I suppose that the original historical source of this idea is from the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in which the Hebrews make a covenant (agreement) with God. God gives them 10 rules by which they are to live, and if they do so, they will be rewarded in heaven. Except if the deal is not accepted, they go to hell. Not quite a free agreement, ey!
For the heyday of social contract theories, see the Wikipedia entry for: Social contract
In an earlier blog, I pointed out the mismanagement of the social contract by John Rawls: Too much amnesia in the Original Position of John Rawls.
And in a still earlier blog, I pointed out the mismanagement of Rousseau’s social contract by Ian Shapiro: (2) Further commentary on Ian Shapiro’s course: “Moral Foundations of Politics”.
In this blog I will point out how Immanuel Kant mismanaged the social contract.
There has been a great deal of effort (exegesis) to tease out of Kant a coherent proposal for grounding morality — with no positive results. And the reason for Kant’s failure is easily explained, but the reason for this failure has, as far as I know, eluded everyone.
What has not been noticed is that the social contract is between “rational beings.” And these “rational beings” are God, angels, and the human noumenal self (=soul). And besides being rational beings — and this is the missed part by all commentators: they are all IMMORTAL!
And whatever the rules which are agreed to by these immortals, must apply to all of them. The fact that the (human) soul is attached to a human body is a peculiarity of interest only to humans. If a universal rule is to be adopted for all concerned, it cannot be a rule serving only a particular interest of humans, such as not to die.
I could go on and point out the consequences of this line of thinking, but I will not. I will simply say that Kant’s ethics is grounded in science fiction.