The Creation of Order in Humanity: Definitions (1843)






1. I call Order every seriated or symmetrical arrangement. Order necessarily presupposes division, distinction, difference. Nothing undivided, indistinct, undifferentiated, can be understood as ordered: these notions are mutually exclusive. [1]

2. The ideas of intelligence and final cause are foreign to the idea of order. In fact, order can appear to us as an unforeseen result of properties inherent in the various parts of a whole: intelligence cannot, in this case, be designated as a principle of order. — Besides, a secret tendency or aim can exist in disorder: purpose can also not be taken as an essential character of order.

Accordingly, the consideration of the universe, from the point of view grasped by Bossuet, Fénelon, and Cicero, is not an argument for the existence of God, any more than social disorder, as it is demonstrated to us by history, disproves Providence.

3. Order is the ultimate condition of all persistence, all development, and all perfection.

4. Order, in its various manifestations, being series, symmetry, and relation, is subject to conditions in which it can be broken down, which are like its immediate principle, form, reason, meter. These conditions are what we call laws. — Thus, taking the circle as an ordered whole, the fixed equality of the generative radius will be the law. In the arithmetic series 3, 5, 7, 9, 11…………., the law or reason is 2.

5. The expression of a law, or its description, is a formula.

6. Every true law is absolute and without exception: only the ignorance or inanity of the grammarians, moralists, jurists and other philosophers has dreamed up the proverb: No rule without exception. The mania for imposing rules on nature, instead of studying its own laws, has confirmed that ignorant aphorism. — In the mathematical and natural sciences, it is accepted that every law which does not embrace the totality of the facts is a false law, an invalid law: it is the same for all the other sciences.

7. Order is not something real, but only something formal; it is the idea inscribed in substance, the thought expressed in each collection, series, organism, genus and species, like word in writing.

8. Order is all that man can know of the universe. Considering creation according to the three categories of substance, cause, and relation, we find that beings, perceptible to us only by the relations that we sustain with them, remain impenetrable to us in their substance; that causes, elusive in their principle and origin, let us glimpse only the sequence of their effects. The relations of things, order and disorder, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, are all that we can observe, all that is the subject of its science.

Thus, of the three faces of the universe, only one is intelligible to us: the two others are, for us, the object of a blind, fateful faith. Ontology, as a science of substances and causes, is impossible. [2]

9. We know beings only by their relations: however, as it is necessary, for the needs of science, to distinguish in each of its aspects this great whole that we call the UNIVERSE, we have given special names to things known and unknown, to the visible and invisible, to those that we know and that we believe.

Thus we call substance the material, whatever it may be, of every series, of every organization; the principle of all inertia or resistance. In a clock, for example, the substance is the iron, the copper, in short the various materials of which the clock is composed. [3]

10. By cause we mean the primitive force that determines a change of state, a production of order or disorder, in short a movement. — The philosophers, by an abuse of language, considering the different terms of a mobile sequence as causing one another, have thought they could, with the aid of these alleged secondary causes, raise themselves to knowledge of the first. But it is easy to see how much they fool themselves, taking relations for causes. The cause which makes the hands of a clock move, according to their way of seeing, is a wheel which turns; the cause which makes the wheel turn is a chain rolling on a pivot; the cause which makes the chain unwind is a weight which pulls it; the cause which makes the weight fall is attraction; the cause of the attraction… is unknown. Now, all these causes are the terms of a mechanical sequence produced in the domain of force, as a polyhedron of wax or ivory is a geometric order produced in the domain of substance. Just as the material does not change with the shapes that we give it and the uses to which we put it; just so the force does not vary, it is not classified, depending on the series of which it may be the substratum, the subject. The error is therefore not to name the substance and the cause [4] ; but only to aspire to know them and to claim to explain them.

11. Property, quality, mode and phenomenon are so many correlative expressions of substance and cause, and serve to designate in what way both are discernible, the order or disorder that they show.

12. According to these notions, order, or that which is purely formal in nature, being the only thing accessible to reason, the only subject of the science, becomes for that reason the only reality for reason. There is an order, of natural system of celestial bodies, demonstrated by Newton;

A system of plants, identified by Jussieu;

A system of zoology, of which Cuvier is the principal inventor;

A system of chemistry, which Lavoisier has more or less completely formulated;

A system of numeration, recognized from the earliest times;

Some systems of molecular composition, organic reproduction, of cosmogony, grammar, art and literature, still little known, but which all tend to clear themselves from the veils which cover them and to be formed in an absolute manner.

