Discuss the relevance of Social Contract theories in the making of ideas of Human Rights

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Discuss the relevance of Social Contract theories in the making of ideas of Human Rights


In the most common concept, Human Rights are fundamentally applicable rights for all that they inherit by simply being born a human universally.Again, regardless of generic legal systems be it local or international, human rights are perceived and accounted to be applicable everywhere in the planet under international regulations. Human rights may be collected in the form of natural rights (comes from being in civilization) and legal rights (comes from being under specific legal systems).

In the larger context, human rights were confronted with a boost in such skepticisms in the 20th Century ultimately resulting in the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights

Evolution Of Human Rights

Human rights have an extensive historical prospect in context of the known milestones that have contributed to its creation till today. In that aspect, human rights have several different tiers in making from several different times in history. In a condensed written representation, human rights took precedence in the following ages,

§ Age Of Enlightenment

The age of enlightenment catered to the generic advancement of human rights to personal perception and scientific methods directly opposing preset superstitions that were persistent from the Age Of Discovery and the Early Modern Periods. It is in this period that John Locke developed his concept of Natural Rights to establish the consensus of peoples’ rights of liberty and equality in general.\ Apart from John Locke’s contribution, the English Bill Rights came to form in the same century with the dissection and proper definition of the power balance of the crown and the parliament in the joint-sovereigns of the commonwealth realm. Additionally, a century later, two major revolutions took place in the separate continental basis of France and America which ultimately led to the establish The Virginia Declaration Of Rights and the Declaration Of The Rights Of Man And Citizen each holds prominent places in the legal history of human rights.

§ Pre-World War I

Lesser movements augmented the understanding of human rights in this era with the only noteworthy contribution came at the form of criticality in civil rights which was later staged as an influential factor on the concept of human rights.

§ World War I – World War II

After the end of WWI, the League of Nations was established this aimed their efforts at negotiations, diplomacy and an agenda to accumulate global cooperation in ascertaining the welfare of mankind in wartimes. Lesser promotion of human rights was presented herewith which was augmented further in the time stream.

§ Post-World War II

The most significant contribution perhaps came with the Geneva Convention and UDHRafter WWII came to an end with its viability being staged with the establishment of global equality and ultimately restructured to address and define the underlying principles of equality, liberty, dignity, brotherhood, and defining rights of relationships, economic rights, social rights and cultural rights.

Origin: Social Contracts

History & Definition

Like human rights, Social Contract originated in the age of enlightenment. It is a theory that indulges in the political philosophy in the social arena with addressing the powerbase that the state upholds on respective individuals under them.<href=”#_ftn9″ name=”_ftnref9″ title=””>[9] In short, Social Contracts means giving up a few liberty prospects to authority figures in order to protect and preserve other rights that individuals typically value. Social contracts demand that this submission to the higher authority to be done in either giving explicit or tacit consent deems the legitimacy of the contract in the aspect of the given theory.


There are several forms of social contracts that rose throughout the ages succeeding the age of enlightenment but are warped in the ideologies given by several authors and free-thinkers of both French and American origin primarily. These individuals laid the foundation stone that gave birth to social contracts in their perception of how human rights are related in the greater picture. Prominent figures would thus be,


Classical Theorists

Thomas Hobbes

§ John Locke

§ Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Additionally, there were other philosophers who induced their own ideals in posing different views concerning social contracts are also existent notably,

§ Pierre-Joseph Proudhon


Modern Theorists

John Rawls

§ David Gauthier

§ Philip Pettit

Impact OnThe Perception Of Human Rights

The effects of social contract theories on human rights are significant since the very concept of social contacts is based on either the promotion or forfeit of rights in a simplistic manner. Given that, prominent social contract theories are given precedence which would be,

§ Natural Law

Natural law or law of nature is a set of legal rights or a system that is determined for just being born human and is thus a universal concept.It criticizes positive law in the aspect of removing particular binding rules that governs moral behavior. The impact it has on human rights would be its aptitude in discerning the natural justice in relation to natural rights. Natural rights are closely related to human rights but are separated for some traditional aspect.It is sometimes termed as negative rights whereas human rights comprises of positive rights.In a condensed ultimatum, Social Contracts (inthis case, Natural Law)Outlines & RationalizeThe Moral Boundaries Of Human Rights Beyond Government Control.

