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social contract
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Definition: The idea of a "social contract" has been used at various times (by philosophers like Plato, Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes) as an explanation for the origins of society, as a justification for the current social structures, and as a justification for the current nature of society as opposed to other possible social systems. At its most basic, the concept is that humans, living completely independently, freely choose to bind themselves to each other in a social system. In principle, each person gives up some of the things they could do while independent in order to benefit from the protection of the group.

Typically, the idea of a "social contract" is used to justify the idea that a community or a government should have very little in the way of powers over members and citizens. Because each person starts out in a "natural" state of total freedom, government is "unnatural" and should be kept in check. Unfortunately, it is difficult for the "social contract" to be used as anything more than an ideological prop in this case because no such original, "natural" state of independence has existed for humans - we have evolved as social animals and have always existed as a part of social groups.

Some theorists have used the concept of a "social contract" to justify greater government involvement in people's lives, for example John Rawls. According to Rawls, we should construct our social arrangements from behind a "veil of ignorance." We should imagine that we will join society without knowing what class, race, or other social group we will belong to. In this way, the "social contract" we create will be the most equitable possible.

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Related Resources:

What is Theism?
What is the difference between monotheism and monolatry? Between pantheism and panentheism? How about between animism and shamanism? Or theism and deism? What the heck is henotheism? For that matter, what is and is not a religion?

What is Religion?
A system of human beliefs, ideals and practices which is harder to define than it may at first appear.

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