In the same way, there exists a natural system of social economy, glimpsed or sensed by the legislators, who must strive to adapt their laws to it: a system that humanity fulfills each day and that I propose to recognize.

13. Order is produced, in unorganized beings or those deprived of reason, by virtue of unconscious, blind, unerring forces, and according to laws unknown to them; — in reasoning beings, by virtue of forces that are felt and that are, for that reason, prone to deviate, and according to laws that these beings are called upon to know.

In other words, the brute beings obey their laws without any understanding of them: Humanity is only organized by rational knowledge, and, if I can put it this way, by the elaboration that it makes of its own laws.

Now, that understanding of our laws is not obtained by us in an instantaneous manner and by an automatic perception, but through a long effort of contemplation, research and method. Hence, three great eras in the formation of human knowledge, Religion, Philosophy and Science.

14. I call Religion the instinctive, symbolic and summary expression by which a new society manifests its opinion on the universal order.

In other words, Religion is the ensemble of relations that men, in the cradle of civilization, imagine exists between themselves, the Universe and God, the supreme Organizer.

From a less general point of view, Religion is in all things the intuition of a truth.

The principle of every religion is sentiment; its essential character is spontaneity; its proofs, apparitions and prodigies; its method is faith. Analytic demonstration and rational certainty are the opposite of the religious spirit.

It follows from this that Religion is by nature immobile, daydreaming, intolerant, inimical to research and study, that it has a horror of science and the novelties of progress. For, in the eyes of religion, to doubt or to philosophize is to dispose oneself willingly to soon no longer believe; to reason is to pretend to discover the secrets of God; to speculate is to abolish within oneself the sentiments of admiration and love, of innocence and obedience that are proper to the believer; it is to charge the primitive revelation with insufficiency, to weaken the aspirations of the soul towards the infinite, to liberate oneself from Providence and substitute the humble prayer of Philemon with the revolt of Prometheus.

15. I mean by PHILOSOPHY that aspiration to know, that movement of the mind towards the science that follows religious spontaneity and presents itself as the antithesis of faith: an aspiration and a movement that are still neither science nor method, but the investigation of both. Hence the name philosophy, love or desire for science: hence also the primitive synonymy of the words philosopher and skeptic, which is to say seeker.

The principle of Philosophy is the idea of causality; its special character, superstition; its process, sophistry: I will explain its mechanism and its mystery. [5].

16. Religion and philosophy have this in common, that they embrace the universe in their contemplations and their researches, which removes from them all specialty and by the same token all scientific reality; that in their flights of fancy or their reveries they proceed à priori, ceaselessly descending, by a certain rhetorical artifice, from causes to effects, or ascending again from effects to causes, and se fondant constantly, the one of the hypothetical and imprecise idea of God, his attributes, and his designs; the other on ontological generalities, deprived of consistency and fruitfulness.

But religion and philosophy differ, in that the first, a product of spontaneity, the work sometimes of an instant, is by its nature immutable and receives modification only through the influence of external causes: while the other, product of curiosity and reflection, varies according to the objects, changes at the mercy of experience, and always extending the circle of its idea, rectifying its procedures and methods, ends by disappearing into science.

17. I call Science the clear, complete, certain and reasoned comprehension, of order.

The proper character of Science is, as opposed to religion and philosophy, to be special, and, according to that specialty, to have a method of invention and demonstration that excludes doubt and leaves nothing to hypothesis.

Relative to religion and philosophy, Science is the interpretation of the symbols of the first, the solution of the problems posed by the second.

In some parts of its vast domain, Science still only starts to emerge; in others, it is developed; in nearly all, it is given to us to complete it. But, as we can acquire it, Science is sufficient for the exercise of our reason, for the accomplishment of our earthly mission, for the immortal hopes of our souls.

Everywhere Science has not planted its first milestones, there is religion or philosophy, that is to say ignorance or deception [6].

18. I will call METAPHYSICS the universal and supreme theory of order, a theory of which the methods proper to the various sciences are so many specific applications. Thus, geometry and arithmetic are two annexes of metaphysics, which gives certainty to each and embraces them in its generality.

