Ethics: Origin and Development

By Peter Kropotkin (1924)

Entry 154


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


Untitled Anarchism Ethics: Origin and Development

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(1842 - 1921)

Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism

: As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From: Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "...all that is necessary for production-- the land, the mines, the highways, machinery, food, shelter, education, knowledge--all have been seized by the few in the course of that long story of robbery, enforced migration and wars, of ignorance and oppression..." (From: "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)
• "...outside of anarchism there is no such thing as revolution." (From: "Revolutionary Government," by Peter Kropotkin, 18....)
• "As to parliamentary rule, and representative government altogether... It is becoming evident that it is merely stupid to elect a few men, and to entrust them with the task of making laws on all possible subjects, of which subject most of them are utterly ignorant." (From: "Process Under Socialism," by Peter Kropotkin, 188....)


16 Chapters | 122,645 Words | 779,466 Characters

TRANSLATORS' PREFACE Kropotkin's "Ethics: Origin and Development," is, in a sense, a continuation of his well-known work, "Mutual Aid as a Factor of Evolution." The basic ideas of the two books are closely connected, almost inseparable, in fact: -- the origin and progress of human relations in society. Only, in the "Ethics" Kropotkin approaches his theme through a study of the ideology of these relations. The Russian writer removes ethics from the sphere of the speculative and metaphysical, and brings human conduct and ethical teaching back to its natural environment: the ethical practices of men in their everyday concerns -- from the time of primitive societies to our modern highly organized States. Thus conceived, ethi... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Introduction by the Russian Editor "ETHICS" is the swan song of the great humanitarian scientist and revolutionist-anarchist, and constitutes, as it were, the crowning work and the résumé of all the scientific, philosophical, and sociological views of Peter Alekseyevich Kropotkin, at which he arrived in the course of his long and unusually rich life. Unfortunately, death came before he could complete his work, and, according to the will and desire of Peter Alekseyevich, the responsible task of preparing "Ethics" for the press fell upon me. In issuing the first volume of "Ethics", I feel the necessity of saying a few words to acquaint the reader with the history of this work. In his "Ethics" Kropotkin wished to give answers ...
When we cast a glance upon the immense progress realized by the natural sciences in the course of the nineteenth century, and when we perceive the promises they contain for the future, we can not but feel deeply impressed by the idea that mankind is entering upon a new era of progress It has, at any rate, before it all the elements for preparing such a new era. In the course of the last one hundred years, new branches of knowledge, opening entirely new vistas upon the laws of the development of human society, have grown up under the names of anthropology prehistoric ethnology (science of the primitive social institutions), the history of religions, and so on. New conceptions about the whole life of the universe were developed by pu... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
If the empirical. philosophers have hitherto failed to prove the progress of moral conceptions (which may be inciple of evolution), the fault lies to a great extent with the speculative, i.e., the . nonscientific philosophers. They have so strongly denied the empirical origin of man's moral feelings; they have gone to such subtle reasoning in order to assign a supernatural origin to the moral sense; and they have spoken so much about "the destination of man," the "way of his existence," and "the aim of Nature," that a reaction against the mythological and metaphysical conceptions which had risen round this question was unavoidable. Moreover, the modern evolutionists, having established the presence in the animal world of a keen str... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Ethics: Origin and Development By Peter Kropotkin CHAPTER III THE MORAL PRINCIPLE IN NATURE THE work of Darwin was not limited to biology only. Already in 1837, when he had just written a rough outline of his theory of the origin of species, he entered in his notebook this significant remark: "My theory will lead to a new philosophy." And so it did in reality. By introducing the idea of evolution into the study of organic life he opened a new era in philosophy,1 and his later sketch of the development of the moral sense, turned a new page in ethics. In this sketch Darwin presented in a new light the true origin of the moral sense, and placed the whole subject on such a firm scientific basis, that although his leading ideas may be consid... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The progress made by the natural sciences in the nineteenth century awakened in modern thinkers the desire to work out a new system of ethics on positive bases. After having established the fundamental principles of a universal philosophy free from postulates of supernatural forces, and at the same time, majestic, poetical, and capable of stimulating in men the highest motives,-modern science no longer needs to resort to supernatural inspiration to justify its ideals of moral beauty. Besides, science foresees that in the not-distant future, human society, liberated, through the progress of science, from the poverty of former ages, and organized on the principles of justice and mutual aid, will be able to secure for man free expression of hi... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
