between Hobbes conception & Platos for Platos not to be seen as a social contract. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 2 '12 at 1:37
  • It is not so very clear that the Leviathan can't (or musn't) be removed. – iphigenie Dec 2 '12 at 11:49

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