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Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph

  1. Peter Schröder

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee383

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Schröder, P. 2013. Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–65) is best known for his polemical text What is Property?, which he published in 1840. He was an ardent critic of French society and politics of the first half of the nineteenth century. His uncompromising stance assured him a certain notoriety, but it also meant that he was rather isolated in his views of politics and society. His rigorous criticism attacked institutions such as the church, as well as the postrevolutionary bourgeoisie in France. His positions seem ambiguous and contradictory, but his fundamental attack on the property relations of nineteenth-century France is the bedrock of his vision of progress and emancipation of the people. Consciously very similarly framed like Sieyès' polemical question just before the French Revolution of 1789 (“What is the third estate?”), Proudhon asked “what is property?” He argued that the institution of property was “the last obstacle … to consummate the revolution” (1994: 32). Indeed, he infamously had claimed that property was theft and that it was impossible to justify property. He thus linked the material condition of man with the notion of liberty and claimed that “liberty is an absolute right … a sine qua non of existence” which was “completely irreconcilable” with property (1994: 42f).


  • legal and political;
  • philosophy