Student Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 5-21-2021

Document Type


Degree Name


Honors Designation


Program of Study

Political Science



First Advisor

Benedetto Fontana

Second Advisor

Marcus Johnson

Third Advisor

Gerald DeMaio


The following study experimentally investigated moral attitudes, both intuitive and reasoned, to assess the validity of the social contract theories of four prominent thinkers: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Rawls. These social contract thinkers, though different in their proposals, all attempt to provide an answer to one long-withstanding question: which governmental structure is best? Their theories also interweave moral cognition with the governmental structure recommended. Thus, this research endeavored to contribute to the contemporary discussion of the social contract theory, encourage empirical investigation of the social contract theory, and provide a framework for future research of a similar kind in order to answer such a question. The research was conducted in survey format with two modules and the data collected was analyzed through evaluation of each section. Module 1, moral consistency, is the quantitative portion of the experimental design which assessed whether or not there was a consistency amongst respondents’ intuitions. Module 2, moral compatibility, is the qualitative portion of the experimental design which considered whether respondents’ moral intuitions and moral reasoning align or not and assigned each respondent’s moral reasoning responses to a thinker based on their method of reasoning. The data was then considered within the framework of the social contract theories presented in order to determine which theory the data best supported. The hypothesis put forth was that, given previous and distinct scholarship on the issues of the social contract theory and moral cognition, that Rawls would represent the majority in both modules of the experiment. However, the empirical results supported Lockeian theory most favorably in both modules, and the weight of such a conclusion considered in the context of practical politics. A discussion is then had on the complications such results pose for moral and political theory, and further experimentation encouraged.



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