Theory of Social Contract | Explain in detail

(1) Introduction

Social contract theory narrates a period of evolution. This evolution period began with existence of state of nature and ended with the formation of state; the social contract theory explains how the state of nature existed and how the state emerged at the end of state of nature.

(2) Social Contract Theory

(i) Definition

There is a contract between state and its citizens to establish the society and keep the society alive. Such contract is called social contract.

(ii) Explanation

This theory can be explained in the following words:

  • (a) Key points
  • (b) Founders
  • (c) Criticism

(a) Key Points

Followings are the key points of this theory:

  • (a-i) Contract
  • (a-ii) Obligations & rights
  • (a-iii) Equality
  • (a-iv) Aim

(a-i) Contract

There is always a contract. And this contract is social contract:


  • (y) Society
  • (x) Parties

(y) Society

This contract is necessary for existence and working of the society.

(x) Parties

State and its citizens are parties to this contract.

(a-ii) Obligations & Rights

Obligations and rights of the citizens are dependent upon this contract:

  • (x) Obligations
  • (y) Rights

(x) Obligations

Citizens are bound to fulfill some political and moral obligations for the state; citizens follow criminal laws because they are in contract with the state to fulfill this obligation.

(y) Rights

State is to provide some rights to the citizens; the state provides right to life and security, right to property, right to education etc to its citizens because the state is in contract with its citizens to do this.

(a-iii) Equality

Everyone is equal in the society:

  • (x) Authority to rule
  • (y) Manner & limits

(x) Authority To Rule

No one possesses authority to rule. Rather the ruler receives his authority to rule from the social contract.

(y) Manner & Limits

Social Contract describes the manner to rule and defines limits on the powers of the ruler.

(a-iv) Aim

The main aim of this theory is to establish society and keep peace within it.

(b) Founders

Followings are founders of this theory:

  • (b-i) Socrates
  • (b-ii) John Locke
  • (a-iii) Jean Jacques Rousseau

(a-i) Socrates

Socrates originated this theory.

(a-ii) John Locke

His views regarding social contract theory can be explained in the following words:

  • (u) State of war
  • (v) Equal & free
  • (w) Natural rights
  • (x) Rule
  • (y) Inconveniences
  • (z) Two contracts

(u) State Of War

The people in the state of nature did not live in the state of war or constant war.

(v) Equal & Free

Men were equal and free to act within the limitations of the law of nature.

(w) Natural Rights

The men enjoyed natural rights: they enjoyed right to life, liberty and property.

(x) Rule

The men were governed by the law of nature in the state of nature.

(y) Inconveniences

The state of nature suffered from certain inconveniences:

  • (y-1) Legislature
  • (y-ii) Executive
  • (y-iii) Judiciary
  • (y-iv) Consequences

(y-i) Legislature

Laws were not clearly defined; there was no legislature to make laws.

(y-ii) Executive

No common authority to enforce the natural rights; there was no executive to enforce the laws.

(y-iii) Judiciary

There was no recognized and commonly accepted judge to settle the disputes: there was no judiciary to interpret the laws.

(y-iv) Consequences

Followings were consequences of these inconveniences:

  • (m) Chaos & insecurity
  • (n) Civil society
  • (o) State

(m) Chaos & Insecurity

Peace did not remain secured in the state of nature; chaos and insecurity emerged.

(n) Civil Society

The people left state of nature and entered civil society.

(o) State

State came into existence as a remedy against these inconveniences.

(2) Two Contracts

There were two contracts:

  • (z-1) Social contract
  • (z-ii) Government contract

(z-i) Social Contract

This contract led to the formation of civil society.

(2-ii) Government Contract

This contract led to the establishment of government.

(a-iii) Jean Jacques Rousseau

His views regarding social contract theory can be explained in the following words:

  • (u) Traditional state of nature
  • (v) Perfect happiness, freedom & equality
  • (w) Innocent & virtuous
  • (x) Civilization
  • (y) Changes in state of nature
  • (z) Civil Society

(t) Traditional State Of Nature

His views explained traditional state of nature..

(u) Perfect Happiness, Freedom & Equality

Man enjoyed perfect happiness, freedom and equality in the state of nature.

(w) Innocent & Virtuous

Man was innocent and virtuous in the state of nature.

(x) Civilization

Civilization corrupted man and deprived him of his happiness and freedom. And consequently, men were found in chain everywhere.

(y) Changes In State Of Nature

With the passage of time, things changed in the state of nature:

  • (y-1) Increase in population & down of reason
  • (y-ii) State of war

(y-i) Increase In Population & Down Of Reason

Increase in population and down of reason caused disintegration of the state of nature.

(y-ii) State Of War

The men went into the state of war after disintegration of state of nature.

(z) Civil Society

The men finally got themselves out of the state of war due to formation of civil society: all individuals became collective unity of society. In this way, civilization forced men into civil society.

(c) Criticism

Following is the criticism against social contract theory:

  • (c-i) Creation of society
  • (c-ii) State of nature
  • (c-iii) Historical evidence
  • (c-iv) Relation between state & individuals

(c-i) Creation Of Society

There is no evidence that society has ever been created on the basis of any voluntary contract.

(c-ii) State Of Nature

The existence of state of nature was almost impossible especially during the period when the human beings lived under conditions of simplicity, ignorance and brutality.

(c-iii) Historical Evidence

There is no historical evidence to prove presence of stable society and existence of state of nature.

(c-iv) Relation Between State & Individuals

The relation between the state and individuals is not due to contract, but is by the individual’s birth.

(3) Conclusion

It can be finally stated that social contract theory explains the existence of state of nature, its disintegration, establishment of civil society and creation of state.

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