Fall 2009

The Social Contract:  Rhetoric and Founding Law

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-33


Ethan H. MacAdam (Section 01)


This course investigates seminal writings belonging to the "social contract" tradition--a branch of political theory which describes the formation of political communities through mutual consent--firstly in the English seventeenth century, where the tradition's modern roots are to be found, and secondly in the present era, where interest in this mode of thought has had a revival of sorts over the past 35 years. Much ink has been spilled during those years over the many apparent practical problems of contract theories as aids or means to just government, and we will attempt, over the course of the semester, to address these familiar problems in new ways. The particular approach to these writings which the course seeks to interrogate and develop will be chiefly concerned with their textuality, i.e., the way in which these writings as writings, communicate what they do: such an approach will give great attention to vocabulary, practices of quotation, the situation of the author(s) and his/her/their audience, considerations of genre and the division of knowledge, and "performative" language (language which acts in some way in addition to or instead of, communication)--any of these approaches may cast light on, augment or even sabotage the social contract project, which has for so long been a staple idea of liberal political thought . Our ultimate goal will be to evaluate this mode of reading as a useful tool for making progress in contract theory, and to use this tool to generate fresh thinking on some very old political problems.

Not open to first-year students.  Fall semester.  Visiting Lecturer MacAdam.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Spring 2011