An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue, Fourth Edition : Summary of Principles

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(1756 - 1836) ~ Respected Anarchist Philosopher and Sociologist of the Enlightenment Era : His most famous work, An Inquiry concerning Political Justice, appeared in 1793, inspired to some extent by the political turbulence and fundamental restructuring of governmental institutions underway in France. Godwin's belief is that governments are fundamentally inimical to the integrity of the human beings living under their strictures... (From : University of Pennsylvania Bio.)
• "Fickleness and instability, your lordship will please to observe, are of the very essence of a real statesman." (From : "Instructions to a Statesman," by William Godwin.)
• "Anarchy and darkness will be the original appearance. But light shall spring out of the noon of night; harmony and order shall succeed the chaos." (From : "Instructions to a Statesman," by William Godwin.)
• "Courts are so encumbered and hedged in with ceremony, that the members of them are always prone to imagine that the form is more essential and indispensable, than the substance." (From : "Instructions to a Statesman," by William Godwin.)


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Summary of Principles



The reader who would form a just estimate of the reasonings of
   these volumes cannot perhaps proceed more judiciously than by
   examining for himself the truth of these principles, and the
   support they afford to the various inferences interspersed
   through the work. 

THE true object of moral and political disquisition, is pleasure or
The primary, or earliest, class of human pleasures is the pleasures 
   of the external senses.
In addition to these, man is susceptible of certain secondary plea-
   suers, as the pleasures of intellectual feeling, the pleasures 
   of sympathy, and the pleasures of self-approbation.
The secondary pleasures are probably more exquisite than the 
Or, at least,
The most desirable state of man is that in which he has access 
   to all these sources of pleasure, and is in possession of a 
   happiness the most varied and uninterrupted.
This state is a state of high civilization.
The most desirable condition of the human species is a state of 
The injustice and violence of men in a state of society produced 
   the demand for government.
Government, as it was forced upon mankind by their vises, so 
   has it commonly been the creature of their ignorance and
Government was intended to suppress injustice, but it offers new 
   occasions and temptations for the commission of it.
By concentrating the force of the community, it gives occasion to 
   wild projects of calamity, to oppression, despotism, war and 
By perpetuating and aggravating the inequality of property, it 
   fosters many injurious passions, and excites men to the 
   practice of robbery and fraud.
Government was intended to suppress injustice, but its effect has 
   been to embody and perpetuate it.

The immediate object of government is security.
The means employed by government is restriction, an abridg-
   ment of individual independence.
The pleasures of self-approbation, together with the right cultiva-
   tion of all our pleasures, require individual independence.
Without independence men cannot become either wise, or useful, 
   or happy.
Consequently, the most desirable state of mankind is that which 
   maintains general security, with the smallest incroachment 
   upon individual independence.

The true standard of the conduct of one man towards another, is 
Justice is a principle which proposes to itself the production of the 
   greatest sum of pleasure or happiness.
Justice requires that I should put myself in the place of an 
   impartial spectator of human concerns, and divest myself 
   of retrospect to my own predilections.
Justice is a rule of the utmost universality, and prescribes a speci-
   fic mode of proceeding, in all affairs by which the happiness 
   of a human being may be affected.

Duty is that mode of action which constitutes the best application 
   of the capacity of the individual to the general advantage.
Right is the claim of the individual to his share of the benefit 
   arising from his neighbors' discharge of their several duties.
The claim of the individual is either to the exertion or the for-
   bearance of his neighbors.
The exertions of men in society should ordinarily be trusted to 
   their discretion; their forbearance, in certain cases, is a 
   point of more pressing necessity, and is the direct province 
   of political superintendence, or government.

The voluntary actions of men are under the direction of their 
Reason is not an independent principle, and has no tendency to 
   excite us to action; in a practical view, it is merely a com-
   parison and balancing of different feelings.
Reason, though it cannot excite us to action, is calculated to 
   regulate our conduct, according to the comparative worth it 
   ascribes to different excitements.
It is to the improvement of reason therefore that we are to look 
   for the improvement of our social condition.

Reason depends for its clearness and strength upon the cultiva-
   tion of knowledge.
The extent of our progress in the cultivation of knowledge is 
Hence it follows,
1. That human inventions, and the modes of social existence, are 
   susceptible of perpetual improvement.
2. That institutions calculated to give perpetuity to any particular 
   mode of thinking, or condition of existence, are pernicious.

The pleasures of intellectual feeling, and the pleasures of self-
   approbation, together with the right cultivation of all our 
   pleasures, are connected with soundness of understanding.
Soundness of understanding is inconsistent with prejudice: con-
   sequently, as few falsehoods as possible, either speculative or 
   practical, should be fostered among mankind.
Soundness of understanding is connected with freedom of inquiry; 
   consequently, opinion should, as far as public security will 
   admit, be exempted from restraint.
Soundness of understanding is connected with simplicity of 
   manners, and leisure for intellectual cultivation: conse-
   quently, a distribution of property extremely unequal, is 
   adverse to the most desirable state of man.


1The defects here alluded to, have been attempted to be rectified in the second edition. It is impossible perhaps so to improve a crude and unequal performance, as to remove every vestige of its original blemish.

2The first conviction of this kind, which the author was far from imagining to be so near, was of a journeyman tallow-chandler, January 8, 1793, who, being shown the regalia at the Tower, was proved to have vented a coarse expression against royalty to the person that exhibited them.

3The principles delivered on this subject in the last chapter of Book III., are more fully developed in the three first chapters of Book IV.

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November 30, 1792 :
Summary of Principles -- Publication.

January 26, 2017 17:14:45 :
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March 17, 2019 15:39:45 :
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