Condorcet remains influential in the social sciences because he applied mathematical ideas to social and political problems. 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 In 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.
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He was one of the major Revolutionary formulators of the ideas of progress, or the indefinite perfectibility of humankind. He was educated at the Jesuit college in Reims and at the College of Navarre in Paris, where he showed his first promise as a mathematician. In he became a member of the Academy of Sciences , to which he contributed papers on mathematical and other subjects.
Condorcet was the friend of almost all the distinguished persons of his time and a zealous propagator of the progressive views then current among French literati. He was elected to the permanent secretaryship of the Academy of Sciences in and to the French Academy in and was a member of other European academies. In he married Sophie de Grouchy — , with whom he formed a remarkable intellectual partnership on the basis of their shared democratic convictions and their benign and optimistic view of human nature.
Condorcet published his Vie de M. Turgot in and his Vie de Voltaire in The outbreak of the French Revolution , which he greeted with enthusiasm, involved him in a great deal of political activity. He was elected to represent Paris in the Legislative Assembly and became its secretary, was active in the reform of the educational system, was chief author of the address to the European powers in , and in he presented a scheme for a system of state education , which was the basis of that ultimately adopted.
Condorcet was one of the first to declare for a republic, and in August drew up the declaration justifying the suspension of the king and the summoning of the National Convention.
His draft of a new constitution, representative of the Girondins , the more moderate political group during the Revolution, was rejected, however, in favour of that of the Jacobins , a more radical political group whose dominating figure was Robespierre.
In the trial of Louis XVI he voted against the death penalty. Its fundamental idea is that of the continuous progress of the human race to an ultimate perfection. He represents humans as starting from the lowest stage of savagery with no superiority over the other animals, save that of bodily organization and as advancing uninterruptedly in the path of enlightenment, virtue, and happiness.
The stages that the human race has already gone through, or, in other words, the great epochs of history, are regarded as nine in number. After insisting that general laws regulative of the past warrant general inferences as to the future, he argues that the three tendencies that the entire history of the past shows will be characteristic features of the future are: 1 the destruction of inequality between nations, 2 the destruction of inequality between classes, and 3 the improvement of individuals, the indefinite perfectibility of human nature itself—intellectually, morally, and physically.
The equality to which he represents nations and individuals as tending is not absolute equality but equality of freedom and of rights. Nations and people, he asserts, are equal if equally free and are all tending to equality because all are tending to freedom. As to indefinite perfectibility, he nowhere denies that progress is conditioned both by the constitution of humanity and by the character of its surroundings.
But he affirms that those conditions are compatible with endless progress and that the human mind can assign no fixed limits to its own advancement in knowledge and virtue or even to the prolongation of bodily life. That theory explains the importance that he attached to popular education, to which he looked for all sure progress. The book is notable for its intense aversion to all religion, especially Christianity , and to monarchy.
Pervaded by a spirit of excessive hopefulness, it contains numerous errors of detail, due to the circumstances in which it was written. Its value lies in its general ideas. While Condorcet was under proscription as a Girondin , some of the other works he wrote were published by friends, and others were issued after his death. Still interested in public affairs and believing that the house in which he had been hiding was watched, he escaped and, after hiding in thickets and quarries for three days, entered the village of Clamart on the evening of March 27, His appearance betrayed him, and he was taken to Bourg-la-Reine and imprisoned.
On the morning of March 29 he was found dead; whether from exhaustion or poisoning is unknown. Condorcet, wholly a man of the Enlightenment, sought to extend the empire of reason to social affairs. He advocated economic freedom, religious toleration, legal and educational reform, the abolition of slavery , and—unusually for his time—equal rights for women, including woman suffrage.
The rights of men stem exclusively from the fact that they are sentient beings, capable of acquiring moral ideas and of reasoning upon them. Since women have the same qualities, they necessarily also have the same rights. Either no member of the human race has any true rights, or else they all have the same ones; and anyone who votes against the rights of another, whatever his religion, colour or sex, automatically forfeits his own.
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Vie de M. Turgot
The life and writings of Turgot, comptroller-general of France, The life and writings of Turgot, comptroller general of France, The life and writings of Turgot : comptroller-general of France, Laws of the colony of New York, passed in the years and A tour through the western, southern, and interior provinces of France, in the years , and
Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de Condorcet
View seven larger pictures. During this period he produced several important works, including one in on the integral calculus which was described by Lagrange as:- filled with sublime and fruitful ideas which could have furnished material for several works. Soon after the publication of his work, Condorcet met Turgot, a French economist who became an administrator under Louis XV. Turgot was dismissed from his post in and Condorcet tended his resignation.