§ Social Contract: Rousseau’s Viewpoint

The social contract theory in the perception of Jean-Jacques Rousseau differs in the perspective in the sense of his beliefs in political rights. In dispensation to human rights, Rousseau concluded that liberty or freedom can only be attained by people (not under any representative government) as a whole in context of an established popular sovereignty which would be indivisible and inalienable considering the entire populace under the given system.<href=”#_ftn14″ name=”_ftnref14″ title=””>[14] His views on freedom is that it must be forced to be actualized<href=”#_ftn15″ name=”_ftnref15″ title=””>[15] hence such Human Rights In This Sense Must Be Forced To Be Realized.

§ Individualist Social Contract

Proudhon developed this particular theory in his works that envelops the individualistic view of a social contract. Herewith, Individuals Within A Given State Are Not Susceptible To Any Form Of Social Contracts With The State But Rather With Each Other As Individuals. He criticized governance of all form and established his idea on the basis of agreeing to accompany negative rights underneath a limited state or government with restrictive powerbase.

§ Theory Of Justice

Perhaps the most prominent theory for debate, the theory of justice developed by John Rawls focuses on the varied limitations of the state/government. In his theory, he described The Original Position Of Society Under Preset Legal/Judicial Regulations That Creates The Basic Structure Of The Given Society Whereupon Individuals Within The Society Accepted The General Principles. In consideration to human rights, it established the notion of fairness and equality on and of the people living in the said society to ensure justice.

§ Consent Theory

Consent theory is another social contract phenomenon that has significant impact on human rights. Given that, consent theory generalizes on How Individuals Take Decisions As Free Agents With The Agenda Of Creating Relationships With Other Free Agents which sums up to be the base of governance. It clusters around the phase that of “…All Men Are Equal…”. The idea of consent theory comes from several different philosophers and can be traced back to the early 16th century.<href=”#_ftn20″ name=”_ftnref20″ title=””>[20]

§ Consent Of The Governed

Consent of the governed is sometimes arched with Political Theory but is fundamentally different as it was stated as a phase upon the US Declaration of Independence. It Balances Out The Legitimacy Of The Government Made Only Possible If The Given Authority Derives From People Or Society. Consent of the governed is explicit and can be further clarified with the right to vote as it is a unanimous consent of citizen globally as opposed to a centralized government rule. A primary limitation of the theory dictates that tacit consent of the governed would only be applicable to the people who have accepted the rule of their respective governments.

§ Social Justice

Social justice hypotheses the Justice Phenomena Applicable To A Multitude Of Social Class which are exist within a given society. Based on the principle on the rights of equality, social justice value human rights] and organizes human dignity and confirms universally lasting justice in the theory. It rose to prominence in the modern age during its exposure in 1848 which was previously noted as a minor social contract theory.

§ Theory Of Morality

D. Gauthier established the morality theory on his neo-Hobbesian approach which redefines the cooperation factor between two independent agents particularly when its boundary is preset under the comprehension of morality.<href=”#_ftn27″ name=”_ftnref27″ title=””>[27]It outlines that the cooperation of authority figures and/or agents with other agents with the core being made of citizens would indeed result in positive and optimal result on both party’s interests.<href=”#_ftn28″ name=”_ftnref28″ title=””>[28] It Focuses On The Effect Of Fulfilled Human Rights Have On Effective Governance and agent’s affirmed perspective towards legal regulations.

§ Republicanism

A more in-depth coverage of social contracts particularly the consent of the governed whereupon the focus was maintained on explicit consent. In republicanism, it is assumed that Explicit Consent Can Always Be Manufactured By Means Of Coercion In Such A Degree As To Validate The Necessity Of Rebellious Elements within the country and its environmental auspices would be the only aspect that legitimizes the consent theory.<href=”#_ftn29″ name=”_ftnref29″ title=””>[29] Rebellions would in turn redirect to the mainstream actualization of human rights.

