JUSTICE: Principle of guarantee and rule of action

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Volume I, “Program,” section VII.

§ VII. Before passing on, will you allow me to make the observation that there is not an artisan who is not in a perfect state to understand what philosophy proposes, since there is not one who, in the exercise of his profession, does not make use of several means of justification, measure, evaluation and control? The worker has, to direct him in his labors, the yardstick, the scale, the square, the rule, the plumb, the level, the compass, standards, specimens, guides, a touchstone, etc. Seemingly, there is not a worker who cannot say the purpose of his work, the ensemble of needs or ideas to which it is attached, what its application must be, what its conditions and qualities are, and consequently its importance in the general economy.
Now, what the artisan does in his specialty, the philosopher seeks for the universality of things: his criterion, consequently, must be much more elementary, since it must be applied to all; his synthesis much broader, since it must embrace all.
What then is the yardstick to which we must relate all our observations, according to which we will judge, a priori, the harmony or discord off things, not only of the rational and the irrational, the beautiful and the ugly, but, what is more serious and which concerns us directly, the good and the evil, the true and the false? In the second place, on what basis, according to what plan, in view of what end, will we raise the edifice of our knowledge, so that we can say what Leibniz said of the world of which it must be the expression, that it is the best, the most faithful, the most perfect possible?
The day when philosophy will have responded to these two questions, philosophy, we do not say that it will be done, since, either as observation or investigation, or as acquired science, it has no limits; but it will be [28] completely organized, it will know what it wants, where it tends, what its guarantees are, what its mission is in humanity and in the presence of the universe.
Let us backtrack a little.
From the definition of philosophy that we have given and the analysis that we have made from observation, it results for us, 1) that the idea comes to us originally, concurrently and ex aequo, from two sources, one subjective, which is the Self, subject or mind, the other objective, which designates objects, the non-self or things;–2) that as a consequence of that double origin philosophy bears on relations, already by the definition, and on nothing else;–3) finally, that every relation, analyzed into its elements, is, like the observation which furnishes it, essentially dualistic, which is also indicated by the etymology of the word rapport or relation, returns from one point to another, from one fact, one idea, one group, etc., to another.
It springs from this that the instrument of critique that we seek is from all necessity dualistic or binary: it would not know how to be triadic, since there would be below it simpler elements than it, ideas that it could not explain, and that moreover it is easy to convince oneself that every triad, trinity or ternary is only the abridgment of two dyads, obtained by the identification or confusion of two of their terms. [1][29]
The principle of certainty cannot be simplistic any longer, as if it emanates exclusively from the self or the non-self; since, as we have seen, the subject, without an object which stimulates it, does not even think; and the object, without the faculty of the mind to divide, to differentiate and return diversity to unity, would only send itself unintelligible images. Metaphysical ideas themselves cannot serve as principle for philosophy, although they presuppose realistic aperceptions. The reason is that such ideas, obtained by the opposition of the self to the non-self, reflecting its simplistic nature, are extra-phenomenal, and by themselves contain no positive truth, although they are indispensable to the formation of every idea and the construction of every science.
Let us hold then as certain, and let us attach ourselves strongly to that idea, that what the philosophers sought under the name of criterion of certainty and which must serve in the construction of science cannot be a simplistic or metaphysical notion; that it is not any longer a sensible image, representative of a pure reality, since that would be to exclude the mind from its own domain, and to make it accomplish its work without putting itself into it; that it cannot be, finally, a ternary or quaternary formula, or one of a higher number, since that would be to take the series in the place of its element. [30]
This principle must be at once subjective and objective, formal and real, intelligible and sensible, to indicate a relation of the self to the non-self, and consequently to be dualistic, like philosophical observation itself.
But, from the self to the non-self, and vice versa, there is an infinity of possible relations. Among so many relations furnished to us by philosophical observation, which will we choose to serve as standard and yardstick to the others? Which will form the first basis of our knowledge, the point of departure for our civilization, the pivot of our social constitution? For it is a question of nothing more or less than that.
To this point we have considered the self and what we call the non-self as two antithetical natures, the one spiritual, simple, active and thinking; the other material, composite and consequently divisible, inert or passive, and non-thinking, serving simply as a target, occasion and matter for the meditations of the self. In order to not juggle too many ideas at once, we are carried to the observation of that elementary fact, intelligible even to the children to whom one teaches the grammar of Lhomond, namely, that philosophical observation implies two terms or actors, the one which observes, the other which is observed. It is the relation of active to passive, such as is shown by the conjugation of the verb in every language.
But the passive does not exclude the reciprocal. What we have said of the role of the self and of the non-self in the formation of the idea proves nothing that the one that observes cannot be observed itself, and precisely by the object that it observed. Locke said, and no one has known how to respond to him: How do we know if the non-self is necessarily non-thinking?… In every case, we know, and cannot doubt, that our observations bear very often on selves like our own, but who, in this case and in so many that furnish us facts, observations, impressions, on which our mind then acts, are considered by us as non-selves. In love, for example, there are also two actors, one who loves, the other who is loved; which does not prevent us from reversing the proposition and saying that the person who [31] loves is loved by the one that they love, and that the one who is loved loves the one by which it is loved. It is even only under these conditions that love exists in its plenitude. Who then one more time would guarantee that we alone have thought, and, when we describe that plant, when we analyze that rock, that there is not in them something that looks at us?
One says to me that that is repugnant. Why?… As thought can only result in an organic centralization; as, thus, while I look at my hand, I am quite sure that my hand does not look at me, because my hand is only a part of the organism which produces the thought in me, which serves pour all the members; so it is the same in plants and rocks, which are, like the hairs and the bones of my body, parts of the great organism (which perhaps thinks, if it does not sleep, though we know nothing of it), but which by themselves do not think. There we are. The analogies of existence induce us to suppose that, as there is in the organized being a common sensorium, an interdependent life, an intelligence in the service of all the members of which it is the result and which all express it; just as there is in nature a universal life, a soul of the world, which, if it is not acted on from outside, in the manner of our own, because there is no outside for it and because everything is in it, acts within, on itself, contrary to ours, and which is manifested by creating, as a mollusk creates its shell, that great organism of which we ourselves make part, poor individual selves that we are!
This is only an induction, doubtless, a hypothesis, a utopia, that I do not intend to offer for more than it is worth. If I cannot swear that the world, that alleged non-self, does not think, then I can no more swear that it thinks: that would surpass my means of observation. All that I can say is that mind is prodigiously dispensed this non-self, and that I am the only self which admires it.
Here is then what will be my conclusion.
Instead of seeking the law of my philosophy in a relation between myself, which I consider as the summit of being, and and that which is the most inferior in creation and {{|p32}} that I repute to be non-thinking, I will seek that law in a relation between myself and another self which will not be me, between man and man. For I know that every man, my fellow, is the organic manifestation of a mind, is a self; I judge equally that animals, endowed with sensibility, instinct, even intelligence, although to a lesser degree, are also selves, of a lesser dignity, it is true, and placed at a lower degree on the scale, but created according to the same plan; and as I no more know of a demarcation marked between the animals and the plants, or between those and the minerals, I ask myself if the unorganized beings are not still minds which sleep, selves in the embryonic state, or at least the members of a self of which I ignore the life and operations?
Every being being thus supposed self and non-self, what can I do better, in this ontological ambiguity, than to take for the point of departure of my philosophy the relation, not of me to myself, in the manner of Fichte, as if I wanted to make the equation of my mind, simple, indivisible, incomprehensible being; but of myself to another which is my equal and is not me, which constitutes a dualism no longer metaphysical or antinomic, but a real duality, living and sovereign?
By acting thus I do not court the risk of doing injury or grief to anyone; I have more the advantage, in descending from Humanity towards things, of never losing sight of the legitimate ensemble; finally, whatever the difference of natures which makes the object of my exploration, I am so much less exposed to being mistaken, that in the last analysis every being which is not equal to me, is dominated by me, makes a part of me, or else belongs to other selves like me, so that the law which governs the subjects between them is rationally presumed to govern the objects as well, since apart from that the subordination of the ones to the others would be impossible, and there would be contradiction between Nature and Humanity.
Let us further observe that by that unassailable transaction, philosophy, becomes entirely practical instead of speculative, or to put it better, the two points of view merge: the rule of my actions and the guarantee of my judgments is identical.
What now is that ruling Idea, at once objective and subjective, real and formal, of nature and humanity, of speculation and sentiment, of logic and art, of politics and economics; practical reason and pure reason, which govern at once the world of creation and the world of philosophy, and which both are constructed; idea finally which, dualistic by its formula, excludes nonetheless all anteriority and all superiority, and embraces in its synthesis the real and the ideal?
It is the idea of Right, Justice.


