Fair Use Blog

Proudhon on Property (1846) – Part 1

Now available thanks to Shawn P. Wilbur at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth:



1.—Property is inexplicable apart from the economic series.—Of the organization of common sense, or problem of certainty.

The problem of property is, after that of human destiny, the greatest that reason can propose, and the last that it will be able to resolve. Indeed, the theological problem, the enigma of religion, has been explicated; the philosophical problem, which treats the value and legitimacy of knowledge, is resolved: there remains the social problem, which simply joins these two, and the solution of which, as everyone believes, comes essentially from property.

I will set out in this chapter the theory of property in itself [en soi], that is, in its origin, its spirit, its tendency, and its relations with the other economy categories. As for determining property for itself, as it must be after the integral solution of the contradictions, and what it becomes every day, this is, as I have said, the last phase of the social constitution, the object of a new labor, of which this one aims to provide a glimpse of the design and to posit the bases.

In order to understand clearly the theory of property in itself, it is necessary to address the highest concerns, and to present in a new way the essential identity of philosophy and political economy.

As civilization, from the point of view of industry, aims to constitute the value of products and organize labor, and as society is nothing other than this constitution and this organization, the object is to found judgment by determining the value of knowledge and organizing the common sense; and what we call logic is nothing other than this determination and organization.

Logic, society, which is to say always reason: such is then the destiny here below of our species, considered in its generative faculties, activity and intelligence. Thus humanity, by its successive manifestations, is a living logic: it is this which made us say, at the beginning of this work, that each economic fact is the expression of a law of the mind, and that as there is nothing in the understanding that has not been previously in experience, neither is there anything in social practice which does not come from an abstraction of reason.

Thus, society, like logic, has as a primordial law the agreement of reason and experience. To bring reason and experience into accord, to advance theory and practice in unison, is what both the economist and the philosopher propose; it is the first and last commandment imposed on every man who acts and thinks. It is a simple condition, doubtless, if one only envisions it in that formula, seemingly so simple; but it involves a prodigious effort, if one considers all that man has done from the beginning, as much in order to escape from it as in order to comply.

But what do we mean by the agreement of reason and experience, or, as we have called it, the organization of common sense, which is itself only logic?

First, I call common sense judgment insofar as it applies to things that are intuitively and immediately evident, of which the perception requires neither deduction nor research. Common sense is more than instinct: instinct has no consciousness of its determinations, while common sense knows what it wants and why. Common sense is not faith, genius or habit, which are neither known nor judged, while common sense is known and judged, as it knows and judges all that surrounds it.

Common sense is equal in all men. This is what brings to ideas the highest degree of evidence and the most perfect certainty: it is not this which has aroused philosophical doubt.

Common sense is at once reason and experience synthetically united: it is, once more, judgment but without dialectic or calculation.

But common sense, by the very fact that it falls only on things that are immediately evident, rejects general ideas, and the linking of propositions, and consequently method and science: so that the more a man gives himself to speculation, the more he seems to depart from common sense, starting with certainty. How then do men, equal in common sense, become equal in science, which they naturally reject?

Common sense is susceptible to neither increase nor decrease: judgment considered in itself cannot cease to be always the same, always equal to itself and identical. How, once more, is it possible, not only to maintain equality of capacities apart from common sense, but also to raise knowledge in them above common sense?

That difficulty, so formidable at first glance, evaporates when we look at it closely. To organize the judiciary faculty, or common sense, is, properly speaking, to discover the general procedures by means of which the mind comes to know the unknown by a series of judgments which all, taken in isolation, are of an intuitive and immediate evidence, but taken together give a formula that one could not have obtained without that progression, a formula which, consequently, surpasses the ordinary scope of common sense.

Thus the entire system of our knowledge rests on common sense, but raises itself indefinitely above common sense, which, bound to the particular and the immediate, cannot embrace the general with its simple regard, and must, in order to achieve that, divide it: like a man who, covering in a step only the width of a furrow, by repeating the same movement a certain number of times, circles the globe. [1]

Agreement of reason and experience, organization of the common sense, discovery of the general procedures by which the judgment, always identical, raises itself to the most sublime contemplations: such is the major work of humanity, that which has given rise to the largest, most complicated and most dramatic incident which has been accomplished on the earth. Neither science, religion nor society had to go anywhere near so long and deploy so much power in order to be established: this great labor, begun thirty centuries ago, has hardly managed to define itself. Eight volumes would hardly suffice to tell the story: I am going, in a few pages, to retrace the principle phases. This summary is indispensable to us in order to explain the appearance of property.

[1] Dialectic is properly the advance of the mind from one idea to another, across a superior idea, a series.

Read the whole thing at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth.

Leave a Reply