Human Rights and Its Relation with Social Contract Theory

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Human Rights and Its Relation with Social Contract Theory


The essay discuss on the human rights. Therefore principal objective is to discuss about the rights and human rights; and to identify whether human right belongs to every human or not.There have been number of philosophy on how the human rights have been evolved in our society. One of the prime philosophies is the social contract theories. In this paper it has been also discussed about how the ideas of human rights have been evolved from Social Contract Theories.

Human Rights and Its Relation with Social Contract

1. Introduction

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world1

Human rights are rights integral to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally authorized to our human rights without discrimination. However, these rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.

Universal human rights are often articulated and assured by law, in the forms of treaties, customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law. International human rights law lays down compulsionsand responsibilities of Governments to act in certain ways or to abstain from certain acts, in order to promote and guard human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.

1. 1st sentence of the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Human rights are statementsof the society. They suggest both individual entitlement and corresponding obligation on society. The state must grow institutions and procedures, must plan and mobilize resources as necessary to meet the claims individuals have. Political and civil rights require laws, institutions, procedures, and other safeguards against tyranny, against corrupt, immoral, and inefficient agencies or officials. Economic and social rights require taxation and spending and a network of agencies for social welfare. The idea of human rights implies also that society must provide some system of remedies to which individuals may resort to obtain benefits to which they are entitled or be compensated for their loss.

The idea of Human Rights has come from various concepts. This is known as the Philosophy of Human Rights. The philosophy of human rights endeavors to examine the coreorigin of the perception of human rights and critically looks at its content and explanation. Several theoretical approaches have been advanced to explain how and the concept of human rights developed. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes suggested the existence of a hypothetical social contract which has the involvement in constructing the ideas of human rights.

2. Human Rights

2.1 Definitions

The dictionary meaning of Human Rights is that any basic right or freedom to which all human beings are entitled and in whose exercise a government may not interfere (including rights to life and liberty as well as freedom of thought and expression and equality before the law)2

Human rights are “commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being.” 3

The idea of human rights states, “If the public discourse of peacetime global society can be said to have a common moral language, it is that of human rights.” 4


3. Sepúlveda et al. 2004, p. 3[1]

4. Beitz 2009, p. 1

2.2 Illustrations

The fundamental rights that humans have by the fact of being human, and that are neither created nor can be abrogated by any government.

Supported by several international conventions and treaties (such as the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human rights in 1948), these include cultural, economic, and political rights, such as right to life, liberty, education and equality before law, and right of association, belief, free speech, information, religion, movement, and nationality. Promulgation of these rights is not binding on any country, but they serve as a standard of concern for people and form the basis of many modern national constitutions. Although they were defined first by the Scottish philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) as absolute moral claims or entitlements to life, liberty, and property, the best-known expression of human rights is in the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776 which proclaims that “All men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity.”

The concept of human rights is based on the belief that every human being is entitled to enjoy her/his rights without discrimination.

One important implication of these characteristics is that human rights must themselves be protected by law (‘the rule of law’). Furthermore, any disputes about these rights should be submitted for adjudication through a competent, impartial and independent tribunal, applying procedures which ensure full equality and fairness to all the parties, and determining the question in accordance with clear, specific and pre-existing laws, known to the public and openly declared.

The idea of basic rights originated from the need to protect the individual against the (arbitrary) use of state power. Attention was therefore initially focused on those rights which oblige governments to refrain from certain actions. Human rights in this category are generally referred to as ‘fundamental freedoms’. As human rights are viewed as a prerequisite for leading ahonorable human existence, they serve as a guide and touchstone for legislation.

Human rights are thus considered5 as universal (applicable everywhere) and egalitarian (same for everyone). These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national and international law. The doctrine of human rights in international practice, within international law, global and regional institutions, in the policies of states and in the activities of non-governmental organizations, has been a cornerstone of public policy around the world.

3. Characteristics of Human Rights

Following are the characteristics of human rights:

3.1. Human Rights are Immutable – Human rights are discussed on an individual due to the very nature of his reality. They are indispensible in all persons irrespective of their caste, creed, religion, sex and nationality.

3.2. Human Rights are Essential and Necessary– The moral, physical, social and spiritual welfare of an individual is impossible, in the absence of human rights. Human rights are also important as they provide proper conditions for material and moral upliftment of the people.

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3.3. Human Rights are in connection with human dignity – To treat another individual with dignity irrespective of the fact that the person is a male or female, rich or poor etc. is concerned with human dignity. For eg. In 1993, India has enacted a law that forbids the practice of carrying human excreta.

3.4. Human Rights are Irreversible: Human rights are irreversible. They cannot be taken away by any power or authority because these rights originate with the social nature of man in the society of human beings.

3.5. Human Rights are Necessary for the fulfillment of purpose of life: Human life has a purpose. The term “human right” is applied to those conditions which are essential for the fulfillment of this purpose. No government has the power to curtail or take away the rights which are sacrosanct, inviolable and immutable.

3.6. Human Rights are Universal – Human rights are not a monopoly of any privileged class of people. Human rights are universal in nature, without consideration and without exception. The values such as divinity, dignity and equality which form the basis of these rights are inherent in human nature.

3.8. Human Rights are Dynamic – Human rights are not static, they are dynamic. Human rights go on expanding with socio-eco-cultural and political developments within the State. Judges have to interpret laws in such ways as are in tune with the changed social values.

