Marquis de Condorcet

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Nicolas de Condorcet
Birthday
BirthplaceRibemont, France
Died
Occupation
Philosopher, mathematician, and political scientist

Condorcet, Marquis de

 

(Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat). Born Sept. 17, 1743, in Ribemont; died Mar. 29, 1794, in Bourg-la-Reine. French Enlightenment philosopher, mathematician, and sociologist. Political figure.

Condorcet’s research in mathematics brought him fame. He was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences in 1769, and in 1782 he became a member of the Académic Française. In 1785 he officially assumed the position of permanent secretary of the Academy of Sciences. (He had in fact performed the duties of that office since 1773.) A friend of d’Alembert, Voltaire, and particularly A. R. Turgot, Condorcet contributed to the Encyclopedia.

In 1791, Condorcet was elected to the Legislative Assembly. He was the author of a bill on the organization of public education, which propounded the principles of secular schools and of universal education free of charge. Under the Convention, he was affiliated with the Girondins. Robespierre’s government charged him with conspiracy and sentenced him in absentia to death. For a while, Condorcet hid. In the spring of 1794 he was arrested. He committed suicide in prison.

Condorcet was a proponent of deism and sensualism. The Sketch of the Intellectual Progress of Mankind (1794; Russian translation, 1936), in which he attempted to establish the laws of the development of history, its main stages, and the motive forces of the historical process, holds a special place in his literary legacy. Influenced by the philosophical views of J.-J. Rousseau, Turgot, and G. Raynal, Condorcet did not reduce the historical process to the deeds of kings, legislators, and prominent personalities but devoted a great deal of attention to the culture and mores of the people. He was one of the initiators of the idea of historical progress, an idea which he developed, however, from an idealistic point of view. According to Condorcet, the progressive movement of history was due to the limitless capacity for development of human reason, which he portrayed as the demiurge of history. From his point of view, historical epochs are defined primarily in terms of the development of human reason, although the importance of economic and political factors in social development is also indicated.

In economics Condorcet shared the views of the Physiocrats. He was a proponent of the theory of natural law, which he used to deny the legitimacy of feudal society and to substantiate the necessity and the reasonable and eternal nature of the bourgeois system. He viewed the epoch of the consolidation and development of the society based on private capitalist property as the highest in the history of mankind. Condorcet could conceive of the future progress of mankind only within the limits of bourgeois law and order.

As an ideologist of a rising social class, Condorcet defended an entire system of advanced ideas: for example, the equality of individuals before the law, democratic rights and liberties, humane criminal legislation, and equal rights to education. He angrily condemned the colonial pillage “which corrupts and ravages Africa” (Eskiz istoricheskoi kartiny progressa chelovecheskogo razuma, Moscow, 1936, p. 224), and he regarded war “as the greatest crime” (ibid., p. 248).

Condorcet’s ideas played a significant role in the critique of the theological explanation of history and of providentialism and, particularly, in the development of the Enlightenment concept of the historical process.

WORKS

Oeuvres, vols. 1–12. Paris, 1847–49.
Correspondance inédite. … Paris, 1883.

REFERENCES

Marx, K., and F. Engels. “Nemetskaia ideologiia.” Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3, pp. 530–31.
Cahen, L. Condorcet et la Revolution francaise. Paris, 1904.
Cento, A. Condorcet e Video di progresso. Florence [1956].
Bouissounouse, J. Condorcet. [Paris, 1962.]
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