Contract : Society :: Cell : Person

Society is indeed constituted of social contracts; there is no other sort of contract; so that “social contract” is redundant; to say “society” is to invoke contracts, and vice versa. A contract is literally a “drag together” People work together to drag things from here to there, which they could not alone easily budge; they coordinate their activities in search of common ends.

But obviously any such contract supervenes the society in which alone it can have any … traction. No prevenient society, no contract enacted therein.

In just the same way, the animal body is constituted of cells. But the animal, in virtue of whom there is an animal body, is far more than a temporary agglomeration of similar cells in a vicinity. Were it not for the animal of which they are the constituent cells, there could be no constitution to which the cells anywise contributed. The cells would be on their own, left each to his own devices, and without support from any fellows. So they would all immediately die.

So likewise a bunch of dyadic social contracts could not by themselves generate a society. In the absence of such a society, they would all immediately wither, and perish. For, they would all of them be no more than transient adventitious adaptations to the flux of experience. There would be in them influent no transcendent order. They would, that is to say, be relatively chaotic, and discoordinate.

In the utter absence of social order, it could make no sense to undertake any contract. There would then be no such things.

When we consider even an isolate and evanescent dyadic contract between two utter strangers, we are as honest investigators duty bound not to overlook the basic, essential and universal human impulse toward agreement. No such isolate dyadic contract could be even conceivable in its absence. In that case, no two strangers could even think that they might work together, rather than at odds with each other. In the absence of the social impulse in man, each human would be to every other as strange, careless and cruel as the weather.

Indeed, less so; for, every man with even a bit of wit feels himself to be in some more or less coordinate relation to the weather. Necessarily so: to be human just is to be weathered, and to be more or less fitted to the winds. What is the alternative, forsooth? Who might prevail, against the weather? A fool, perhaps, only, and then only in the fond imaginations of his heart.

Men are far more to each other, even as total strangers, than any of them are to the winds and weather (may God bless them, and keep them; no offense). Society is baked into us. We cannot begin to be human without it. The explanation of society, then – and of all its organs, and of all its instruments, such as contracts – is that men are so made as to love each other. The loveless cold cruel alternative is chaos, and death.

What lives is coordinate, and thus an instance of social love.

10 thoughts on “Contract : Society :: Cell : Person

  1. Pingback: Contract : Society :: Cell : Person | Reaction Times

  2. We have the institution of contracts because treachery and betrayal are baked into us. The whole point of a contract is to prevent defection by a contracting parties who do not love one another. It forces contracting parties to bear unforeseen losses because the contracting parties would not otherwise accept those losses as a sacrifice.

    Honor is probably the primitive sentiment behind the contract. To break a promise is dishonorable, but men did this so frequently that parties took to making their promises before witnesses. This is what public weddings were all about. Although there was, initially, no social mechanism to punish promise-breakers, there was a “promise market” that set the value of promises by Tom, Dick and Harry. Those witnesses provided the information that set the prices in of promises in the promise market. Promises by Tom and Dick traded at a discount, but a promise by Harry is as good as gold.

    Witnesses and the promise market do not scale up, however, which is why so many debtors and wife-abandoning husbands headed out west to “start over.” So as society scales up, legal contracts replace witnesses and the promise market. But all of this is necessary because man is a perfidious beast.

      • Calvin wasn’t wrong about everything. Pessimism is a recipe for happiness. One is seldom disappointed and all surprises are pleasant surprises.

    • To be sure. But contracts do not reduce only to the clauses that cover what shall happen if they are reneged upon or are terminated. If that were so, they would be agreements to do nothing; when, of course, they are first agreements to work together on a concrete plan of coordinate action, and to share the burdens and costs thereof. The boilerplate clauses governing termination and defection are tacked on at the end, after the main substance of the plan has been specified. Given human perfidy, they are of course necessary. Still, the shared assumption at the execution of the contract is that it will be fulfilled without defect. Absent that assumption, the contract would not be executed in the first place. It is because of that assumption, and that happy expectation, that important agreements are celebrated with mutual congratulations and rejoicing, with sacrifices and libations to the gods, with parties and with gifts.

      It’s a great feeling to arrive at such an agreement after a long negotiation, I can tell you. And most such agreements work out. Many do not, of course. But if most of them failed to work out, we would not have such nice things as markets and commerce and enterprise – or, as marriages, families, towns, cities, and nations. If most contracts failed to work out, they would all be bad bets, and no one would enter into any such thing.

      But they do. Because why? Because absent our agreements with each other, we are nothing to each other.

      “Agreement” is the key word here: that is what all formal contracts call themselves. A contract is formed when two or more parties agree about how to handle a situation of mutual concern, in which they are already together really involved (NB: even to want to be involved together is already a sort of involvement together; to discuss a contract is already to have agreed to begin to work on it). And here’s the thing: they are entered upon freely and without coercion (or else, they are not valid contracts to begin with, and will not hold up in a court of law). They would not occur unless the parties all considered that it would be better to effect them, mutatis mutandis, than not. Contracts would not transpire in the first place unless the parties all thought them good and likely deals.

      That dollar in your wallet? It is a formal agreement. The barter or gift exchange that often obviate the need for money – as, e.g., at the sacrifice shared in the communion of a commensal group? All such transactions are effected by informal agreements. The *entire human enterprise* runs on agreements: on contracts either formal or informal. If they were mostly reneged upon, there would be no such enterprise. And in that case, our system of reproduction would break down. We would not have intercourse with each other. We would not be humans. We’d be more like fish.

