Immanuel Kant's political philosophy has been immensely influential to modern political philosophy. This is especially evident through the work of John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas. For example, Rawls notion of the "original position" and "the veil of ignorance" stem from the Kantain notion that justice is the result of what rational agents would choose for themselves when their judgment is unclouded by thing that would bias. Thus Rawls argues that he guiding principles of societies are what rational disinterested agents would select when in an original position behind a veil of ignorance i.e. they know nothing of their particular situation in society i.e. their social status etc.

Kant also made considerable contributions to social contract theory. Most notably Kant disposed of the notion that the social contract was an actually historical thing that took place in the past. Rather Kant saw it as "abstraction that can be used to define legitimate political authority" (Christman). Thus, Kant saw "the social contract as an intellectual construct with moral and practical significance." Furthermore, "Kant argued that there is a moral imperative to ‘establish’ a social contract and ‘remove’ oneself from the state of nature, which would be a non-juridical state where human interaction was governed solely by force and power (though it is unclear that such verbs as ‘establish’ or ‘remove’ should be taken literally as implying movement from one state to another, rather than implying that one make sure one is in such a state). Under the rule of law - the social contract - interactions are governed (ideally) by the juridical relations of right and wrong which would conform to the principle of equal freedom. This is the principle that one’s actions in a society are right only if such actions can coexist with everyone else’s freedom organized under a general law" (Christman).

Thus via his influence on thinkers such as Rawls and Habermas and his contributions to social contract theory Immanuel Kant's contributions to contemporary political philosophy can hardly be understated. The following are excellent resources for those who wish to pursue the topic further:

The Social Contract from Hobbes to Rawls, ed. David Boucher and Paul Kelly (New York: Routledge, 1994)

Katrin Flikschuh, Kant and Modern Political Philosophy (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2000)

John Christman, Social and Political Philosophy : A Contemporary Introduction / (London: Routledge, 2002)

"John Rawls" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

"Contractarianism" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

"Kant's Social and Political Philosophy" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

"Social Contract Theory"in Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Murphy, Jeffrie G. "Hume and Kant on the social contract." Philosophical Studies 33.1 (1978), 65 - 79.

On Kant as the Most Adequate of the Social Contract Theorists Author(s): Patrick Riley Source: Political Theory, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Nov., 1973), pp. 450-471

Joshua Duke

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