The Enquiry Concerning Political Justice appeared in three different editions, usually referred to as the editions of 1793, 1796, and 1798 (though their actual dates of publication differ slightly from this traditional labeling). The third edition differs only superficially from the second; but the second edition contained a considerable number of differences from the first, including several completely rewritten chapters. The first edition is generally regarded as the most radical of the three editions; the third, the most considered and polished version.
Critical opinion has diverged significantly on which edition is preferable for political guidance and scholarly discussion. Percy Shelley and Thomas De Quincey, for example, regarded the first edition as the one which best represented Godwin's true, uncompromised principles. (Shelley: see St. Clair 1989, 106. De Quincey: see Locke 1980, 92-3.) The editors of the Woodstock Books edition agreed in this assessment, choosing the first edition as the one to reproduce. Godwin himself, however, preferred the third edition. Godwin remarks in the Preface to the second edition that there were
...many things that now appear to the author upon a review not to have been meditated with a sufficiently profound reflection, and to have been too hastily obtruded upon the reader. These things have been pruned away with a liberal hand. (Penguin Enquiry, 72)These no doubt included the "crude and juvenile remarks" Godwin mentions in the Advertisement to the third edition. (Op. cit., 74)
Isaac Kramnick, the editor of the Penguin edition, is undoubtedly right in pointing out that fairness to authors should encourage us to read the versions of their work which they intended to hand down to posterity. And it is my opinion, as well as that of most of Godwin's critics, that the broad themes of Godwin's works remain constant through all three editions. For the purposes of this dissertation, then, I will rely primarily on the third edition, except in those cases where the earlier editions provide clearer discussion, or where there is some gain to be had by contrasting the views of the earlier and later editions.
Consulting the various editions is complicated by the difficulties readers may have in finding copies of the Enquiry in any edition. The most readily available version of the third edition is the Penguin Classics paperback (1985). Most of my citations are from this edition, and it is referred to in the text as the Penguin Enquiry. When I cite passages from the earlier editions, my source is the 1946 University of Toronto three volume edition. Text citations refer to this as the Toronto Enquiry, and list volume and page number.
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