3.9. Rights as limits to state power – Human rights imply that every individual has legitimate claims upon his or her society for certain freedom and benefits. So human rights limit the state’s power. These may be in the form of negative restrictions, on the powers of the State, from violating the inalienable freedoms of the individuals, or in the nature of demands on the State.

4. Social Contract Theories

“Man was born free, but everywhere is in chains!”

J. J. Rousseau

The theory of a social contract is a hypothesis explaining how society originates as well as the recognized relationship between its members, how they acquire responsibilities, and their rights. Early advocates of the social contract, like Hobbes (1985) and Locke (2003), differed in their views and both have been surpassed by Rousseau whose influential 1762 treatise, The Social Contract, has made him synonymous since its publication with the theory of the social contract.

5. Illustrations of Social Contract Theory

In the XIX th century Thomas Hobbes founded a social contract theory of legal positivism on what all men could agree upon: what they want or look for (happiness) was subjected to argument, but if the most important fear of men is a violent death at the hands of another, a natural law was how a rational human could assure them to survive and prosper. In Hobbes’s opinion, the only way which could prevail or persuade them was to submit men to the commands of the sovereign. In this lay the foundations of the theory of a social contract between the governed and the governor.

John Locke incorporated natural law into many of his theories and philosophy.

6. Rousseau, J. (1987)p. 49.

7. Hobbes, T. (1985). Chapter xiv

8. Locke, J. (2003). P 117

Locke didn’t agree with Hobbes’ prescription around, saying that if the ruler went against natural law and failed to protect “life, liberty, and prosperity,” people could justifiably overthrow the existing state and create a new one.

Locke defend that all human have rights and possessions, the first possession of every men is of course his body, and all men in here in his work and have the possibility to take advantage of the payoff.

The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau9 suggested the existence of a hypothetical social contract where a group of free individuals agree for the sake of the common good to form institutions to govern themselves. This repeated the earlier postulation by Tomas Hobbes that there is a contract between the government and the governed – and led to John Locke’s theory that a failure of the government to secure rights is a failure which justifies the removal of the government. But Rousseau believed and trusted in the kindness of men which Hobbes and Locke disappoint it.

In general terms, the social contract states:

Members of society are accorded certain rights in return for giving up certain freedoms society’s members would otherwise possess in the state of nature (where lawlessness reigns) or by remaining alone (as Robinson Crusoe). Society (in the sense of a “state”) emerges to enforce the rights and responsibilities borne by its members. Because these rights and responsibilities are neither “natural” nor “fixed,” they can be altered should a society’s members so desire. However, they must remember that exercising additional rights will always entail bearing additional responsibilities, and bearing fewer responsibilities will always entail exercising fewer rights.

9. Rousseau, J. (1987)

10. Contemporary Approaches to the Social Contract at

6. Relation of Social Contract Theories and Human Rights

Famously, Ronald Dworkin11 has objected that a hypothetical agreement cannot bind any actual person. For the hypothetical analysis to make sense, it must be shown that hypothetical persons in the contract can agree to be bound by some principle regulating social arrangements. From there comes the idea of prescribed right or regulations which will bind the people.

The idea of social contract theory was that every man is chained and attached with each other with some contract of the society. From the evolution of the society human has glued themselves in small groups, then transforming it to a bigger society. In the groups they have made some laws and regulations at first to protect them. Then they looked for the preservation of their rights in the society being bonded.

Locke has described in his theory that all human have rights and possessions. The first possession of every man is of course his body and all men in here in his work and has the possibility to take advantage of the payoff.

From the above discussions of Social Contract Theories and Human Rights the inter relations of these two is rightly projected.

7. Conclusions

Human rights are the basic need of every human individual. We cannot deny it and the authority or the government cannot snatch it. The ideas of Human rights have come from the social bonding of Humans. For the requirements of social security and to protect the privileges of people, some regulations are made and empowered with law. This is the key discussion in Social Contract theory and in other form this privileges are the human right.

11. Dworkin, Ronald (1975).



1. Beitz, Charles R. (2009). The idea of human rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2. Berlin, Isaiah (1958). Two Concepts of Liberty. Oxford: Clarendon Press

3. Dworkin, Ronald (1975). “The Original Position” in Reading Rawls, Norman Daniels, ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

4. Freeman, Samuel (2007a). Justice and the Social Contract. Oxford: Oxford University Press

5. Hampton, Jean (1986). Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

6. Hobbes, T. (1985). Leviathan (C. B. Macpherson, Ed.). London, UK: Penguin Books.

7. Locke, J. (2003). Two treatises of government and a letter concerning toleration. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

8. Rousseau, J. (1987). The basic political writings (D. A. Cress, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.

9. Sepúlveda, Magdalena; van Banning, Theo; Gudmundsdóttir, Gudrún; Chamoun, Christine; van Genugten, Willem J.M. (2004). Human rights reference handbook (3rd ed. rev. ed.). Ciudad Colon, Costa Rica: University of Peace.

10. Skyrms, Brian (1996). Evolution of the Social Contract. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

11. Skyrms, Brian (2004). The Stage Hunt and the Evolution of Social Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


12. Contemporary Approaches to the Social Contract at

13. Social Contract Theory at