Anne Robert Jacques Turgot

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Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques


(Baron de l’Aulne). Born May 10, 1727, in Paris; died there Mar. 20, 1781. French state figure, Enlightenment philosopher, and economist.

Turgot graduated from the theological faculty of the Sorbonne, but he did not pursue an ecclesiastical career. In 1751 he became a councilor of the Parisian parliament, and from 1761 to 1774 he served as intendant of Limoges. As comptroller general from 1774 to 1776, he carried out a number of antifeudal reforms, including the repeal of restrictions on the grain trade and the abolition of guilds; these reforms, however, aroused the opposition of the privileged estates and were repealed after Turgot resigned.

Turgot’s philosophical views were influenced by the ideas of the representatives of the Enlightenment with whom he collaborated on the Encyclopedia of Diderot and d’Alembert. Turgot combined materialist and sensationalist views with a belief in god the creator as the prime source of existence. He argued for the constancy of the laws of nature, and, in anticipation of Condor-cet’s conception, he formulated one of the first versions of the rationalist theory of the progress of society. Turgot claimed that in spite of innumerable victims and devastating upheavals, “customs become less rigid, the human mind is enlightened, isolated nations draw together, and commerce and politics finally unite the world” (Izbr. filos, proizv., Moscow, 1937, p. 52). He was also the first to formulate the doctrine of the three stages of human cultural progress: religious, speculative, and scientific. Turgot acknowledged the role of economic relations as the motive force of progress, and he linked the various political forms with the stages of economic development.

Turgot’s primary work was Reflections on the Formation and the Distribution of Riches (1766). Like F. Quesnay and other Physiocrats, he defended the principle of freedom of economic activity. Although he shared Quesnay’s view of farming as the only source of surplus product, he assigned a much greater role to industry and trade and made a deeper analysis of capital, money, and profit. Turgot was the first to approach an understanding of how important ownership of the means of production is in the class division of society, and he made a distinction within the “farming class” and the “class of craftsmen” between private employers and hired workers. An ideologist of the incipient capitalism of his time, Turgot was, in the words of K. Marx, “one of the intellectual heroes who overthrew the old regime” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 15, p. 384).


Oeuvres, vols. 1–5. Paris, 1913–23.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. filosofskie proizvedeniia. Moscow, 1937.
Izbr. ekonomicheskie proizvedeniia. Moscow, 1961.


Volgin, V. P. Razvitie obshchestvennoi mysli vo Frantsii v XVIII veke. Moscow, 1958.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.