The Enlightenment Period
Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin
Who was William Godwin?
Mary Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin (1756–1836), was well known as a novelist and political radical. In his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) he advocated utilitarianism and anarchism. He believed that the institution of government has an artificially corrupting effect on individuals because it creates prejudices. He proposed that instead of large nation-states humans should live in small communities without government so that they can get to know each other as unique individuals. Only then will it be possible for human beings to feel sympathetic regard for their neighbors.
Godwin thought that, because there is no free will, there is no point in punishment. Virtue, according to Godwin, was based on sympathy, and sympathy motivates us to bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number of human beings. Godwin had no use for other values beyond this happiness principle. He also thought that rights were unnecessary because sympathy could do the work of protecting everyone.