The Social Contract Theory of Justice
The Social Contract Theory of Justice

The Social Contract Theory of Justice

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A philosophy and law worksheet from the FHSU Scholars Repository.

The Social Contract Theory of Justice

​How, asks Glaucon, do most people understand justice? As a prudent compromise. Human beings have a natural desire to have their way at others’ expense. But the badness of suffering injustice exceeds the goodness of doing it to such an extent that people generally find it “profitable to come to an agreement” (a “ social contract ,” to use the language of modern political theory) and restrict injustice through legislation and law enforcement (what we call nowadays “the justice system”). Living under the law is not desirable for its own sake, and may at times be a nuisance, but it is better than having to struggle in a lawless free-for-all.


Suppose, having grown weary of the social contract, one were to travel to a distant planet and forcibly enslave its inhabitants – gentle, intelligent creatures, in other respects very similar to human beings. Having left the law behind, would there be anything unjust in one’s behavior?


What is the relation between law and justice? Does law create justice or merely help achieve it?


Imagine a group of people stranded on a desert island. (You might consider the situation in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, if you are familiar with the story.) If they don’t set up a system of law and law enforcement, will they inevitably slip into injustice? Does peace, cooperation, and mutual respect among persons require government?


​Philosophy at FHSU Scholars Repository