The object of metaphysics is: 1) to give methods to the branches of study that lack them, and consequently create science there where religion and philosophy call for it;

2) To show the absolute criterion of truth;

3) To furnish conclusions regarding the common aim of the sciences, on the mystery of this world, and the subsequent destiny of the human race [7].

19. I mean by PROGRESS the ascending march of the mind towards Science, through the three consecutive eras of Religion, Philosophy, and Metaphysics or method.

Accordingly, Progress does not mean the accumulation of discoveries that time brings about in each specialization, but the constitution and determination of the sciences themselves.

The observation of Progress, in many cases, is indispensable to the discovery of Order: that is why we will preface our elements of metaphysics with a summary review of religion and philosophy; why, later, the social science will only proceed with the aid of comparative legislation and of history [8].


20. We can neither penetrate substances nor to grasp causes; what we perceive of nature is always, at bottom, law or relation, nothing more. All our knowledge is ultimately from perceptions of order or disorder, good or evil; all our ideas from the representations of intelligible things, therefore, from the elements of calculation and method. Our very sensations, are nothing but a more or less clear view of relations external, internal, or sympathetic. To see and to feel are one and the same thing: we have a striking proof of it in dreams. So that, the self not really possessing, in some way which it approaches the objects by the senses, not penetrating and assimilating anything, happiness for us, pleasure, the highest felicity are reduced to a vision. Man acts in vain: his life is completely intellectual; the organism and what happens to it are nothing but the means which makes this vision possible.

In our present condition, the feeble energy of these faculties enables us to compensate only partially by understanding the feelings; but who knows if, in another system of existence, pleasure and pain would not be for us purely intelligible things, the perception of which, having no need of any organic excitation, would no longer depend on anything but an act of the will?

But let us put aside psychology.

21. Let us conceive a moment when the Universe is nothing but a homogeneous, identical, undifferentiated whole, a chaos, in short: creation will appear to us under the idea of separation, distinction, circumscription, difference; Order will be the series, i.e. the figure, the laws and the relations, according to which each created being will be separated from the undivided whole. Whatever Nature dividing and Nature divided may be, the efficient cause and the material, the agent and the patient, we can neither deny nor affirm anything of either. The spirit involuntarily presupposes them and thrusts itself at them: this spark of intelligence reveals to us a substantial reality and a causal reality, and we will see later how, without ever knowing them, we can acquire the certainty of these two realities. But our science remains no less limited to the observation of order, of relations and laws: consequently, any argument on the eternity of the matter or its extraction from nothing, on the efficacy of the first cause to produce this extraction and the manner of the act of creation, on the identity or the non-identity of the creative force and thing created, the cause and the phenomenon, the ego and the non-ego, must be banished from science and abandoned along with religion and philosophy.

For our intelligence, in a word, to create is to produce order: in this sense, one can say that the creation was not limited to the six days of Moses and that the work of the seventh day, the greatest of the works of the eternal Poet, that of order in society, is still being achieved.

The production of order: such is the object of metaphysics.

22. Set before things and placed in relation to the universal Order or the World, initially Man is astonished and worships; little by little, his curiosity awakens, and he starts to scrutinize the great whole whose face had initially enthralled him, taking reflection and thought from him.

Soon, the feeling of his personal activity makes him distinguish the force from the substance and the phenomenon from the cause, and from having once worshiped Nature, Man comes to think that the world he admires is only an effect, that it is not the intelligent cause that his heart and thought seek; at this point in time, his soul leaps beyond the visible and plunges into the depths of the infinite.

The idea of God in man is the object of an untiring work, ceaselessly rectified, ceaselessly resumed. Man treats this supreme Being like all the other beings subject to his study: he wants to understand its substance and its action, i.e. what is most impenetrable about the creatures themselves. Hence this multitude of monsters and idols that the human brain has decorated with the names of divinities and that the torch of science must make disappear forever.

To determine, by means of universal method, on the basis of the data of all the sciences and according to the successive reforms that the idea of God has undergone in passing from religion into philosophy, what reason can affirm of the sovereign Being that the conscience believes in and distinguishes from the world, but that nothing makes it see: this is what a theodicy must be, what it can be.

23. Religion, Philosophy, Science; faith, sophism and method: such are the three moments of knowledge, the three epochs of the education of mankind.

