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This essaycritically examines the theory of social contract as seen and conceived by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Also, it posits to tackle certain questions like: a) Does the theory of social contract in Thomas Hobbes share any similarity with that of John Locke? b) Do they contrast at any point at all? c) Can it be said that the social contract theory according to the two philosophers under consideration is completely the same?

Thomas Hobbes and John Locke also saw it from different perspectives to a certain level. Hobbes, the first to give its full exposition and defence postulates that social contract is an agreement to which the people surrender their will, freedom, and power to an absolute sovereign called the Leviathan. Thomas Hobbes saw the contract as one in which the citizens relinquish their freedom inherent in the state of nature to an absolute sovereign. For John Locke, who came after Hobbes, conceived social contract to exist wherever some citizens united into one body having a common established law and judicature to appeal to with authority to decide controversies between them and punish offenders. The problem consequently hinges in the confusion and difference inherent in trying to understand the two philosophers’ theory of social contract.

The method of this research work shall be expository and analytical. I intend to expose the different views of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke on social contract. Since   social contract theory does not mean exactly the same thing to both of them. After the exposition of their thoughts, a comparison and a contrast and critical evaluation will follow.



1.0 Introduction

Social and political philosophy are both closely related fields of philosophy generally dealing with the role of the individual in the society, as well as the role of government. Social and political philosophy is the philosophical study of question about social behaviour and it addresses a wide range of subjects, from individual to legitimacy of laws, from the social contract to criteria for revolution and it attempts to understand the patterns and changes of societies. It studies the questions about the government, liberty and the enforcement of legal code by authority: what they are? Why they are needed? What form should it should take and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government?[1]

1.1 Definition of Political Philosophy: 

Political Philosophy can be defined as philosophical reflection on how best to arrange our collective life our political institutions and our social practices. It is the study of the relationship between individuals and society. It seeks to establish basic principles that will for instance justify a particular form of state, show that individuals have certain rights or tell us how a society’s material resources should be shared among its members

1.2 Nature of Social and Political Philosophy: 

Social and political philosophy is the reflection on how to organize our collective life. Its aim is to find out the condition in which social relations of man are possible. It deals with principles which underlie the political institutions such as state and government. Social and political philosophy focuses more on the process of the political institutions and social practices of human beings.[2] It looks majorly into the ideals of state, the functions of the state etc. It seeks to establish the fundamental principles that justify the form of the state and the rights of its citizens. It analyzes and interprets the concepts like Justice, Freedom, Security, Peace, Human Welfare etc.

Social and political philosophy is a rational discipline: is a rational discipline that creates system and order in the totality of our experience. It inquiries into the meaning and the scope of the concepts such as authority, justice, liberty, democracy and public interest. The investigation into the meaning of the concepts should be regularly done. Such a rational scrutiny of concepts leads towards a better understanding of concepts. It does not aim at acquisition of new information. It aims at the acquisition of the habit of careful thoughts.

Social and political philosophy is normative: Political Philosophy sets norms, ideal standard for the society, government and other political institutions. It makes claims about how things should or ought to be done, how to value them, which things are good or bad, and which actions are right or wrong, mainly because It aims to give reasons for accepting or rejecting a ideology.

Social and political philosophy critically evaluates beliefs: The unique feature of philosophy is its self-criticism. It attempts to give a rational grounds either for accepting a belief or rejecting a belief. It would not accept or reject a system of belief without giving us the reason for doing so, which enables us to be able to challenge the validity of prevailing beliefs. The existing system of beliefs are being scrutinized in other to test for Logical Consistency ‘’is a consistent theory one that does not contain contradictions’’ and to know if they are in accordance with the actual facts of the world.

Social and political philosophy is a philosophy of action or practice. It does not determine what is true or false, it main purpose is to determine what is right or wrong and what is good or bad.  The critical evaluation of the beliefs in question provide direct and indirect support to the beliefs. This direct support consists in highlighting the reasons to accept the belief, mainly because we are going to have genuine reason to accept and reject any system of belief. The indirect support consists in eliminating the alternative beliefs.

Social and political philosophy clarifies concepts: Social and political philosophy is concerned with the meaning of general ideas or concepts. A concept is a general idea or a notion that applies to a number of things. The clarification of concepts is done by analysis, synthesis and improvement of concepts. Analysis consists in specifying or defining its elements, Synthesis consists in showing logical relationship between showing implications of concepts while Improvement of concept consists in modification or revision of the concept by introducing more coherent or clear definition of the concept in other to follow changes in the world.

Social and political philosophy inquiries into the system of relations between men: it aims at discovering the conditions of individuation in and through social relations. It does not exist in vacuum.  That is why the society is considered as an organic whole and every member becomes a part of it. All individuals are conscious unit seeking to realize one and the same common purpose. The state is a perfect system of relations between men, it is a perfect organization of social relations of men in accordance with the demands of reason. The state preserves, encourages and regulates a variety of interests of its citizens. The state as the source of absolute and sovereign authority can lead to happy and prosperous life of its citizens.  Political Philosophy inquires into the principles which underlie the political organizations such as forms of government.

The problems of Political Philosophy change with the material circumstances of life: Political Philosophy seeks to establish the basic principles in the relationship between the individuals and the society. It seeks solutions to the crisis that entire civilization confronts. Political Philosophy arises from the need to arrange the collective life. Obviously it is open to change and there is always a need of philosophical justification. The approach of Political philosophers reflects the general tendencies of their epoch. For example,     in ancient Greek period, Political Philosophy raised the questions regarding various forms of political organizations then Plato gives us a sketch of ideal government, Aristotle speaks of different forms of government. The central question for Greek thinkers was to search ideal form of state. Confucius in China sought to find means of restoring political unity and political stability through cultivation of virtues. In Medieval Europe the proper relationship between Church and State became a central issue in Political Philosophy and in the Nineteenth century the question of social welfare became major issue of philosophical inquiry. The question was how an industrial society should organize its economy and its welfare system.  Another question arose, how far the rule of one person over other person is justifiable?  Modern era discussed the meaning, the interpretation and the scope of the concepts such as justice, freedom, political obligation, authority, citizenship, power, property, sovereignty, coercion, fraternity, equality and collective responsibility.

Contemporary thinkers focus upon the questions of social justice, feminism, and the political institutions that reflect their cultural, linguistic or regional identity. The major issue today is the obligation of human race towards the society they find themselves. Thus the problems in Political Philosophy change in accordance with the empirical and material circumstances of life.[3]

[1]Strauss, L (1988) what is Political Philosophy?  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), P 40.


[2]Will, K (2002) Contemporary political philosophy – an introduction [2nd Edition, Oxford]. P 3


[3]William, K (2002) Contemporary political philosophy – an introduction [2nd Edition, Oxford]. P 3