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


Human right persists in the codes of conduct put forward by a society and is accepted by law in the national and international level. They are primarily forwarded to the governments demanding obedience of those rights.These rights are inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.

The main contemporary conception of Human Rights is originated from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by the United Nations. It set out a list of over two dozen specific human rights that the nations of the world are expected to honor and support. In 1966, the United Nations General Assembly approved the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. A country formally agreeing to UN human rights treaty consents to honor and execute in domestic law the rights that the treaty covers and remains accountable to scrutiny and criticism regarding the practice of the rights.

The universal declaration of human rights

United nation declared that independence, justice and peace can help to attain innate right to respect and ethical treatment and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the world. Disrespect and criticism caused brutal and coarse activities in the past, and it is highly desired to make the world a place with freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear. It is necessary that people are not forced to do anything against their wish, and revolutionary voice to be raised against oppression and tyranny. Human rights should be protected by law and legislation. Nations must maintain friendly relations among themselves. The human rights of the people shall be protected through the human rights charter of the United Nations. The status and value of people in the society shall be preserved through ensuring equal rights for men and women, and thus promote social progress and better standards of life. Any member country of the United Nations agrees to achieve the promotion of universal respect for human through mutual agreement and allowing fundamental freedom. The common understanding of these rights is essential for the actualization of its goal.

The General Assembly proclaims the universal declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all people and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the people of member states themselves and among the people of territories under their jurisdiction.<href=”#_ftn1″ name=”_ftnref1″ title=””>[1]

The existence of human rights

Human rights exist in the international law because treaties have turned rights into international law. For example- the human right not to be held in slavery or servitude in Article 4 of the European Convention and in Article 8 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights exists because these treaties establish it.<href=”#_ftn2″ name=”_ftnref2″ title=””>[2] When a human right is practiced in national law due to custom or judicial decision, it is described as social, civil or constitutional right of the country. For example, the right against slavery exists in the United States because the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits slavery and servitude. However, it is also said that people are born with human rights, and therefore the existence of rights is more due to human nature than because of legal bindings.

Social rights are often alleged to be statements of desirable goals but not really rights. More than half of the world’s countries were in no position, in terms of economic, institutional, and human resources, to realize these standards fully or even largely. For many countries, noncompliance due to inability would have been certain if these standards had been treated as immediately binding.

Classification of Human Rights

Everything in society is not about human rights. Rights compatible in the international human rights document are generally considered as human rights. Considering the relevant documents human rights has been classifies into four categories and they are discussed as follows.

(1) Civil and political rights. (2) Minority and group rights (3) Environmental rights.

(4) Social rights

(1) Civil and political rights:

Most civil and political rights are not absolute—they are in some cases overridden by other considerations and rightly set aside in those cases. For example, some civil and political rights can be restricted by public and private property rights, by restraining orders related to domestic violence, and by legal punishments. Further, after a disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake free movement is often appropriately suspended to keep out the curious, to permit access of emergency vehicles and equipment, and to prevent looting. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights permits rights to be suspended during times “of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation” (Article 4). But it excludes some rights from suspension including the right to life, the prohibition of torture, the prohibition of slavery, the prohibition of ex post facto criminal laws, and freedom of thought and religion.<href=”#_ftn3″ name=”_ftnref3″ title=””>[3]

(2) Rights of women, minorities, and groups:

Feminists have often protested, however, that standard lists of human rights do not sufficiently take into account the different risks faced by women and men. For example, issues like domestic violence, reproductive choice, and trafficking of women and girls for sex work did not have a prominent place in early human rights documents and treaties. Further, violations of women’s human rights often occur in the home at the hands of other family members, not in the street at the hands of the police. Most violence against women occurs in the private sphere. This has meant that governments cannot be seen as the only addressees of human rights and that the right to privacy of home and family needs qualifications to allow police to protect women within the home.

Minority groups are often targets of violence. Human rights norms call upon governments to refrain from such violence and to provide protections against it. This work is partly done by the right to life, which is a standard individual right. It is also done by the right against genocide which protects groups from attempts to destroy or decimate them. The Genocide Convention was one of the first human rights treaties after World War II.

The right against genocide seems to be a group right. It is held by both individuals and groups and provides protection to groups as groups. It is largely negative in the sense that it requires governments and other agencies to refrain from destroying groups; but it also requires that legal and other protections against genocide be created at the national level.

(3) Environmental Rights:

This right calls on governments and international organizations to regulate the activities of both governmental and nongovernmental agents to ensure that environmental safety is maintained. Citizens are secondary addressees. This right sets out a modest environmental standard, safety for humans, rather than calling for higher and broader standards of environmental protection. Implementing a new right has opportunity costs. If no new resources are available, implementing a new right will mean that fewer resources are available for the implementation of existing rights.

