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Nicolas de Condorcet

Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat marquis de Condorcet (1743 - 1794), famous as Nicolas de Condorcet was a French philosopher, mathematician, political thinker and politician.condorcet_stamp.jpg

Condorcet was born in Aisne in North of France. His family was one of the richest families of that area. He trained in many disciplines, started from mathematics to science and after all in philosophy. During his first years he was connected to many of frontiers of these disciplines and soon became honorary member of most prestigious academic societies like the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1785).

On the one hand he was the writer of a biography of Voltaire and on the other hand, Auguste Comte, the founding father of Sociology, was a disciple of him. One of the shared themes between them was the progressive interpretation of history.

Condorcet’s Philosophy of History:

His central role in the enlightenment was not because of his totally new and creative ideas but “he did create a synthesis of all the theories of his predecessors”. (1) His predecessors were pivotal figures of the enlightenment like Voltaire, Rousseau, Turgot and Condillac among many others. That kind of naïve conception of progress, world peace and disappearance of religion was one of the common elements in the philosophies of 17th and 18th century.

He formulates his main ideas about the gradual progress of human mind toward perfection in a book with the title “Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain” (Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Spirit). In this book, he traced the line of this progress in ten stages. In the last stage:

“will arrive the moment in which the sun will observe in its course free nations only, acknowledging no other master than their reason; in which tyrants and slaves, priests and their stupid or hypocritical instruments, will no longer exist but in history.” (2)

Exactly after finishing this book, he died mysteriously in the prison (28, March, 1798). Who had passionate belief in human progress toward perfection, and who, optimistically, treated French Revolution as a step toward this perfection, paradoxically himself was one of the victims of this Revolution.

Seyed Morteza Hashemi Madani


1. Koyré, Alexandre, “Condorcet”, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Apr., 1948), pp. 131-152.

2. Condorcet, Nicolas de, “Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Spirit”.

3. Lowith, Karl, “Meaning in History”, London: The University of Chicago Press,1949, Pp. 91-103.

4. Williams, David, “Condorcet and Modernity”, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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