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The social contract tradition is a rich one that spans multiple disciplines. While the tradition and its many facets are difficult to characterize succinctly, perhaps the broadest way of conceiving of the social contract is as a helpful device used to gauge the normative appropriateness of various social arrangements. Although there is no consensus as to exactly how this is done, approaches typically involve determining what sorts of social arrangements generally self-interested and rational individuals would agree on (or consent to).

The idea of a social contract goes back to Greek thinkers of the 5th century BCE and the Romans of around 2000 years ago. This entry focuses on more recent work on the social contract, starting with Thomas Hobbes and ending with contemporary theorists such ...

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