[ Marquis de CONDORCET ]
(Ribemont, 17 September 1743 – Bourg-la-Reine, 28 Mars 1794)
French humanist, rationalist, and progressist philosopher of the Enlightenment.
Mathematician, geometer, economist, engineer, and social theorist.
Republican, feminist, and abolitionist.
As mathematician Condorcet developed researches on differential and integral calculus, statistics, analysis of probabilities, and mathematical logic;
As engineer and geometer, with d’Alembert and Abbot Bossut, he made hydrodynamic studies on inland navigation to evaluate canal viability and design;
As economist he has been Inspecteur Général de la Monaie [Inspector General of the Mint] under king Louis XVI’s minister Anne Robert Jacques Turgot;
As social theorist he worked on the statistical approach to several social aspects and problems of his time («mathématique sociale») and developed a logical analysis of voting processes («paradoxe de Condorcet») suggesting a way to implement new and more accurate election methods.
Condorcet has been permanent secretary to the Académie Royale des Sciences (from 1777) and to the Académie Française (from 1782); he has also been a honorary member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1785), of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1790), of the Academies of Prucia, Russia, etc.
Condorcet wrote several books treating very diverse subjects, and namely he produced different articles for the chapters on Mathematics published on the «Encyclopédie Méthodique».
Engaged in political causes since an early age, namely standing up for slave abolitionism, gender equality, Jewish freedom, religious tolerance and economic liberty.
Condorcet has been co-founder (1788), with Jacques Pierre Brissot, of the Société des amis des Noirs [Society of the Friends of the Blacks]; and, during the Revolution, he has been an active member of the political club Cercle social [Social Circle] and Les Amis de la Vérité [Friends of truth]. He has also been the first politician to justify and promote a republican solution for France after king Louis XVI attempt to joint Austrian armies invading the country to fight the revolutionary process going on.
Closely related to Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, Condorcet has also been an active French supporter of the independence of the New World (North American) colonies.
After 1789, he went actively involved in the French Revolution, most specifically promoting a Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen [Declaration of Rights of Man and the Citizen], in 1789, fighting for the equality among men and women and the abolition of slavery; designing an educational reform through an universal, unpaid and secular Public School («École Publique»); and defending a republican solution for France after the fall of Louis XVI.
Condorcet stands as one of the former and major formulators of the Idea of Progress, advocating the possibility of an indefinite perfectibility for Humankind funded on republican, democratic and secular political practices, strongly supported on a significant increase of people’s wisdom based on a generalisation of knowledge promoted by a public system of civil (civic) education.
Esquisse d’un Tableau Historique des Progrès de l’Esprit Humain (1794)
[ Sketch/Outlines of an Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind ]
Condorcet’s Outlines/Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind/Spirit (1794) [Esquisse d’un Tableau Historique des Progrès de l’Esprit Humain (1794)] is one of the most clear and perennial – long lasting and influential – formulations of the Idea of Progress ever written, making it a central concern of Enlightenment thought.
“[Condorcet] argued that expanding knowledge in the natural and social sciences would lead to an ever more just world of individual freedom, material affluence, and moral compassion. He argued for three general propositions: that the past revealed an order that could be understood in terms of the progressive development of human capabilities, showing that humanity’s “present state, and those through which it has passed, are a necessary constitution of the moral composition of humankind”; that the progress of the natural sciences must be followed by progress in the moral and political sciences “no less certain, no less secure from political revolutions”; that social evils are the result of ignorance and error rather than an inevitable consequence of human nature.”
Progress of the Human Mind – the tenth stage
The future progress of the human mind
Our hopes for the future condition of the human race can be subsumed under three important heads: the abolition of inequality between nations, the progress of equality within each nation, and the true perfection of mankind. Will all nationals one day attain that state of civilization which the most enlightened, the freest and the least burdened by prejudices, such as the French and the Anglo-Americans, have attained already? Will the vast gulf that separates these peoples from the slavery of nations under the rule of monarchs, from the barbarism of African tribes, from the ignorance of savages, little by little disappear?
The time will therefore come when the sun will shine only on free men who know no other master but their reason; when tyrants and slaves, priests and their stupid or hypocritical instruments will exist only in work of history and on the stage; and when we shall think of them only to pity their victims and their dupes; to maintain ourselves in a state of vigilance by thinking on their excesses; and to learn how to recognize and so to destroy, by force of reason, the first seeds of tyranny and superstition, should they every dare to reappear amongst us.