Ethics: Origin and Development

By Peter Kropotkin (1924)

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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.)
• "The communes of the next revolution will proclaim and establish their independence by direct socialist revolutionary action, abolishing private property. When the revolutionary situation ripens, which may happen any day, and governments are swept away by the people, when the middle-class camp, which only exists by state protection, is thus thrown into disorder, the insurgent people will not wait until some new government decrees, in its marvelous wisdom, a few economic reforms." (From : "The Commune of Paris," by Peter Kropotkin, Freedo....)
• "ANARCHISM, the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government - harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being." (From : "Anarchism," by Peter Kropotkin, from the Encyclop....)
• "...the strength of Anarchy lies precisely in that it understands all human faculties and all passions, and ignores none..." (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)


This document contains 16 sections, with 122,913 words or 785,759 characters.

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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, ethics becomes a subject of universal interest; under the kindly eyes and able pen of the great Russian scholar, a subject of special and academic study becomes closely linked to whatever is significant in the life and... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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 to the two fundamental problems of morality: whence originate man's moral conceptions? and , what is the goal of the moral prescriptions and standards? It is for this reason that he subdivided his w...

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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 pursuing such lines of research as molecular physics, the chemical structure of matter, and the chemical composition of distant worlds. And the traditional views about the position of man in the universe, the origin of life, and the na... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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 struggle for life among different species, could not accept such a brutal process, which entails so much suffering upon sentient beings, as the expression of a Supreme Being; and they consequently denied that any ethical principle could... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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 considered as a further development of those of Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, he must be, nevertheless, credited with opening a new path for science in t... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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 his intellectual, technical, and artistic creative impulses. And this prevision opens up such broad moral possibilities for the future, that for their realization there is no longer any need either of the influence of the supernatural worl... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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 welfare of the tribe is being watched over by the "great multitude" of the dead ancestors, and if anyone breaks the rules of conduct established from generation to generation, the dead ancestors take revenge not only on the... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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 Plato and of the early Stoics, though Aristotle already attempted to base morality on a natural-scientific basis. Only Plato introduced into morality a semi-religious element. On the other hand, Epicurus, possibly in opposition... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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 the Stoics, was the idea that the moral sense, which manifests itself in man, even if in imperfect form, is a part of some fundamental principle of the universe. If this element were not present in nature it would not manifest itself... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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, but it followed a path different from that in England where it took the form of the Protestant movement and of the peasant and townsfolk revolution. In France the Revolution broke out o... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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 the realization of the fact that morality can be completely liberated from the sanction of religion. However, the terror of the French Revolution, and the general upheaval that accompanied the abolition of feudal... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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 development of industry and capitalism in Europe. All three currents exerted a strong influence upon the development of morality in the nineteenth century. However, up to the present time, there has not been developed a com... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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 always govern our actions, preferred to speak of conscienceor the imperative of heart and reason, or of the sense of duty, or simply of the consciousness of duty, which is present in all of us. (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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 Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire,-the historical works in the same direction written by the Saint-Simonians, especially Augustin Thierry, and finally the positivist philosophy of Auguste Comte-all these taken together prepar... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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 essence in a few words. In his very early youth Guyau wrote a substantial work on the moral doctrines of Epicurus.1Five years after the publication of this book, Guyau published his second... (From : Anarchy Archives.)

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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 gladness. All action is toward this end. Man may seek the gratification of his basest or his loftiest inclinations, but he always seeks that which gives him happiness, satisfaction, or at least... (From : Anarchy Archives.)


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