Who Created Social Contract Theory?


Vincent White

Who Created Social Contract Theory?

Social contract theory is an influential concept in political philosophy that explores the hypothetical agreement between individuals to form a society and establish a governing authority. This theory has been widely discussed and developed by several prominent thinkers throughout history. Let’s delve into the key figures who have contributed to the creation and evolution of social contract theory.

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher, is often considered the founding father of social contract theory. In his seminal work Leviathan, published in 1651, Hobbes introduced the idea of a social contract as a means to escape the state of nature, which he famously described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

  • Hobbes argued that individuals willingly surrender their natural rights to a sovereign authority in exchange for protection and security.
  • The social contract creates a powerful government that maintains order and prevents chaos.

John Locke

John Locke, another influential philosopher, presented his interpretation of social contract theory in his work Two Treatises of Government, published in 1689.

  • Locke’s version of the social contract emphasized the natural rights of individuals, including life, liberty, and property.
  • He argued that governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed.
  • If a government fails to protect these rights or exceeds its power, individuals have the right to overthrow it.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Swiss philosopher, further developed social contract theory in his influential work The Social Contract, published in 1762.

  • Rousseau proposed that individuals enter into a social contract with each other rather than with a governing authority.
  • He believed in the concept of the “general will,” which represents the common interests of the community.
  • Rousseau’s ideas laid the groundwork for democratic governance and popular sovereignty.

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher of the Enlightenment era, also made significant contributions to social contract theory.

  • Kant focused on the moral and ethical aspects of social contracts.
  • He argued that individuals have a duty to follow the rules established by a legitimate government based on rational moral principles.
  • Kant emphasized the importance of autonomy and individual freedom within the social contract framework.


Social contract theory has been shaped by the ideas and contributions of various philosophers throughout history. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant are among the key figures who have played pivotal roles in its development. Understanding their perspectives helps us grasp the underlying principles and complexities of this fundamental concept in political philosophy.