Social Contract Theory Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

With this lesson plan, your students will learn about the social contract theory and its major proponents. They will apply this by writing their own constitutions using these theories.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Define the concept of the social contract theory
  • Identify major contributors to social contract theory and their main ideas
  • Demonstrate the link between social contract theory and the development of political structures


60-90 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence.


Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.


Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed.


  • Start class with a discussion on the philosophies of the American Revolution.
    • What sorts of philosophical and political ideas about government inspired the American Revolution? What did these revolutionaries see as the role of government and the ideal relationship between government and the people? Where did these ideas come from?
  • Begin the video lesson Social Contract Theory: Definition & Examples. Pause at 1:05 to discuss:
    • In the simplest terms, what is a social contract? What role does a social contract have in society?
    • Why would people agree to give up certain freedoms? What would life be like in a world of pure and absolute freedom? What sorts of things would people be able to do?
    • Who do people surrender their freedoms to? What is the role of a government and the law in this system of a social contract? What is the relationship between the government and the people? How can a government protect some freedoms when people surrender other freedoms?
  • Resume video, and pause it at 4:23 to discuss:
    • What was the Enlightenment? What sort of ideas came out of the Enlightenment? How did the social contract theory reflect these ideas?
    • Who were some of the leading contributors to social contract theory? What influence did each have on this theory? Where did they agree, and where did they disagree on what a social contract should look like?
    • How did the concept of the social contract impact the American Revolution and the base ideology of the American Republic? How does the republic system of government reflect the concept of the social contract?
  • Resume and complete the video.
    • What are some of the issues with social contract theory? What are the limits within this theory? How much freedom should people surrender to a government? When is it too much? When is it not enough?
    • What is the relationship between the social contract as a theory, and the social contract as actually implemented by humans? How can human agendas impact the social contract? What conditions must be met in order for a social contract to be successful?
  • You may test student understanding with the quiz.

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