Godwin, William

Godwin, William
born March 3, 1756, Wisbech, Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire, Eng.
died April 7, 1836, London

British writer.

He became a Presbyterian minister but soon lost his faith. His Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) captivated Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Robert Southey, and Percy B. Shelley (who was to become his son-in-law), condemning the institution of marriage, among other things. The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794) was his masterpiece. He married Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797, but she died soon after the birth of their daughter, Mary (see Mary Shelley), conceived before their marriage.

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▪ British philosopher

born March 3, 1756, Wisbech, Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire, Eng.
died April 7, 1836, London
 social philosopher, political journalist, and religious dissenter who anticipated the English Romantic literary movement with his writings advancing atheism, anarchism, and personal freedom.

      Godwin's idealistic liberalism was based on the principle of the absolute sovereignty and competence of reason to determine right choice. An optimist regarding man's future perfectibility, he combined cultural determinism with a doctrine of extreme individualism. The object of his principal work, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (1793), was to reject conventional government by demonstrating the corrupting evil and tyranny inherent in its power of manipulation. He proposed in its place small self-subsisting communities. He argued that social institutions fail because they impose on man generalized thought categories and preconceived ideas, which make it impossible to see things as they are.

      It has been claimed that Godwin's works laid the foundations for the mutually contradictory doctrines of communism and anarchy. In fact their germ, though undeveloped, is to be found in two separate elements in his thinking. He advocated neither the abolition nor the “communalization” of property; property was to be held, a sacred trust, at the disposal of him whose need was greatest. His most powerful personal belief was that “everything understood by the term co-operation is in some sense an evil,” from which proceeded his most influential anarchic doctrines.

      Among his other writings are The Enquirer (1797), a collection of essays; Of Population (1820), a reply to Thomas Malthus's writings on the subject; Thoughts on Man: His Nature, Production, and Discoveries (1831); and his widely acclaimed ideological novel, Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794).

      Godwin was married in 1797 to Mary Wollstonecraft (Wollstonecraft, Mary) (q.v.), who was the mother of his daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Godwin, William — (1756–1836) English writer and social reformer. Godwin enjoyed a long but mainly undistinguished career as a writer, but his great decade was the 1790s, when he became famous as a prominent defender of radicalism and anarchism . His principal… …   Philosophy dictionary

  • GODWIN, WILLIAM —    a political writer and novelist, the son of a Presbyterian minister, born at Wisbeach, Somersetshire; was educated for the Church, and was for five years in the ministry; during this period his opinions on politics and religion underwent a… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Godwin,William — God·win (gŏdʹwĭn), William. 1756 1836. British writer and political theorist who believed in the perfectibility of human nature and maintained that people could live harmoniously without laws and institutions. His most important work is Enquiry… …   Universalium

  • Godwin, William — ► (1756 1836) Sociólogo y novelista británico. Fue precursor del anarquismo. * * * (3 mar. 1756, Wisbech, Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire, Inglaterra–7 abr. 1836, Londres). Escritor británico. Fue ministro presbiteriano, pero perdió pronto la fe. Su… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Godwin, William — (1756 1836)    Philosopher and novelist, b. at Wisbeach, and ed. at a school in Norwich, to which city his f., a Presbyterian minister, had removed, and subsequently at a Presbyterian coll. at Hoxton, with a view to the ministry. From 1778 to… …   Short biographical dictionary of English literature

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  • GODWIN (W.) — GODWIN WILLIAM (1756 1836) Écrivain et philosophe anglais. William Godwin est né à Wisbech, dans le Cambridgeshire; son père, qui était pasteur, l’éleva dans la plus pure tradition puritaine. Calvinistes tous deux, ses parents l’envoyèrent faire… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

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