8: Rome


The Roman Empire (100 CE)
A larger map of Rome is here

  • Define and appropriately use important terms such as state of nature, the prisoner’s dilemma, implicit and explicit agreements, and social contract
  • Demonstrate knowledge of major arguments for and problems with social contract theory
  • Apply ethical concepts and principles to address moral concerns.

Hobbes' Argument

Key Terms

State of Nature
Social Contract

Hobbes on the State of Nature

...which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short

  • Re-envision society
    • Eliminate all assumptions about morality
    • No God to give commands
    • No natural purpose or law
    • Psychological egoism is true
    • We pity people because we fear the same could happen to us
    • What then is the basis of our morality?
  • What then is the basis of our morality? 
    • Practical need
    • Morality depends on practical solutions to problems
    • We need a peaceful cooperative society
    • Rules that come from need are our morals
  • The State of Nature
    • Suppose there were no authority or government institutions
    • Bleak picture of the world
    • Constant fear and danger
    • Self-interested individuals, when given no security, seek their own security first
  • Basic Facts of Human Life derived from the state of nature hypothetical
    • Humans have equality of need
    • There is scarcity of resource
    • Humans have a basic equality of power
    • Humans are basically selfish
  • State of nature is not a hypothetical conclusion
  • When governments fall or international crises occur, this is the result

Hobbes' Solution

  • The Social Contract
    • We collectively agree to follow rules that benefit society
    • We collectively agree to enforce those rules
    • We collectively agree to accept punishment for breaking rules
  • Enforcing the Rules
    • The law
    • The court of public opinion
  • Advantages
    • Provides security
    • Permits altruism
    • Allows us to become a different kind of person
    • Explains purpose of morality and government

Rousseau on the Social Contract

The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable change in man… instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, [he is] an intelligent being and a man

The Prisoner's Dilemma

  • Developed by Flood and Dresher in the 1950s
    • In a totalitarian society, you are arrested and accused of conspiring with “Smith” against the government
    • You are held in separate cells and realize quickly that a conviction is the police’s highest priority
  • The Deal
    • If you confess and Smith does not, you are released and Smith gets 10 years in prison
    • If Smith confesses and you do not, Smith is released and you get 10 years in prison
    • If you both confess, you both get 5 years in prison
    • If neither confesses, you both go free
  • Approaches to the Scenario
    • Logic: confess
    • Social Contract Theory: don’t confess
8d-Prisoners Dilemma
  • Applying the Prisoner’s Dilemma
    • Instead of confessing and not confessing, you could be selfish or benevolent
    • Logic: being selfish is safer, but this is the state of nature
    • Social Contract Theory: contract allows us to be benevolent
8e-Prisoners Dilemma2

Advantages to Social Contract Theory

  • We follow rules that allow us to live together harmoniously
  • Following rules is mutually beneficial
  • It’s ok to break the rules with someone, if they broke the rules with us
  • Being moral is reasonable, it doesn’t expect self-sacrifice
  • Civil disobedience is justified because the state is not fulfilling its contract

Objections to Social Contract Theory

  • It’s based on a historical fiction
  • There is no contract we signed
  • Implicit vs. Explicit agreement
  • It’s based on self-interest and reciprocity
  • Thus, if a group cannot benefit us, we are not bound by the rules
  • Vulnerable groups: infants, animals, future generations, oppressed popularity