Philosophy - Exam 4 - Social/Political Philosophy

Social Philosophy

The application of moral principles to the problems of society, including the problems of government, justice, and freedom.

Why Is It Important?

- There are many things that the state can do to us that ordinary people cannot.E.g., taxes, physical force, death- What should the role of government be?- How big a part should government play in regulating our lives?- How much should the government do for the poor and the needy among us?- Which roles are appropriate for government, and which are not?

What Justifies the State?

What gives the state the right to tax, conscript, arm, educate, or do any of the myriad things it does?

Theories of Justification

Divine KingshipPublic InterestSocial Contract

Social Contract Theory

In social philosophy, the doctrine that individuals give up certain liberties and rights to the state, which in turn guarantees such rights as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Thomas Hobbes

- 1588-1679- Leviathan strongly influenced subsequent English moral and political philosophy.

John Locke

- 1632-1704- Essay Concerning Human Understanding- Second Treatise of Government

Jean Jacques Rousseau

- 1712-1778- The Social Contract

Criticisms of Social Contract

David Hume John Rawls

John Rawls

- Justice as Fairness- Original Position- Two Principles of Justice

Veil of Ignorance

RaceGenderReligionEthnic OriginSocioeconomic Background

Salary Distribution in Society (Example)

Baseball Player$15,000,000/yearDoctor $200,000/yearEngineer $90,000/yearElementary Teacher $40,000/yearMcDonald's Worker $7.25/hour

Show Me the $$

Alex Rodriguez 21,726,881Derek Jeter 18,600,000Barry Bonds 18,000,000Sammy Sosa 16,875,000Jeff Bagwell 16,000,000Chipper Jones 15,333,333Andy Pettitte 5,500,000Roger Clemens 18,000,000

Entertainment Industry

Actors and Actresses Night Show Hosts Adult Film Stars Sports Players Exotic Dancers

Salary Distribution in Engineering Company (Example)

CEO $5,000,000Directors $100,000Engineers $70,000Secretaries $35,000Custodians $25,000

John Rawls

- 1921-2002- Taught at Harvard- Wrote "A Theory of Justice

Criticisms of John Rawls

Communitarian CritiqueFeminist Critique

Michael Sandel

- Professor of Government at Harvard- Wrote "Democracy's Discontent

Communitarian Critique

- Social contract theorists ignore people's social nature and wrongly conceive of people in an individualistic fashion.- Our very identity depends on relations with others in a community.- Government should not be neutral toward the moral and religious views its citizens espouse.


- Humans are social animals.- The government is not artificially created but is a natural outgrowth of human sociability.

The Feminist Critique

Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau agree that the rule of the male over the female is perfectly justified, yet here there is no contract or consent.

Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau

- The state is created by the agreement of males with each other.- The social contract is a public document, and the public sphere is the domain of men.- It is natural for men to have authority over women.

The Feminist Critique

- Private Sphere: personal activities within the home, such as sex, raising children, love, affection, domestic chores.- Public Sphere: political and economic activities outside the home, such as paid work, buying and selling goods, voting, running for political office, and participating in legal processes.

The Domestic Work Performed by Women . . .

- is usually not paid,- takes up time and energy,- doesn't prepare one for public life,- is not respected,- frees men to overtake the public world, that is the source of political and economic power, and- forces women into powerlessness.

Feminist Slogan

The personal is political." By ignoring the private domain, we ignore the family as a fundamental source of political and economic inequality.

What is Justice? social utility....based on need and ability....based on liberty

What is Law?

A rule or body of rules that tells individuals what they may and may not do.

Thomas Aquinas

- Divine (Eternal) Law (governs all creation)- Natural Law (governs all people)- Human Law (specific to the time and circumstances of a particular society)- We have a right to disobey unjust or immoral laws.

A law is unjust if . . .

- it is contrary to the rights of God,- it is contrary to the rights of humans,- it is not aimed at achieving the common good,- it is not enacted by legitimate authority, or- it distributes burdens unjustly.

Legal Positivists

Once a piece of legislation has been passed by a legitimate authority, it is a law that we are obligated to obey regardless of whether it is immoral or unjust.


Martin Luther King, Jr.Mohandas Gandhi

Letter From Birmingham Jail

- Just laws are in line with the moral law while unjust laws are in conflict with the moral law. - "Any law that uplifts the human personality is just. Any law that degrades the human personality is unjust.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

- People have the right to disobey an unjust law in order to bring about change in the law. - But an unjust law must be broken "openly, lovingly" and with a willingness to accept the penalty.

Robert Williams

Nonviolent tactics are ineffective because they only protect the oppressors. Real change will only be achieved through violent means.

Group Exercise

Violence or Nonviolence?Which is more effective as a means of social change?