Janice Richardson: The Classic Social Contractarians: Critical Perspectives from Contemporary Feminist Philosophy and Law
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The Social Contract Tradition
Political and legal theories are often founded on assumptions about the characteristics shared by human beings, with the political or legal system said to be formed so as to advance these characteristics. Usually the presumption is that humans have a common ‘nature’ and that certain ways of co-existing are therefore ‘natural’ and pre-social. In the twenty-first century, genetic and other biological developments have become important in informing these ideas, but previously they were frequently manifested in the field of philosophy, mainly through considerations of the importance of nature or nurture, and in the distinction between mind and body, and between reason and the passions and/or the emotions.
Along with the idea of a natural state for mankind, or state of nature, came the fiction of the social contract (see, e.g., Hobbes 1960; Locke 1988; Rousseau 1968; Rawls 1971). This story sits at the heart of contemporary political and legal theory,...
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