Date: 07 Dec 2006

The Linguistic Turn of Social Contract Theory: Ernst Cassirer and the Conditions for the Possibility of a Promise

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In this paper, we explore Cassirer’s view of social contract theory. We maintain that Cassirer has established a linguistic turn of social contract theory, by exploring the conditions for the possibility of a promise. For that purpose Cassirer’s theory of the linguistic sign, as inspired by the linguistic theory of Wilhelm von Humboldt, becomes decisive, because of its specific nature and direction into the future. First, in Section 1, we explore previous social contract theorists, from Nicholas von Cusa to Immanuel Kant. In Section 1, as a result, we establish the concept of the promise as the core concept of social contract theory, and as the fundamental philosophical problem conveyed by the natural lawyers. Moreover, in Section 2, we investigate the conditions for the possibility of a promise, and relate it to the symbolic nature of the human being. The promise, hence the capacity to enter into a contract, becomes a characteristically human activity, hence an expression of human dignity.

LL.M. Candidate, New York University School of Law, Class of 2007; M.A., Leiden; J.S.D., Nijmegen