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Condorcet, Marquis de

Condorcet, Marquis de 1743-1794

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Marie Jean Antoine de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet, a descendant of the ancient family of Caritat, was born on September 17, 1743, at Ribemont, Aisne, in France. His father died early, and Condorcets devoutly Catholic mother ensured that he was educated at the Jesuit College of Rheims and at the College of Navarre in Paris. A talented young mathematician, he soon came to the attention of the mathematicians Jean le Rond dAlembert (17171783) and Alexis Clairault (17131765). In 1765 Condorcet published a work on mathematics entitled Essai sur le calcul intégral (Essay on Integral Calculus), and he was elected to the Académie Royale des Sciences four years later. After becoming acquainted with Anne Robert Jacques Turgot (17211781), who served as controllergeneral of finance under King Louis XV (17101774), Condorcet was appointed inspector general of the Monnaie de Paris (Paris Mint) in 1774. Condorcet later wrote a sympathetic Life of Turgot (1786), which supported Turgots economic theories. In 1777 Condorcet was appointed secretary to the Académie des Sciences; in 1782 he became secretary of the Académie Française; and in 1789 he published his Life of Voltaire. Thomas Malthuss (17661834) Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) was published partly in response to the optimistic views on the perfectibility of society that Condorcet expressed in his writings.

Condorcet remains influential in the social sciences because he applied mathematical ideas to social and political problems. He became famous for what is now known as Condorcets paradox, first presented in his Essay on the Application of Analysis to the Probability of Majority Decisions (1785), which describes the intransitivity of majority preferences in electoral politics. An election can occur even when there is no clear candidate whom the voters prefer to all other candidates. In such a situation, known as a majority rule cycle or circular tie, one majority prefers candidate A over B, another majority B over C, and a final majority C over A. To break such electoral circles, Condorcet invented a method in which voters rank candidates in order of preference; these electoral procedures are known as the Condorcet method, which is designed to secure a definite Condorcet winner.

Condorcet played a leading role in the French Revolution of 1789. In 1791 he was elected to represent Paris in the Legislative Assembly, where he presented plans for the creation of a state education system and drafted a new constitution for France. He also campaigned for the abolition of slavery and advocated female suffrage, publishing a pamphlet titled On the Admission of Women to the Rights of Citizenship in 1790. Although he was a revolutionary, he did not support the execution of the French king, and aligned himself with the more moderate Girondist Party. He opposed the so-called Montagnard Constitution, which he thought was too radical and far-reaching. As a result, he was regarded as a traitor and a warrant was issued for his arrest. While in hiding, Condorcet wrote his famous Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, which was published posthumously in 1795. This major text of the French Enlightenment describes the historical connection between the growth of science and the development of human rights.

In March 1794 Condorcet attempted to escape from Paris, but he was arrested and imprisoned, and was later found dead in his cell; the cause of his death has never been determined. Condorcet was interred in 1989 in the Panthéon in Paris in honor of the bicentennial of the French Revolution.

SEE ALSO Human Rights; Majority Rule; Voting

BIBLIOGRAPHY

McLean, Iain, and Fiona Hewitt, eds. and trans. 1994. Condorcet: Foundations of Social Choice and Political Theory Aldershot, U.K.: Edward Elgar.

Bryan S. Turner

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Marquis de Condorcet

Marquis de Condorcet

The French thinker Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794), expressed the spirit of the Enlightenment in reform proposals and writings on progress. He was the only philosophe to participate in the French Revolution.

Born in Ribemont in Picardy on Sept. 17, 1743, the Marquis de Condorcet was educated at the Jesuit college in Reims and later at the College of Navarre in Paris. He excelled in mathematics and in 1765 wrote the Essay on Integral Calculus. In 1769 he became a member of the Academy of Science, later becoming its perpetual secretary, and in 1782 was elected to the French Academy. He married Sophie de Grouchy in 1786, and their home became one of the famous salons of the period.

Prior to the French Revolution, Condorcet wrote biographies of A.R.J. Turgot and Voltaire and essays on the application of the theory of probabilities to popular voting, on the American Revolution and the Constitutional Convention, and on the abolition of the slave trade and slavery. In 1791 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly and later to the National Convention, where he continued to manifest his liberal and egalitarian sentiments.

In the report of the Committee on Public Education, Condorcet advocated universal primary school education and the establishment of a self-regulating educational system under the control of a National Society of Sciences and Arts to protect education from political pressures. However, the Legislative Assembly was hostile to all autonomous corporate structures and ignored Condorcet's plan. His proposal for a new constitution, establishing universal male suffrage, proportional representation, and local self-government, was similarly set aside by the Jacobin-dominated National Convention, which considered it too moderate.

Condorcet's moderate democratic leanings and his vote against the death penalty for Louis XVI led to his being outlawed by the Jacobin government on July 8, 1793. He went into hiding in the home of a close friend, Madame Varnet, where he wrote the Sketch of an Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, his most famous and most optimistic work. This capsulized history of progress presented a set of intellectual and moral goals toward which men ought to work, and it was based on the utilitarian conviction that invention and progressive thought arise out of social need. According to Condorcet, the future progress of reason had become inevitable with the invention of the printing press and the advances in science and criticism. Rather than emphasizing the role of the solitary genius as the agent of progress, the Sketch stressed the dissemination of useful knowledge among the masses.

After 8 months of hiding, Condorcet fled Paris but was arrested on March 27, 1794, and imprisoned in Bourgla-Reine. On March 29 he was found dead in his cell. His identity was unknown, and it is ironic that this critic of classical education was eventually identified by a copy of Horace's Epistles that he had been carrying at the time of his arrest.

Further Reading

The best biography of Condorcet is Jacob Salwyn Schapiro, Condorcet and the Rise of Liberalism (1934; new ed. 1962). There is an excellent analysis of Condorcet's philosophy in Frank Edward Manuel, The Prophets of Paris (1962). Ann Elizabeth Burlingame, Condorcet: The Torch Bearer of the French Revolution (1930), is still useful. □

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Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, marquis de

Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat Condorcet, marquis de (märē´ zhäN äNtwän´ nēkôlä´ kärētä´ märkē´ də kôNdôrsā´), 1743–94, French mathematician, philosopher, and political leader, educated at Reims and Paris. He became a member of the Academy of Sciences in 1769 and of the French Academy in 1782. His work on the theory of probability (1785) was a valuable contribution to mathematics. Condorcet took part in the French Revolution, but, opposing the extremes of the Jacobins, he was condemned and died in prison. His best-known work is Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain (1795; tr. Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, 1955). In that work Condorcet traced human development through nine epochs to the French Revolution and predicted in the 10th epoch the ultimate perfection of man.

See studies by K. M. Baker (1982), L. Rosenfield (1984), and E. Rothschild (2001).

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Condorcet, Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de

Condorcet, Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de (1743–94) A leading contributor to the Encyclopedia (1751–65), and first supporter then victim of the French Revolution, Condorcet is chiefly remembered for his theory of human progress. This was presented in his Sketch for a Historical Picture of Progress of the Human Mind, written while in hiding. He distinguished a series of ten progressive epochs or phases in human history, and like many of his contemporaries, emphasized the indefinitely progressive potentiality of the growth of science and mathematics. His radical social and political ideas were one of the main targets of criticism in Thomas Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population, in which the latter argued that all such well-meant projects must founder on the disproportion between population growth and natural limits to the supply of food.

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