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The Hypothetical Social Contract Theory

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The Problem of Political Authority

Abstract

As we have seen, the traditional claim that individuals have consented to the state cannot plausibly be defended. Hypothetical social contract theorists turn instead to the claim that individuals would consent to the state under certain hypothetical conditions.1 These conditions may involve stipulations regarding the knowledge, degree of rationality, and motivations of the parties to the social contract, in addition to the stipulation that all members of a society be given a choice as to what sort of society they shall live in. The fact that we would have agreed to a given arrangement in a particular hypothetical scenario is thought to legitimize that arrangement and generate obligations to support it. This approach has the dialectical advantage of avoiding the sort of dependence on empirical facts about the actual world that proved the downfall of the traditional social contract theory.

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© 2013 Michael Huemer

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Huemer, M. (2013). The Hypothetical Social Contract Theory. In: The Problem of Political Authority. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137281661_3

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