social contract theory

What is social contract theory?

Social contract theory

In addition to these theories the social contact theory views society as a contrivance deliberately set up by men for certain ends. According to this theory, all men were born free and equal. Individual precedes society. Individuals made a mutual agreement and created society. According to Hobbes. Man in the state of nature was in perpetual conflict with his neighbours on account of his essentially selfish nature. In his own words, the life of man was ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

Every man was an enemy to every man. To protect himself against the evil consequence man organized himself in society in order to live in peace with all. Locke. Another social contract thinker. Believed that the state of nature was not a state of war. It was a state of ‘peace, goodwill, mutual assistance and preservation’.



The only disadvantage of the state of nature was that there was, no recognized system of law and justice in it. To make good this deficiency and ensure the exercise of his liberty man entered into a contract by which certain powers were conferred upon the community. J.J. Rousseau in his Contract Social (1762) held that men in the state of nature were equal. Self-Sufficient and contended. They lived a life of idyllic happiness and primitive simplicity. But growth in numbers of men and the quarrels arising among them necessitated the establishment of civil society.

Consequently men entered into a contract in virtue of which everyone, while uniting himself to all, remains as free as before. According to Adam Smith, Society is an artificial device created to foster a mutual economy.

Criticism of the  Various  Theories:

The above theories of the origin of society do not provide an adequate explanation of its origin. All of them have been subjected to numerous criticisms. Not going into the details of the criticism of each theory we will confine ourselves to certain important observations.

The origin of society is not due to God’s intervention in human history. The society is the outcome of the social instinct of man. Force, no doubt, is an important factor in the evolution of society but it cannot be regarded as the one and the only factor.

Several other factors must have entered into the composition of early society. It is as much a result of voluntary amalgamation as of force or conquest. Neither of the patriarchal and matriarchal families can be held universal. In the words of Leacock. ‘No single form of the primitive family or group can be asserted. Here the matriarchal relationship, and there a patriarchal regime, is found to have been the rule, – either of which may perhaps be displaced by the  other.

The social contract theory seems to assume that man as individual is prior to society but this assumption is erroneous because of the fact that sociality is in born in man. As soon as he saw the light of day with others like him society became a fact. Human beings are human beings inside and not outside of society. Society in fact emerged gradually. It did not come into existence on a particular day. The above theories might indicate the way in which certain societies began to exist but they do not offer a valid explanation of the origin of society.