  1. The trinity of the Alexandrians was only a superstitious idea; that of the Christians is a mystery. The ternary facts, borrowed from nature, are from pure empiricism, to which is opposed, in much greater numbers, binary facts, quaternary, etc. The famous division of nature into three kingdoms is incomplete: above the animal kingdom, in which are manifested sensibility, life, the affections, instinct, and to a certain degree intelligence, we must add the spiritual kingdom, of which humanity alone is the subject, and which is distinguished by manifestations unknown in the preceding kingdom, speech, religion, justice, logic, metaphysics, poetry and art, industry, science, exchange, war, politics and progress. The Hegelian formula is only a triad by the good pleasure or the error of the master, who counts three terms where there truly exists only two, and who has not seen that the antinomy does not resolve itself, but that it indicates an oscillation or antagonism susceptible only to equilibrium. By this point of view alone, the system of Hegel would be entirely remade. It is the same for the syllogism, in which there is also two propositions, which are equated by the relation of like terms, rather as in arithmetic proportions. Every man is mortal, and Pierre is a man; thus, etc. It is useless to express the conclusion here; it is enough to correctly write the premises. To take the triad fir a formula of logic, a law of nature and reason, especially for the archetype of judgment and the organic principle of society, is to deny analysis, to deliver philosophy to mysticism, and democracy to imbecility. It appears there, besides, by the fruits. The only thing that one can attribute to trinitarian influence is the ancient division of society by castes, clergy, nobility, common folk, an antihuman division, against which the Revolution was made.


  1. The coming of the people to philosophy
  2. The definition of philosophy
  3. On the quality of the philosophical mind
  4. The origin of ideas
  5. That metaphysics is within the province of primary instruction
  6. That philosophy must be essentially practical
  7. The character that must be presented by the guarantee of our judgments and the rule of our actions.–Conversion from speculative to practical reason: determination of the criterion.
  8. Justice, universal reason of things: science and conscience. (next)
  9. Supremacy of Justice
  10. . . .
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