Which of the Following Describes Social Contract Theory?


Martha Robinson

When it comes to political philosophy, one theory that stands out is the Social Contract Theory. This theory attempts to explain the origin and basis of the government’s authority over its citizens.

It aims to answer questions like why do we need a government? What is the source of its power? And what are our obligations as citizens?

Understanding Social Contract Theory

Social Contract Theory proposes that individuals voluntarily enter into an agreement or contract with each other to form a society. According to this theory, people give up some of their individual freedoms and rights in exchange for protection and security provided by the government.

The Basic Principles

  • Consent: The cornerstone of the Social Contract Theory is consent. Individuals willingly come together and agree to be governed by a set of rules and laws.
  • Mutual Benefit: The social contract is mutually beneficial for both citizens and the government. Citizens receive protection, security, and certain rights, while the government gains authority and legitimacy to maintain law and order.
  • Reciprocity: Citizens have certain obligations towards the government, such as paying taxes, obeying laws, serving in juries, or even defending the nation if necessary.

The Key Thinkers

The concept of Social Contract Theory has been discussed by various philosophers throughout history. Some key thinkers who contributed significantly include:

  • Thomas Hobbes: Hobbes believed that life without a government would be chaotic and violent. He argued that individuals willingly surrender their freedoms to an absolute ruler in return for protection against a state of nature.
  • John Locke: Locke emphasized individual rights and limited government.

    He viewed the social contract as an agreement between citizens and the government, where the government’s primary role is to protect people’s natural rights to life, liberty, and property.

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Rousseau focused on the collective will of the people. He believed that a legitimate social contract can only exist when citizens come together and participate in direct democracy.

Criticisms and Relevance Today

While Social Contract Theory has shaped political philosophy for centuries, it is not without criticism. Critics argue that it oversimplifies complex societal dynamics and assumes a rational and equal playing field for all individuals.

However, despite its limitations, Social Contract Theory remains relevant today.

It provides a theoretical foundation for understanding the relationship between individuals and their governments. It also offers insights into concepts like consent, legitimacy, and citizen obligations in modern democracies.

In conclusion,

Social Contract Theory suggests that governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed. It highlights the reciprocal relationship between citizens and their governments, where both parties have rights and responsibilities. While not without criticism, this theory continues to shape our understanding of political systems and societal dynamics.