When Was the Social Contract Theory?


Martha Robinson

The Social Contract Theory is a political philosophy that explores the relationship between individuals and the state. It aims to understand the origins of government and the underlying principles that govern this relationship. This theory has been a subject of debate and discussion for centuries, with its roots tracing back to ancient times.

The Origins

The concept of the social contract can be traced back to ancient Greek and Roman philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. However, it was during the Enlightenment period in the 17th and 18th centuries when this theory gained significant attention and was further developed by influential thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes, an English philosopher, introduced the social contract theory in his famous work Leviathan published in 1651. He argued that in a state of nature, humans lived in a constant state of war due to their selfish nature.

To escape this chaos, individuals willingly enter into a social contract by surrendering some of their freedoms to a governing authority. In return, the government provides security and maintains order.

John Locke

Locke’s ideas on the social contract were articulated in his influential work Two Treatises of Government, published in 1690. He believed that individuals possess natural rights such as life, liberty, and property.

According to Locke, people form societies and establish governments to protect these rights. However, if a government fails to fulfill its obligations or violates these rights, individuals have the right to rebel.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau’s book The Social Contract, published in 1762, presented a different perspective on the social contract theory. He argued that the social contract is a mutual agreement among individuals to create a general will that represents the common good. Rousseau believed that true democracy requires active participation and decision-making by citizens.

Relevance Today

The social contract theory continues to be relevant in contemporary political philosophy and discussions about the role of government and individual rights. It provides a framework for understanding the legitimacy of government authority and the balance between individual freedoms and societal obligations.

  • Protection of Rights: The social contract theory emphasizes the importance of protecting individual rights, ensuring equality, and preventing abuses of power by governments.
  • Consent of the Governed: It highlights the idea that governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed, meaning that people have the power to shape their government through participation in democratic processes.
  • Civil Society: The theory promotes the idea of a civil society where individuals respect each other’s rights, cooperate for mutual benefits, and contribute to the common good.

In conclusion, while the origins of the social contract theory can be traced back to ancient times, it was during the Enlightenment period when it gained significant attention. Philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau contributed to its development and shaped our understanding of government and individual rights. Today, this theory continues to play a crucial role in political philosophy discussions as we navigate issues concerning governance, democracy, and individual liberties.