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Political Agreement and Social Contract


Most enlighteners believed that people lived outside society at the initial stage in the so-called natural state and consequently had unlimited rights and absolute freedom. However, they realized that they did not need such freedom and that it was much more profitable to limit their exorbitant claims voluntarily. Thus, the arguments of rational selfishness push people to conclude a social contract when they move to the stage of civil status. The fact is that every member of society can – and has every right to do so – pursue their individual interests and act as a private person. In this case, the interests of all members of society are different (sometimes even opposite), and the will of all is a kind of arithmetic mean sum of them. The common will expresses the unity of interests of all participants in the social contract, who, in this case, act as citizens. Therefore, it is all about political, public, and not private life. Moreover, if the opposition of private interests has made it necessary to establish a society, then the agreement of interests makes its continued existence possible.

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The Meaning of Freedom

As Rousseau notes, people are born free, but everywhere they face restrictions – this is the first problem of modern society and the state. It should be remarked that the entire treatise is imbued with a note of protest against this injustice. Hence, the very idea of a free man is an axiom for a philosopher. Rousseau divides two types of human dependence: on things (which lies in their very nature) and on other people (created by society). Without containing any moral elements, the first allegedly does not harm freedom and does not generate any vices. The second, not being ordered, which cannot be done in a public state concerning any private will, generates worse qualities. Accordingly, being born, a person immediately becomes a subject of a particular state, carrying the rights and obligations without concluding any contract.

The central idea of Kant’s philosophy is the antithesis of freedom and nature, a direct expression of the duality postulated by it of all existing phenomena into the world. Necessity, causal relations, and space and time relate only to the world of phenomena; the world of things is free from these determinations and therefore forms the realm of freedom from the inexorable laws of nature. On the one hand, Kant proves the unconditional subordination of phenomena to the laws of nature, the strictest determinism. On the other hand, the philosopher equally strongly insists that freedom is the first pre-modern link in the causal chain of events. However, it should be noted that the existence of this primordial sovereignty is unprovable; it is unknowable and transcendent.

It is essential for the disclosure of the concept we have taken of the opposition of the noumenal and phenomenal worlds, which Kant associates with the laws of causality. After all, causality itself can be understood in two ways, proceeding from the laws of necessity, and based on the principles of freedom. Kant’s transcendental freedom plays the role of an unconditional foundation, which itself does not depend in any way on the laws of the sensory world. At the same time, it also becomes an important condition for the existence of free will, which goes beyond empirical determinism. Freedom of will consists of voluntary self-determination based on a rational awareness of the correctness and necessity of objectively existing ethical laws and voluntary adherence to them. Practical reason establishes for itself the law of subordination, which for Kant is an important and even necessary condition for the existence of freedom as the ability to begin a causal series of changes independently.

Role of Equality

According to Rousseau’s description, people lived like animals; they had nothing social, not even speech, not to mention property or morality. They were equal and free, which formed the basis of the principles of life at that time. Rousseau shows how, with the improvement of a person’s skills and knowledge, tools of the work, social ties were formed, how social formations – family, nationality – gradually emerged. The period of coming out of the state of savagery, when a person becomes public while continuing to remain free, seemed to the philosopher the happiest era. The further development of civilization was associated with the emergence and growth of social inequality or freedom’s regression.

Property inequality appears, and according to the doctrine, it was an inevitable consequence of establishing private ownership of land; since then, civil society has replaced the natural state. With the emergence of private property, society is divided into rich and poor, and a fierce struggle breaks out between them. At the next stage in public life, political inequality appears, which determines the essence of the position of an ordinary person. At this stage of property inequality is complemented by a new one – the division of society into ruling and subordinate. The laws adopted irrevocably destroyed natural freedom, finally secured property, turning a clever usurpation into an unshakable right, and for the benefit of a few, have since doomed the entire human race to labor, slavery, and poverty.

Any human community, according to Kant, goes through two main stages of political development in its development: pre-state and state. At the pre-state stage, society consists of individuals who are in a natural state. In this situation, members of society are not yet burdened with rights and obligations, do not know the law, are not bound by some common political project. In other words, in the pre-state era, people were not yet aware of themselves as genuinely free and were not inclined to consider their fellow tribesmen as carriers of free will. In such a society, there is complete arbitrariness and the right of the strong. The political history of humanity begins with Kant from the moment of the formation of the first state, when a person first realizes the freedom and the liberty of others opposed to them, recognizing the need to coordinate private interests through generally accepted norms.

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Specific Aspects of Mutual Coercion

The transition to a state of freedom presupposes, according to Rousseau, the conclusion of a genuine social contract. To do this, each of the individuals must renounce the rights that previously belonged to them to protect property and personality. Instead of these imaginary rights based on force, people acquire civil rights and freedoms, including property rights. Thus, property and personality now come under the protection of the community, which is responsible for them. Individual rights thereby acquire a legal character because they are secured by mutual consent and the aggregate power of all citizens.

As a result of the social contract, an association of equal and free individuals, or a republic, is formed. Rousseau rejects the teachings that defined a contract as an agreement between subjects and rulers. Submitting to the community, the individual does not subordinate himself to anyone individually and, therefore, remains as free as before. Freedom and equality of the parties to the agreement ensure the unification of the people into an inseparable whole (collective personality), whose interests cannot contradict the interests of private individuals.

Kant’s interpretation of the nature of the social contract is directly related to the ideas about the autonomy of the will, about individuals as moral subjects. The primary condition for concluding such a contract is the obligation of any organization of external coercion created to ensure it to recognize a person who realizes the duty not to make another a means to achieve the goals and can fulfill it. According to a social contract concluded for mutual benefit and a categorical imperative, all individuals who make up the people renounce external freedom to regain it immediately, but already as members of the State. At the same time, individuals do not sacrifice part of their freedom in the name of more reliable use of the rest of it. It is just that people at the same time refuse unbridled and disorderly freedom in order to find genuine freedom in all its scope in a legal state.


It is imperative to understand that a social contract is nothing more than the consent of all its participants to observe certain general rules. In pursuing their interests, everyone must consider the interests of others; therefore, it is necessary to limit their freedom for the sake of the freedom of others. At the heart of all these beliefs is the concept of a sovereign personality — all of them should become the realities of everyday life, reproduced at every moment of the existence of civil society.


Aragbonfoh, Frank. “World Government, Social Contract and Legitimacy.” Philosophical Papers, 48, no. 1 (2019): 9-30.

Heller, Agnes. “Freedom, Equality and Fraternity in Kant’s Critique of Judgment.” Critical Horizons, 19, no. 3 (2018): 187-197.

Javidi, Mojtaba. “Social Contract Theory of Jean-Jacques Rousseau through a Methodological Approach.” Journal of Religious Thought: A Quarterly Journal of Shiraz University, 19, no. 73 (2020): 39-64.

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Krasnoff, Larry. “More than Consent: Kant on the Function of the Social Contract.” International Journal of Political Philosophy, 7, no. 13 (2017): 45-62.

Santos Campos, Andre. “The Idea of the Social Contract in the History of Agreements.” The European Legacy, 24, no. 6 (2018): 579-596.

Seabright, Paul, Jonathan Stieglitz, and Karine Van der Straeten. “Evaluating Social Contract Theory in the Light of Evolutionary Social Science.” Evolutionary Human Sciences, 3 (2021): e20.

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