A world without rules where nothing is immoral, illegal, and we could chase every desire as we please, seems like the perfect world. To Thomas Hobbes the founding father to social contract theory this world would be a living hell. He believed this imaginary world to be the state of nature where life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. In this world, we would have limitless freedom but no security consequently living in fear and being unhappy. Hobbes argues that it is in our best interest to restrain ourselves voluntarily for the sake of order. “In other words, it’s in our interest to limit our interests in line with other people interests” (Srigley, 2017). Though limiting our interests begins to show the limitations of social contract theory.
Hobbes did not believe Morality to be a gift from the divines, primitive, or just waiting to be discovered through reason or religion. He thought that when free, rational and self-interested people came together they formed a social contract. Finding that there are more benefits in cooperating with one another than not cooperating. “Each was willing to give up a little bit of freedom to create social rules that would protect their self-interest.” (Social …, 2018). Thus, creating a social contract and a society. This is where one limitation shows up where there can be a disagreement between contractors. Yet “For Hobbes, it’s not a problem because agreement is a fact, not a theory.” (Srigley, 2017). However, when a society becomes older or much larger than originally and becomes harder to govern implicit contracts arise. Contracts that neither party never actually agreed to but find themselves in. For example, natural born citizens of a country never agreed to the laws, rules and regulations of that country. Yet immigrants to the country must agree to a contract to follow the laws, rules and regulations of the country to become citizens of it. Some natural born citizens would find this unfair because they never agreed to a contract to have to pay to see a doctor. Furthermore, another limitation shows up in where social contract theory ignores and does not consider personal morality. Hobbes believes morality to be something that just emerges when free, rational and self-interested people form a society. Yet if everyone was self-interested they would break the law regularly but only when nobody is watching them. This set of ideals of everyone being self-interested would lead to a fanatical society devolving all contracts in the end.
The Prisoner’s Dilemma tries to explain social contract theory in practice. Where authorities accuse you and your partner in crime of a heinous crime and you are both put in separate rooms and given options to confess or stay silent. If you rat out your partner the authorities will let you go free, this is where you and your partner face a dilemma. If both of you confess you are both given a medium sentence. If one of you confesses and other stays silent you get to walk out free and your partner is given a long sentence and vice versa. Although if you both stay silent you both serve a short sentence. Rationally confessing would be your best bet as it either gets you walking out ‘scot-free’ or a medium sentence. Instead of staying silent which gives you either a short or long sentence. Even though rationally it was better to confess rather than stay silent, through your social contract staying silent would have been the better as you both are served a punishment retaining your contract. Through The Prisoner’s Dilemma, another limitation of social contract theory shows, defection. Alternatively, if you were to be in the same dilemma with someone you don’t know then the odds of you going to prison rises. If you were to believe you had a social contract with someone you didn’t know purely based off because you both are rational thinkers and live in the same society. It may not work out the same way as if you knew them. Most likely they are looking out for themselves saving their own skin by staying silent while you confess. Confessing netting you a long sentence and the person you don’t know believing they would do the rational thing and confess walks out ‘scot-free’.
In Conclusion, Hobbes believed that the morality of the society is built on the contracts we keep. Social contracts are built on the trust that others will keep their word and not go after their own self-interests once in a contract. Yet there are limitations to this you need to have free choice when it comes to contracts, you cannot force someone into a contract. The contract needs to benefit all contractors and it should make your life better than before if you were alone. Finally, there is nothing essentially real or tangible about these contracts but it becomes real when there is agreement as they become binding.