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Social Contract Theory



"Why should I obey the laws?"

"Because you'll be punished if you don't."

"Assume for the moment that I expect to get away with a particular violation. Or that the odds are fairly good and I am willing to run the risk of capture. Should I obey the law anyway? And, if so, why?"

"You should obey the law, because in doing so you abide by the social contract."

"Show me that contract and my signature thereon."

"If your signature were on it, it would be a contract without adjective. The social contract is only implicit."

"From what is it implied?"

"From the fact that you use the roads."

"Roads could be privately constructed and run."

"Yes, but they usually aren't, and you use them."

"So a government deserves my allegiance because it can create and in fact monopolize certain necessary avenues of transportation and because I am so unfortunate as to use them? I'm not sure why it deserves anything more than what I'm charged at the toll plaza for that. If I run into a pothole, am I allowed to break a law that day as a sort of rebate on my bargained-for allegiance?"

"No. Consider this. You are not actively in rebellion against the sovereign where you live. Am I right there?"

"Yes."

"Then you have submitted to its authority. It is only logical to follow through on the consequences of your submission by acting as a good subject."

"Hmmm. let's think about that. Suppose a robber stops me in a dark street one night. He holds a gun against my ribs and demands I hand over all my money. Fortunately, I have thought about this possibility before hand and I have two wallets in my suit. I think of them as my real wallet and my pseudo-wallet. One with most of my cash and all of my IDs, the other with just five one-dollar bills and an expired driver's license. I act submissive in the face of his superior force and hand him the pseudo-wallet. He runs off happy."

"This is relevant ... how?"

"Submission to authority does not logically require that submission be whole hearted. All that is required to avoid open revolt is ... the avoidance of open revolt. Surreptitious revolt remains a possibility, and not necessarily one that seems intuitively blameworthy."


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