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Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Caritat


Marquis Condorcet, a mathematician, philosopher, and statesman whose classical statement of the theory of progress influenced 19th-century thinkers; b. Ribemont, Picardy, Sept. 17, 1741; d. Bourg-la-Reine, March 29, 1794. Condorcet was educated by the Jesuits at Reims and their Collège de Navarre in Paris. He attracted the attention of great mathematicians, such as J. L. Lagrange and J. d'Alembert, with his Essai sur le calcul integral, and soon became acquainted with prominent thinkers of the French enlightenment. In 1769 Condorcet was elected to the Academy of Sciences, and in 1782 to the French Academy. His Essai sur l'application de l'analyse à la probabilité des decisions rendues à la pluralité des voix (1785) was a notable contribution to the theory of probability. His biographies, Vie de M. Turgot (1786) and Vie de Voltaire (1787), were widely read.

In 1791 Condorcet was elected to the legislative assembly. He prepared a scheme for state education and was one of the first to advocate a republic. He was the leading member of the convention's committee on drafting a constitution. Condorcet sided with the Girondins against the Jacobins, and when the former were arrested in June 1793, he went into hiding. Here he wrote his famous Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain, which sketches history as man's ascent from barbarism to an age of enlightened reason through a progress that is irreversible and inescapable. He himself was then arrested and the following day found dead, either from suicide or from exhaustion.

Bibliography: Oeuvres, ed. a. c. o'connor and m. f. arago, 12 v. (Paris 184749); Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, tr. j. barraclaugh (New York 1955). p. faggiotto, Enciclopedia filosofica (Venice-Rome 1957) 1:118081.

[t. p. neill]

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