Summarized Overview

Social Contract Theory Affected Human Rights
Natural Law Natural Rights, Positive Rights
Social Contract: Rousseau’s Viewpoint Forceful Freedom (Rights)
Individualist Social Contract Negative Rights; Sovereignty
Theory Of Justice Position Of Fairness
Consent Theory Decision-Making (Consent)
Consent Of The Governed Explicit Consent
Social Justice Equality & Dignity
Theory Of Morality Mutual Benefit, Moral Boundaries
Republicanism Rebellion, Tacit Consent

Table: Effect Of Social Contracts on Specific Human Rights

Personal Assessment

Questioning Existence

Despite the fruitful application of social contracts and its role in the idea generation of human rights as well as its virulent evolution over the ages, social contracts are hypothesis and pure fiction whereas rights are real and within the constitutional bounds of every legal system. The foundation of every social contract theory argues that everyone is to go into a contract that has no credibility other than that of an unconfirmed human-to-human agreement over the acceptability of acknowledged-party behavior with taking in critical factors such like,

§ Protection Of Life & Property

§ Social Livelihood

§ External Threats

Social Contracts


Regardless of the magnitude, a society may thrive without these particular factors as per the judge of critics.These critics are varied but are most notably under the auspices of,

§ Consent Of The Governed

§ Tacit Consent

§ Voluntarism

§ Natural Law & Constitutionalism

Additionally, there are some extremely sensitive prospects that puts the credibility of social contracts to question as to which there are no mention of,

§ Prohibition on Abortion

§ Prohibition on Harming Animals

§ Establishment of Religion

§ Paternalistic Laws

§ Anti-Sodomy Laws etc.

All in all, the very definition and restructuring of social contract theories in the 20th Century to onwards is inadequate to address the generic rising issues of the present society to an effective degree.


As an afterword, the making of the idea of human rights is more or less affected to a significant degree by several social contract theories up from the age of enlightenment to the present era. Each social contract is still debated in the mainstream society so as to insert deviation to the understanding to rights and the governing society.

The paramount effects on human rights are primarily created from the understanding of society and its defined boundaries. In doing so, every social contract has a singular common element which is termed as “Human Rights” which, in turn, is the underlying hypothesis that was to be proved in this study. As the garnered results are concrete and directs to the state of nature and its gradual morphing, it is confirmed that social contract theories are indeed relevant in not only birthing the idea of human rights, but also its continuous evolution in societies, communities, states, governments, nations and people.

<href=”#_ftnref1″ name=”_ftn1″ title=””>[1]See <href=”#CITEREFSep.C3.BAlveda_et_al.2004″>Sepúlveda et al. 2004, p. 3[1]

<href=”#_ftnref2″ name=”_ftn2″ title=””>[2]See <href=”#CITEREFNickel2010″>Nickel 2010

<href=”#_ftnref3″ name=”_ftn3″ title=””>[3]See Alfredsson, Gudmundur; Eide, Asbjorn (1999). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: a common standard of achievement. MartinusNijhoff Publishers.ISBN 978-90-411-1168-5.

<href=”#_ftnref4″ name=”_ftn4″ title=””>[4]See Locke’s Political Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

<href=”#_ftnref5″ name=”_ftn5″ title=””>[5]See Thatcher, Oliver Joseph (ed.) (1907). <href=”#v=onepage&q=Bill%20of%20Rights%201689%20%22december%2016%22&f=false”>The library of original sources.University Research Extension.p. 10.

<href=”#_ftnref6″ name=”_ftn6″ title=””>[6]See Ex Parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 2, 119. (full text)”. December 1866. Archived from the original on 2008-03-07.

<href=”#_ftnref7″ name=”_ftn7″ title=””>[7]See (A/RES/217, 1948-12-10 at Palais de Chaillot, Paris)

<href=”#_ftnref8″ name=”_ftn8″ title=””>[8]See Glendon, Mary Ann (July 2004). “The Rule of Law in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Northwestern University Journal of International Human Rights2 (5).

