Feminist Engagements with Social Contract Theory

Authored by: Janice Richardson

The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138795921
eBook ISBN: 9781315758152
Adobe ISBN:


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The idea of a social contract is employed in both political and ethical philosophy. In early modern political philosophy, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the social contract was part of a conjectural history or political idea, mainly associated with the work of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant. They used it in order to justify obedience to the law based only upon the consent of the governed. Each author told a story about the transition from the state of nature to that of civil society, a state with a sovereign and laws, which took place as a result of a social contract. All viewed the political organization of society as something that is constructed by human beings, rejecting the previous assumptions that there is a natural hierarchy between men and that sovereigns rule as an expression of God’s will. However, there is an inconsistency in these progressive stories with regard to women, whom the classic theorists—with the possible exception of Hobbes—continued to view as natural subordinates to men.

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