William Godwin

William Godwin

Born: 1756. Died:1836.

Ideas

- Humankind is perfectible.

- Reason tends to truth; truth leads to justice.

- Government usurps private judgment and individual conscience; it is the greatest obstacle to human happiness.

- Education and environment determine personality and character.

- There are no rights, only duties; the fundamental moral duty is universal benevolence.

- Nonviolent reform, not revolution, is the only way to achieve political change.

Biography

English political philosopher.

Godwin was educated as a rationalist dissenter from the established church. His political theories formed the basis of anarchism. His version of anarchism being a belief that the state would become unnecessary as human beings developed their powers of moral and political self-determination.

Godwin's ideal society is intensely equalitarian & a complete anarchy, although he tolerated the idea of a loosely knit democratic transition that would witness the withering of the State. Strongly antiviolence & completely rationalistic he carried his doctrine to the point of total alteration in human relations. Ignoring economics & starting from a highly individualistic psychology, he argued for education & social conditioning as the chief factors in character formation.

William Godwin's book Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, started in 1791 published in February 1793 is intended to "philosophically place the principles of politics on an immovable basis". It begins with a summary of those principles.

The turning point in his career was the French Revolution, which spurred him to write his major work, Political Justice, completed in 1793. Though many were disillusioned after the early years of the Revolution, Godwin's liberalism remained intact. The publication of this work gained him a far-reaching contemporary fame.

In 1796 he renewed an acquaintance with Mary Wollstonecraft. They took up residence together &, with the approaching birth of their child & despite his attacks upon the institution of marriage, were married in 1797. Their brief marriage, ended by the death of his wife, was described as his happiest period.

Major Works of William Godwin

- An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793
- Celab Williams, 1794
- Cloudesley: A Tale, 1830
- The Enquirer, 1797
- Fleetwood or The New Man Of Feeling, 1805
- History of the Commonwealth, 1824-28
- Lives of the Necromancers, 1834
- Mandeville, 1817
- Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1798

- St. Leon a Tale of the Sixteenth Century, 1799
- Things as They Are or The Adventures of Caleb Williams, 1794
- Thoughts on Man, his Nature, Productions, and Discoveries, Interspersed, 1831

Quotes from William Godwin

- "The grand instrument for forwarding the improvement of the mind is the publication of truth." (from "Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness", 1793)

- "In proportion as men are made to understand their true interests, they will conduct themselves wisely." (from "Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness", 1793)

- "It is earnestly desired that each man should be wise enough to govern himself without the intervention of any compulsory restraint; and, since government, even in its best state, is an evil, the object principally to be aimed at is that we should have as little of it as the general peace of human society will permit." (from "Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness", 1793)

- "It is the property of truth to diffuse itself." (from "Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness", 1793)

- "No man is obliged to conform to any rule of conduct farther than the rule is consistent with justice." (from "Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness", 1793)

- "The virtue of a human being is the application of his capacity to the general good." (from "Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness", 1793)

- "What ... can be more shameless than for society to make an example of those whom she has goaded to the breach of order, instead of amending her own institutions which, by straining order into tyranny, produced the mischief?." (from "Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness", 1793)

- "The virtue of a human being is the application of his capacity to the general good." (from "Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness", 1793)

- "Virtue consists in actions, and not in words." (from "Celab Williams", 1794)

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