We have seen in the previous chapter that the most primitive peoples develop their own mode of social life and evolve their own carefully preserved customs and traditions, -- their own conceptions of what is good and what is bad, what is not to be done, and what is proper in different situations. In short, they evolve their own morality, their own Ethics. Part of such rules of conduct is placed under the protection of custom. Certain acts are to be avoided because they are "wrong" or "shameful"; they would indicate a physical weakness or a weakness of character. But there are also more serious offenses and sterner rules. He who breaks these rules not only displays undesirable traits of character, but also does hurt to his tribe. But the ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Summing up the pre-Christian ethics of ancient Greece, we see that in spite of the different interpretations of morality by the Greek thinkers they all agreed on one point: they saw the source of morality in Man, in his natural tendencies and in his reason. They were far from having a clear idea as to the true nature of these tendencies. But they taught that, owing to his reason and owing to his social mode of life, Man naturally develops and strengthens his moral tendencies, which are useful for the maintenance of the sociality essential to him. For this reason the Greek thinkers did not look for any external, supernatural forces to come to the aid of Man. Such was the essence of the teaching of Socrates, Aristotle, and partly even of Pla... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The same two currents in ethics which manifested themselves in Ancient Greece, continued to exist among the thinkers of later times up to the middle of the eighteenth century. A majority of philosophers and thinkers still sought the explanation of the origin of morality in something supernatural, revealed to man from above. The ideas of Plato, developed and strengthened by the Christian Church constituted, and still make up the essence of such teachings, save that they are considerably narrowed. Plato, as well as Socrates, considered the knowledge of good as the real motive force of all morality. But Plato did not present this knowledge as something acquired from without. At the base of Plato's teaching, and especially of the teaching of th... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The liberation of science from the Church's yoke-and consequently also of ethical teachings,-came about in France approximately at the same time as in England. The French thinker, Ern&eacute Descartes, took the same lead in this movement as did Francis Bacon in England, and their principal works appeared almost simultaneously.1 But due to various causes, the French movement took a somewhat different turn from the English; and in France, libertarian ideas penetrated to much wider circles and exercised a much deeper influence throughout Europe than the movement originated by Bacon, which created a revolution in science and in scientific speculation. The liberating movement in France began at the end of the sixteenth century,... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
As was pointed out in the preceding chapter, the teachings of the French philosophers of the eighteenth century-Helvétius, Montesquieu, Voltaire, of the Encyclopædists Diderot and d'Alembert, and of Holbach,-played an important part in the history of the evolution of Ethics. The bold denial by these thinkers of the importance of religion for the development of the moral conceptions, their assertions of equity (at least political), and, finally, the decisive influence in the elaboration of social forms of life credited by most of these philosophers to the rationally interpreted emotion of self-interest-all these factors were Very important in forming correct conceptions of morality; and they helped to bring society to ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In the nineteenth century there appeared three new currents in ethics: 1) Positivism, which was developed by the French philosopher, Auguste Comte, and which found a prominent representative in Germany in the person of Feuerbach; 2) Evolutionism, i. e., the teaching about the gradual development of all living beings, social institutions, and beliefs, and also of the moral conceptions of man. This theory was created by Charles Darwin and was later elaborated in detail by Herbert Spencer in his famous "Synthetic Philosophy." 3) Socialism, i. e., a teaching of the political and social equality of men. This teaching derived from the Great French Revolution and from later economic doctrines originating under the influence of the rapid developmen... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
It may be seen from our brief survey of the various explanations of the origin of morality, that almost all who wrote on this subject came to the conclusion that we possess an inherent feeling that leads us to identify ourselves with others. Different thinkers gave different names to this feeling and offered varying explanations of its origin. Some spoke of the inherent moral feeling without going into any further explanations; others, who endeavored to gain a deeper insight into the essence of this feeling, called it sympathy, i. e., the co-miseration of one individual with others, his equals; some, like Kant, making no distinction between the promptings of our feelings and the dictates of our reason, which most frequently and perhaps a... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The nineteenth century approached the problem of morality from a new viewpoint-that of its gradual development in mankind, beginning with the primitive period. Regarding all nature as the result of the activity of physical forces and of evolution, the new philosophy had to interpret morality from the same point of view. The ground for such an interpretation of morality had been already prepared at the end of the eighteenth century. The study of the life of the primitive savages, Laplace's hypothesis as to the origin of our solar system, and especially the theory of evolution in the plant and the animal world,-which was already indicated by Buffon and Lamarck, and then, in the twenties of the last century promulgated by Geof... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Among the numerous attempts made by philosophers and thinkers of the second half of the nineteenth century to build ethics on a purely scientific basis, we must examine most carefully the work of the gifted French thinker, J.M. Guyau (1854 -1888), who, unfortunately, died very young. Guyau aimed to free morality from all mystical, supernatural, divine revelations, from all external coercion or duty, and on the other hand, he desired to eliminate from the realm of morality the considerations of personal, material interests or the striving for happiness, upon which the utilitarians based morality. Guyau's moral teaching was so carefully conceived, and expounded in so perfect a form, that it is a simple matter to convey its ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
We shall now attempt to summarize our brief historical survey of the various moral teachings. We have seen that from the time of Ancient Greece up to the present day, there were two principal schools in Ethics. Some moralists maintained that ethical conceptions are inspired in man from above, and they accordingly connected ethics with religion. Other thinkers saw the source of morality in man himself and they endeavored to free ethics from the sanction of religion and to create a realistic morality. Some of these thinkers maintained that the chief motive power of all human actions is found in that which some call pleasure, others felicity or happiness, in short, that which gives man the greatest amount of enjoyment and gla... (From: Anarchy Archives.)


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