      And in that case, there being no such things as contracts anywhere to be found, there would be no niche in the human ecology for defective men who cheat and welsh in the agreements they form, no prey for them to prey upon.

      Perfidy supervenes prevalent honesty. It’s an instance of the general principle that evil is not a thing in its own right, but rather a privation of good.

      • The Classical Roman Jurists analysed contract in terms of the source of the obligation. In this way, they sought to distinguish contracts, which gave a cause of action, from mere pacts, which did not.

        Thus, they classified deposit, pledge, commodatum – loan of a moveable for use and return (say, a book) and mutuum – loan of a fungible for consumption (say, wine, oil) as Real contracts. Here, the source of the obligation was the delivery and receipt of a res or thing.

        Pignus or pledge is interesting; it could be created unilaterally by pignoris capio, where the law gave a creditor a right of distress, but also by agreement.

        Then, there was the Verbal contract, the most prominent being the Stipulation, which took the form of a question and answer, Centum mihi dari spondesne?, Spondeo [Do you promise I shall be given 100? I promise] Here the obligation arose from the form of words used and great precision was required: if one party said spondesne and the other replied Promitto, there was no contract. It was necessarily unilateral; even where there were mutual stipulations, the obligations created were independent. Its formal character drew a sharp distinction between preliminary negotiations and the contract itself.

        Then, there were the consensual contracts: purchase and sale, letting and hiring, partnership and mandate or agency. No formalities were required and they could be inferred from conduct.

        Finally, there was the literal contract, which seems to have been the equivalent of count, reckoning and payment, recorded in the parties’ account-books. It was dependent on the way in which the early Romans kept their household accounts and was obsolete in Classical times.

        Their analysis has found its way into most modern Civil Codes

  3. This is an interesting analogy. Pushing the bounds, a group of cancerous cells all have a different set of rules from normal, healthy cells, and so the two can grow separately but eventually one must conquer the other.

    The challenge with the analogy comes from the nature of the relationship. An individual cell of a person can’t but participate in the person. The order is foreordained by the cell on the person. Society is more like a primordial soup, where the cells come together or break apart.

    Although i suppose the Law is the foreordained structure of society. A bunch of cells that dont contribute to the person is a cancer, a bunch of contracts that dont contribute to the Law is a rebellion.

    This is where we might push the analogy beyond its bounds: inherent in the nature of cells is the design of a person. They build the person as they cannot but do, and likewise obey the structure as their growth specializes their structure. The sovereign, with a singular mandate from God, might be analogous to the foreordained structure of a person. A culture of Demos is an inert structure of cells that is in the shape of a person only superficially, while a culture of Logos is a structure that is *alive*.

    Thats stream of consciousness but i think what im getting at is a society gets its order from Order himself. I realize on thinking about it that another word for contract is covenant, so God has been using contracts with us from the start.

    • Lovely; just so. Thanks, Scoot. Keep that stream of consciousness going!

      I would say however that, at least for humans, there can be no such thing as the formless primordial soup, wherein the constituents come together or break apart adventitiously, ad libitum. Both human bodies and human societies are either coordinate structures to begin with, that constrain and so form and regulate each of their members ab initio, or they *just are not anything at all.* The soup is the deliquescence that befalls human orders after they die, and their form is no longer present; it is the soup of rot.

      Neither its constituents nor the bonds between them – the contracts, the signals, the transactions, the mutual influences and informations, and so forth – can explain a whole. Parts supervene some whole. Otherwise, they cannot be parts of anything, cannot together form any coordinate thing – cannot, that is, be really together. Coordination per se then is always holistic. And wholes can occur concretely only as instances of ordered forms. So, yes: it must all start with the Lógos, or it cannot get started at all.

      Bottom up theories of the origin of coordination of disparate entities are nifty, but they all mutely, dumbly presuppose the prior activity of the coordinate entity they seek to explain. We see this especially with social contract theory. Contracts as such – agreements as such – presuppose a prior togetherness. You need a society in order to get them. Likewise, you need a living animal in order to get cells thereof. Likewise, you need a population in order for genetics to get going; you need a code in order for signals to happen; you need a mind in order for mental processes to be encoded in the brain. And so forth.

      • I agree with you that there can be no formless soup of human bonds but at the same time i cant help but think there needs to be buy in from people in order for society to remain ordered. Cells dont have a choice, but humans can be and are hermits or misanthropes or otherwise live as far away from the Law as they can, presupposing that Law = Society, as the “prime contract”. If Law =\= society, then we’re talking i believe about values and mores. If THAT is the case, then America is composed of many disparate (and possibly competing) societies all bound by a common acquiescance to the Law. And so, “society” becomes smaller and more competitive.

      • Yeah, America stopped being coherent at about the time of Shay’s Rebellion. If not before: the Revolution was after all, among other things, a civil war between Americans, who fought on both sides.

        Cells are like other animals: they cannot betray their proper natures. They can have no interest in leaving the animal of which they are members.

        Men per contra can and do err and stray from their proper natural ways – including the social aspects thereof – from the top to the bottom of the social hierarchy. If we were like the other animals, and always faithful to our proper natures – as , among other things, ourselves social animals – our societies would be as coherent and free of conflict as the societies of cells that constitute and effect our embodied selves. It is the dream of such perfect social order – harmonious, pacific, prosperous – that motivates utopians of all sorts, and that, having everywhere failed of realization, so disgusts the gnostics with the unsatisfactory anfractuosity and messiness of the created order.

        So, yes, there will always be misfits and hermits and loners. And madmen, and criminals, eccentrics and cranks, innovators and enthusiasts. But again, it is impossible to leave or defect from a society that isn’t there in the first place.


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