How would you compare the views presented by English philosopher Thomas Hobbes and French-Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the original social contract? Textbook I'm using is "Introducing...

How would you compare the views presented by English philosopher Thomas Hobbes and French-Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the original social contract?

Textbook I'm using is "Introducing Philosophy: A Text with Integrated Readings, Tenth Edition," pages 558 - 568

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Hobbes and Rousseau share a belief that there is an intrinsic need for a social contract amongst people in society.  Both thinkers can be compared in the inherent understanding for what people can do.  The propensity for human action is where both of them feel compelled to embrace a social contract. Unlike Locke who has a relatively positive view regarding the capacity of human beings, Rousseau and Hobbes are more than willing to admit that the negative propensity or capacity within human beings is where there might be a need for a socially contracted approach to affairs.  Hobbes believes in the psychological egoist condition within human nature.  For Hobbes, human beings embody a form of existence in which their nature views life as "nasty, petty, brutish, and short."  The condition of being in the world is a relatively equal condition where one individual can obliterate another one with relative ease.  Without some type of force to subjugate this condition in the world, Hobbes sees anarchy and complete chaos in the human condition. It is here where the social contract is essential.  In enabling all individuals to surrender their subjective condition to a larger individual, a state where "a war of all against all" can be averted.  The social contract is needed in order to avoid an externalized condition that is intrinsic to human nature.  

Rousseau feels that the social contract is needed in a similar manner.  Rousseau feels that the condition of property, its accumulation, and its growth is what creates an unhealthy form of self- love.  Rousseau feels that this "amour propre" is destructive.  It causes individuals to see themselves in the gaze of another, and as a result leads to inauthenticity and the type of world where human action withers bonds and connections to one another.  Rousseau traces most that is bad and destructive to the presence of amour propre.  For Rousseau, the general will is the means through which a social contract emerges.  This general will causes individuals to see themselves as part of a larger element.  In doing so, a new form of self- love, a more reflective condition of what human beings are, emerges. This amour de soi is a healthy self- love that is not steeped in competition and obliteration.  Rather, it is a form of self- love where individuals see others as ends in of themselves.  To restore the condition of amour de soi, something intrinsic to human happiness and social advancement, the social contract in the form of the general will is needed.  Rousseau believes that the social contract enables the better aspects of human beings to emerge, while Hobbes feels that his vision of the social contract is the only means to control the destructive capacity intrinsic to human beings.

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