What Is Theory of Social Contract?


Jane Flores

What Is Theory of Social Contract?

The theory of social contract is a concept in political philosophy that explores the origin and purpose of governments. It proposes that individuals voluntarily form a social contract, giving up some of their natural rights in exchange for protection and the benefits of organized society.


The origins of the theory can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. However, it was English philosopher Thomas Hobbes who popularized the idea in his book “Leviathan” in 1651.

The Basic Premise

The theory suggests that in a state of nature, without any form of government or authority, humans would be in a constant state of conflict and chaos. To escape this anarchic condition, individuals enter into a social contract with each other.

  • Voluntary Agreement: According to the theory, individuals willingly give up certain freedoms and rights to establish an organized society.
  • Government Legitimacy: The authority of the government is derived from the consent of the governed. The people grant power to the government to maintain order and protect their rights.
  • Mutual Obligations: Both citizens and governments have obligations towards each other. Citizens must obey laws and pay taxes while governments are responsible for providing security and promoting the general welfare.

Social Contract Thinkers

Various philosophers have contributed to the development of social contract theory:

  • John Locke: Locke believed that individuals have natural rights to life, liberty, and property. He argued that governments exist to protect these rights and that if a government fails in its duty, the people have the right to revolt.
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Rousseau emphasized the idea of the general will, where individuals come together to create laws that represent the common good.

    He believed in direct democracy and that citizens should actively participate in decision-making.

  • Immanuel Kant: Kant focused on the moral aspects of social contract theory. He argued that individuals have a duty to uphold moral laws and that governments should be based on principles of justice and equality.


The theory of social contract is not without its critics:

  • Lack of Historical Evidence: Critics argue that there is no historical evidence to support the idea of an actual social contract being formed.
  • Individual Rights: Some argue that individuals should not have to give up any rights, even for the benefits of society.
  • Inequality: Critics claim that social contract theory does not adequately address issues of inequality and the potential for exploitation by those in power.


The theory of social contract provides a framework for understanding the relationship between individuals and governments. It highlights the importance of consent, mutual obligations, and the protection of individual rights. While it may have its criticisms, it remains a significant concept in political philosophy.