Godwin's Moral Philosophy: An Interpretation of William Godwin

Godwin's Moral Philosophy: An Interpretation of William Godwin

Godwin's Moral Philosophy: An Interpretation of William Godwin

Godwin's Moral Philosophy: An Interpretation of William Godwin

Excerpt

William Godwin has figured less in the histories of philosophy than in the histories of English literature, as an influence (and, it is quite usual to add, an unfortunate influence) on Shelley and Coleridge.

As Shelley's father-in-law, he was bound to receive some notice, since the story of Shelley's marriage makes an interesting chapter in any literary history. There is, moreover, an equally interesting story to be told about Godwin's own marriage with Mary Wollstonecraft. Further human interest can be found in the fact that Godwin, in his penurious old age, was not above sponging on Shelley.

These are the scraps of information that generally come to mind when Godwin's name is mentioned. They suggest an unpleasant character: possibly a charlatan, certainly a crank. This impression is not removed by the knowledge that Godwin had some reputation, in his own day, as a philosopher. Especially if his philosophy is encountered in the writings of his political opponents, such as the skilful satirists who wrote for The Anti-Jacobin. The student of literature gathers that Godwin had unorthodox opinions, not only on marriage and on the family, but on property and government. His attitude to all these institutions, it seems, was simple. He disapproved of them and wanted to abolish them.

The literary historian has not much incentive to correct these first impressions. Godwin wrote a staggering number of books, including some novels, one of which was a popular success, and a play or two, which were damned. He was also something of a literary historian himself. But, regarded simply as a writer, he is not important enough to be worth more than a few paragraphs. In these circumstances it is at least possible . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.