(4) Social Rights:

Complementary approach to implementing social rights in developing countries emphasizes ability enhancement rather than burden reduction. It seeks to increase the ability of developing countries to implement rights effectively. Possible strategies include using aid to increase the resources available for this purpose, providing education to current and future officials, offering technical assistance concerning the mechanisms of implementation, and battling corruption.

The Social Contract theory

Social contract theory is as old as philosophy itself and is the view that persons’ moral or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement among them to form the society in which they live. Thomas Hobbes in his theory of the social contract, founded on the hypothetical State of Nature, said that men are reasonable; they can see their way out of such a state by recognizing the laws of nature, which show them the means by which to escape the State of Nature and create a civil society. The first and most important law of nature commands that each man be willing to pursue peace when others are willing to do the same, all the while retaining the right to continue to pursue war when others do not pursue peace. Being reasonable, and recognizing the rationality of this basic precept of reason, men can be expected to construct a Social Contract that will afford them a life other than that available to them in the State of Nature. Hobbes said that the social contract is constituted by two different contracts. The first contract is that man must agree among each other to establish society by collectively and reciprocally renouncing the rights they had against one another in the State of Nature. Second, they must imbue some one person or assembly of persons with the authority and power to enforce the initial contract. In other words, to ensure their escape from the State of Nature, they must both agree to live together under common laws, and create an enforcement mechanism for the social contract and the laws that constitute it.<href=”#_ftn4″ name=”_ftnref4″ title=””>[4]It has been more recently recognized that there are two distinct strains of social contract thought, which now typically go by the names “contractarianism” and “contractualism.”

Contractarianism: It stems from the Hobbesian line of social contract thought, holds that persons are primarily self-interested, and that a rational assessment of the best strategy for attaining the maximization of their self-interest will lead them to act morally (where the moral norms are determined by the maximization of joint interest) and to consent to governmental authority. Contractarianism argues that we each are motivated to accept morality, as Jan Narveson puts it, “first because we are vulnerable to the depredations of others, and second because we can all benefit from cooperation with others.

Contractualism : Contractualism, which stems from the Kantian line of social contract thought, holds that rationality requires that we respect persons, which in turn requires that moral principles be such that they can be justified to each person. Thus, individuals are not taken to be motivated by self-interest but rather by a commitment to publicly justify the standards of morality to which each will be held. Where Gauthier, Narveson, or economist James Buchanan are the paradigm Hobbesian contractarians, Rawls or Thomas Scanlon would be the paradigm Kantian contractualists. The rest of this entry will specifically pertain to the contractarian strain wherever the two diverge.


The development of human rights is the reflection of increased concern of people all over the world with the treatment accorded to their fellow human beings in other countries, particularly when the treatment does not meet the minimal standards of civilized behavior. In the first half of the nineteenth century the world witnessed acceptance of legal rules to stop slavery and in the second half developments have taken place in prohibiting cruel or oppressive behaviors like- genocide, arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, political executions and torture. The fact that violations of human rights continue to occur does not mean that attempts to prevent them by international law is pointless, but it rather means that the attempts to provide international protection are not as effective as they ought to be and that a great deal remains to be done to improve the existing international procedures. The UN system for implementing human rights is stronger on the promotion rather than on the protection of human rights. It does not have any international human rights courts which can force states to implement human rights, but is basically restricted to awareness-raising; influencing, friendly persuasions, and revelation of criminal offence. Some countries with the worst human rights records do not take part in UN human rights system. Success in promoting human rights requires hard-to-achieve success in other areas including building more capable, responsive, efficient, and non-corrupt governments, dealing with failed states, increasing economic productivity (to pay for the protections and services that human rights require), improving the power and status of women, improving education, and managing international tensions and conflicts.  (2150 words)


1. What are human rights, United Nations Human Rights available from:-http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Pages/WhatareHumanRights.aspx [ Accessed 15 June 2013]

2. Human rights in the world, third edition, A. H Robertson, Manchester University Press, Manchester

3. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations available from:-http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/[Accessed 18 June 18, 2013]

4. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Human Rights, available from:-http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rights-human/[Accessed 15 June 2013]

5. Internet encyclopedia of philosophy, Social Contract Theory, available from:-http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/ [Accessed 18 June 18, 2013]

6. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Contemporary Approaches to the social contract, available from:-http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/contractarianism-contemporary/[Accessed 15 June, 2013]

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, available from:-http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/[ Accessed 18 June 18, 2013]

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available from:-http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rights-human/[Accessed 15 June 2013]

Internet encyclopedia of philosophy, Social Contract Theory, available from:-http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/ [Accessed 18 June 18, 2013]

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Contemporary Approaches to the social contract, available from:-http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/contractarianism-contemporary/[Accessed 15 June,2013]

Human rights in the world , third edition, A. H Robertson, Manchester University Press, Manchester

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Human Rights, available from:-http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rights-human/[Accessed 15 June 2013]