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Kropotkin's Ethics and the Publc Good

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05/19/2021Williamson M. Evers

In Kropotkin's pamphlet on Anarchist Morality, he applauded the empiricist philosophers of the 18th-century Enlightenment for rejecting religious interpretations of human action and adopting an account that made the quest of pleasure and avoidance of pain the source of human motivation. Kropotkin joined with Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Chernischevsky in affirming that the desire for pleasure was the true motive of all human action. Kropotkin not only maintained that in their conscious, deliberative acts, human beings always seek out pleasure; he saw this motive operating throughout the organic world. Recognition of this truth, Kropotkin argued, placed ethics on a materialistic, naturalistic basis. Furthermore, Kropotkin thought reliance on the findings of science and on evolutionary theory gave to ethics a philosophical certitude, in contrast to the uncertain intuitionalism on which transcendental philosophers like Kant relied.

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