Political Justice was Godwin’s major work of philosophy. Published during the French Revolution, it argued that man and society were perfectible. If individuals were allowed to follow their own reason and private judgment, unconstrained by law or custom, then their actions would naturally be benevolent, and of maximum benefit to themselves and their fellow human beings.
The optimism of Political Justice exerted a powerful influence on Godwin’s contemporaries. Percy Bysshe Shelley read it avidly as a young man, and returned to it regularly in his later years. This copy was annotated by him in 1820, and also by a friend of his in Pisa, Countess Mountcashell (now calling herself ‘Mrs Mason’), who as a child in Ireland had been tutored by Mary Wollstonecraft.