Who Introduced the Social Contract Theory During the Enlightenment?


Diego Sanchez

During the Enlightenment era, a new theory was introduced that revolutionized the way people thought about politics and society. This theory is known as the Social Contract Theory, which proposes that individuals voluntarily give up some of their rights to a government in exchange for protection and security.

The concept of social contract theory has become an essential cornerstone of modern political philosophy. But who exactly introduced this groundbreaking idea?

The Origins of Social Contract Theory

The idea of a social contract dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, where philosophers such as Plato and Cicero discussed the concept in their works. However, it wasn’t until the Enlightenment era that the social contract theory became widely recognized as a legitimate political theory.

Thomas Hobbes

One of the first philosophers to develop the social contract theory during this time was Thomas Hobbes. In his famous book “Leviathan,” published in 1651, he argued that human beings were naturally selfish and violent creatures who needed a strong government to maintain order. According to Hobbes, individuals entered into a social contract with one another, giving up their personal freedoms to an all-powerful sovereign ruler who would protect them from harm.

John Locke

Another prominent figure who contributed significantly to the development of social contract theory was John Locke. In his book “Two Treatises on Government,” published in 1689, Locke argued that individuals had certain natural rights such as life, liberty, and property.

According to Locke’s social contract theory, people formed governments to protect these natural rights. If a government failed to do so or violated these rights, then individuals had the right to overthrow it.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was another philosopher who made significant contributions to social contract theory during the Enlightenment period. In his book “The Social Contract,” published in 1762, Rousseau argued that individuals were naturally good but corrupted by society. According to Rousseau’s social contract theory, people formed governments to protect themselves from the corrupting influences of society and to promote the general will of the people.


In conclusion, the social contract theory is a fundamental concept in modern political philosophy. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are three of the most significant philosophers who contributed significantly to its development during the Enlightenment era. Their ideas continue to influence political discourse and debate today and will likely do so for many years to come.