Social contract theories hold that a social arrangement—a set of moral norms or political institutions—and its justification consist in agreement on its terms by those who participate in it. Thus, a social contract theory builds straightforwardly on the normative force of ordinary, everyday agreements struck between bargainers. Instead of seeking to justify or design social arrangements by reference to a highly contestable master rule (such as utilitarianism's principle of utility) or a transcendent moral principle (such as the Kantian categorical imperative), the social contract theorist appeals to the widely held intuition that agreement binds people to and justifies the agreement's content.

The idea of a social contract plays a prominent role in both moral theory and normative political philosophy. In moral theory, some employ social contract ...

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