Philosophy 223 - 12.1 Enlightenment Social Theory

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Evaluate Enlightenment ideas of progress.
  • Describe positivism.
  • Outline the emergence of empirical sociology as a means of solving social problems.

Enlightenment thinkers proposed that human reason coupled with empirical study of the physical world would lead to progress—namely, the advancement of science and the improvement of the human condition. While time-, labor-, and life-saving scientific advances benefited many, the economic developments of the era exacerbated inequality and pushed many others into poverty. Concerns also grew about the power of governments and other institutions and the role of the individual in increasingly complex and interconnected economic and social systems. Political theorists such as John Locke (1632–1704) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) proposed social contract theory, which spoke to the protection of individual freedoms. And new fields emerged to study and attempt to address the social problems that were developing.


The chapter on political theory examines social contract theories that addressed the protection of individual freedoms.

This lesson has no exercises.

The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax