Second things first

The “Second Letter” of Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Progress is now available in English translation in the Libertarian Labyrinth archive. For those interested in the elements of Proudhon’s philosophy involving collective persons, or those relating to the combination of conservative and progressive elements in “the Revolution,” there will be some additional material here. There’s also a great deal more. In the two letters that make up The Philosophy of Progress, Proudhon attempted to make his general “profession of faith,” with “faith” being just one of the terms he was in the midst of transforming in his works. The result was a kind of trial run at the work he would do at much greater length in Justice in the Revolution and in the Church. It’s good stuff. I’m still cleaning up my translation of the “First Letter,” but the second, which focuses on the question of certainty, and the possibility of a criterion of certainty, can be read usefully without it. Here’s a taste, which suggests the ambitious project Proudhon had undertaken:

When one has seen how, in the human species, the individual and society, indivisibly united, form however two distinct beings, both thinking active and progressive; how the first receives a part of its ideas from the second, and exercises in its turn an influence on it; how then the economic relations, products of individual analysis, and contradictory among them insofar as one considers them in individual, resolved into synthetic ideas in society, so that each man reasons and acts by virtue of a double self [moi], enjoys a double intelligence, speaks a double language, pursues a double interest; which, I say, one will take into account that organic dualism sensed by all religions, and which compose at once collective existence and individual existences, one will conceive more easily the resolution of the contraries in ontology and metaphysics, and the scandal of the divergence and contradiction of the philosophies will reach its end.

These philosophies will all appear true, as special analytic deductions of the universal theory of movement; but each of them will also appear false, insofar as they aspire to make a schism, and exclude their rivals. Thus, the philosophical problem being resolved, it will be true to say that the philosophical movement is accomplished: in the place of systems, starting from an arbitrary conception and leading to a fatal contradiction, we would have progressive science, the ever-greater apprehension of being, of law and of unity.

Then religious dogmatism would also receive its rational interpretation, and the political order its free constitution: every theosophy dying away in the realm of morals, every cult in education, all government in economics, all authority in contracts.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.