Consult history: every society begins with a religious era; question the philosophers, the scientists, those who think and reason: all will tell you that they were, at a certain period, and for a longer or shorter time, religious. One sees nations immobilized in their primitive beliefs: for these, there is no progress. — Every day we encounter men who are obstinate in their faith, though otherwise extremely enlightened: for them, there is no political science, no moral ideas, no understanding of man. Sentiments, contemplations, terrors, and dreams: this is their portion.

Others, after having taken a few steps, halt at the first glimmers of philosophy; or, frightened by the vastness of the task, despair at going forward and rely on doubt: such is the category of the visionaries, the mystics, the sophists, the liars and the cowards.


[1] According to the eclectics, order is the unity in multiplicity. That definition is fair: however, it seems to me that on could critique it, in that it conveys the thing, but does not define it. What is it that produces the unity in multiplicity? The series, symmetry.

[2] The animals are beneath the condition of man; they do not perceive the relations between things; they know nothing. What occurs within them, and what we take for intelligence, is only an instinct perfected by habit, a sort of dream provoked by the surrounding milieu, which implies neither thought nor science. As with sleepwalkers, thought in animals does not know itself; it is organic and spontaneous, but not conscious or reflective.

[3] Essence relates to the disposition and the purpose, rather than the material, and is expressed by the ensemble of the parts, not by the constituent elements of the thing. The substance of a clock can be the same as that of a rotating spit: but the essence of the first consists in a combination whose purpose is to mark the divisions of time; the essence of the second is simply to create a movement of continuous rotation, without periodicity.

[4] See below, chap. iii, § 7.

[5] Philosophy, thus understood, is what M. Auguste Comte calls metaphysics. (Editor’s note (*).) (*) The Editor’s notes that are found in of the course of the work were added by Proudhon himself in a new edition published in 1849.

[6] Among the ancients, the sculptor wrote on his works the word faciebat, was working, to indicate that he never regarded them as finished: thus the friend of truth, always on guard against sophistry and illusion, can call themselves a philosopher; a savant [scholar, scientist], never. But modern vanity has made the name of philosopher ambitious and that of savant modest: the savants of today only respect themselves to the extent that they believe themselves to be philosophers; the more pure the science, they call it philosophy.

[7] Metaphysics is what Auguste Comte calls positive philosophy. (Editor’s note.)

[8] When, in the course of this work, I make use of the words priests, philosophers, men of power, etc., I do not designate by these names classes of citizens and I make no categories of persons. I mean by those words abstract figures, which I consider only from the point of view of their condition, of the prejudices that are proper to them, of the character and habits that their condition gives to a man: I do not describe realities, nor conduct the trial of individuals.

Thus, although the religious spirit is contrary to science, to charity and to progress, I know that there are priests who are very learned, very tolerant and singularly progressive: I even dare say that the clergy, if only for the defense of its doctrines, is of all the associations [corporations] the most curious about science, and that the majority of our priests begin to no longer be priests.

Similarly, in spite of the ontology and the sophistry, which they are charged with teaching, there is no lack of philosophers laughing at philosophy, and learned in more than words: I even maintain that today every philosopher who is an honest man is not a philosopher at all.

Would I say that the agents of power, despite their official character as conservative and bourgeois are, through the spirit and tendency of their functions, very close to democracy and equality? I confess, for my part, I am one of those who, rightly or wrongly, has not been able to rid myself, with regard to the bourgeoisie, of certain aversions or suspicions: I readily recognize that many of things move in an entirely reformist direction, and that in many cases the bourgeoisie can call themselves more progressive than socialism.

Finally, to complete this apology, is it suited to scientists of detestable manners and odious character? But what is the need of recalling the bad, when there is so much good to say? No, I have no apologies for these men since I only make war on biases. These men are good, benevolent, excellent; they never wish me wrong: I fear not their biases and suits.

Finally, in order to complete this apologia, would it be necessary to admit that there are savants with detestable habits and an odious character? What need is there to recall the evil, when there is so much good to say? No, I have nothing to apologize for in the eyes of men, since I only make war on prejudices. The men are good, benevolent, excellent; they would never wish me evil: I only fear their prejudices and their costumes [customs?].

In these times of ill-defined powers, inadequate institutions, ambiguous laws and false sciences, it has been necessary for me to make this declaration.

[Thanks to Devin Udall, Jesse Cohn and the participants in the Anarchist French-Translation Workshop and Collective Reason project for their contributions to this translation.]

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2604 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.