<href=”#_ftnref9″ name=”_ftn9″ title=””>[9]See J. W. Gough, The Social Contract (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936), pp. 2–3. Modern revivals of social contract theories have not been as concerned with the origin of the state.

<href=”#_ftnref10″ name=”_ftn10″ title=””>[10]See Strauss, Leo (1968). “Natural Law”.International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Macmillan.

<href=”#_ftnref11″ name=”_ftn11″ title=””>[11]See “Natural Law”. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Columbia University Press. 2007.

<href=”#_ftnref12″ name=”_ftn12″ title=””>[12]See Jones, Peter. Rights. Palgrave Macmillan, 1994, p. 73.

<href=”#_ftnref13″ name=”_ftn13″ title=””>[13]See James Nickel, Human Rights, 2010. The claim that “..all human rights are negative rights..” is rejected, therefore human rights also comprise positive rights.

<href=”#_ftnref14″ name=”_ftn14″ title=””>[14]See Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Oeuvres complètes, ed. B. Gagnebin and M. Raymond (Paris, 1959–95), III, 361; The Collected Writings of Rousseau, ed. C. Kelley and R. Masters (Hanover, 1990-), IV, 139.

<href=”#_ftnref15″ name=”_ftn15″ title=””>[15]See Oeuvres complètes, III, 364; The Collected Writings of Rousseau, IV, 141

<href=”#_ftnref16″ name=”_ftn16″ title=””>[16]See <href=”#s3p5″>General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (1851), Sixth Study, § 3 ¶ 5.

<href=”#_ftnref17″ name=”_ftn17″ title=””>[17]See Gerald Gaus and Shane D. Courtland, 2011, “Liberalism”, 1.1, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

<href=”#_ftnref18″ name=”_ftn18″ title=””>[18]See Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, “Rawls, John,” Cambridge University Press, pp. 774-775.

<href=”#_ftnref19″ name=”_ftn19″ title=””>[19]See <href=”#CITEREFRawls1971″>Rawls 1971, pp. 397

<href=”#_ftnref20″ name=”_ftn20″ title=””>[20]See C Watner (1986), “Oh, Ye Are For Anarchy!”: Consent Theory in the Radical Libertarian Tradition, Journal of Libertarian Studies.

<href=”#_ftnref21″ name=”_ftn21″ title=””>[21] See UDHR Article (21)

<href=”#_ftnref22″ name=”_ftn22″ title=””>[22]See Cassinelli, C. W. (1959). “The ‘Consent’ of the Governed”.Political Research Quarterly12 (2): 391–409. doi:10.1177/106591295901200202.

<href=”#_ftnref23″ name=”_ftn23″ title=””>[23] See Bookman, John T. (1984). “Locke’s Contract: Would People consent to It?”.American Journal of Economics and Sociology43 (3): 357–68. doi:10.1111/j.1536-7150.1984.tb01750.x.

<href=”#_ftnref24″ name=”_ftn24″ title=””>[24] See Education and Social Justice By J. Zajda, S. Majhanovich, V. Rust, 2006, ISBN 1-4020-4721-5

<href=”#_ftnref25″ name=”_ftn25″ title=””>[25] See Nursing ethics: across the curriculum and into practice By Janie B. Butts, Karen Rich, Jones and Bartlett Publishers 2005, ISBN 978-0-7637-4735-0

<href=”#_ftnref26″ name=”_ftn26″ title=””>[26]See Engineering and Social Justice By Donna Riley, Morgan and Claypool Publishers 2008, ISBN 978-1-59829-626-6

<href=”#_ftnref27″ name=”_ftn27″ title=””>[27]See <href=”#SH3b”>Social Contract Theory [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]”.Iep.utm.edu. 2004-10-15.

<href=”#_ftnref28″ name=”_ftn28″ title=””>[28]See <href=”#3″>”Contractarianism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)”. Plato.stanford.edu.

<href=”#_ftnref29″ name=”_ftn29″ title=””>[29]See Pocock, J.G.A. The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (1975; new ed. 2003)