Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Marquis de Condorcet

Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, marquis de Condorcet (September 17, 1743 - March 28, 1794) was a French philosopher and mathematician (and early political scientist) who devised the concept of a Condorcet method. He can be considered as the precursor of many trends in French and world politics. For instance, he stated early in favor of liberal economy, free and equal public education, constitutional justice, equal rights for women and colored-people, etc.

Table of contents
1 Early years
2 Political Career
3 Condorcet's paradox
4 French Revolution
5 References
6 External links

Early years

He was born in Ribemont, Aisne in 1743, and descended from the ancient family of Caritat, who took their title from the town of Condorcet in Dauphiné, of which they were long-time residents. His father died when he was very young. His mother was devoutly religious, and had him educated at the Jesuit College in Reims and at the College of Navarre in Paris.

Condorcet quickly showed his intellectual ability. His first public distinctions were gained in mathematics. When he was sixteen, his analytical abilities gained the praise of D'Alembert and Alexis Clairault, and soon Condorcet would study under D'Alembert.

From 1765 to 1774, he focused on science. In 1765, he published his first work on mathematics entitled ''Essai sur le calcul intégral'', which was very well received, launching his career as a respected mathematician. He would go on to publish many more papers, and on February 25, 1769, he was elected to the Royal Academy of Sciences.

In 1772, he published another paper on integral calculus which was widely hailed as a groundbreaking paper on many fronts. Soon after, he met Jacques Turgot, a French economist, and the two became fast friends. Turgot became an administrator under King Louis XV in 1772, and later became Controller General of Finance under Louis XVI in 1774.

Condorcet was recognized worlwide, worked with famous scientists as Leonhard Euler and Benjamin Franklin. He soon became an honorary member of many foreign academies and philosophic societies notably in Germany, Russia and the United States.

Political Career

In 1774, Condorcet was appointed Inspector General of the Mint by Turgot. From this point, Condorcet shifted his focus from the purely mathematical to philosophy and political matters. In the following years, he took up the defense of human rights in general, and of women's and coloured people's rights in particular. He supported the ideals embodied by the newly formed United States of America, and proposed projects of political, administrative and economic reforms intended to transform France.

In 1776, Turgot was dismissed as Controller General. Consequently, Condorcet resigned as Inspector General of the Mint, but his resignation was refused. He served in this post until [1791]]. Condorcet later wrote Vie de M. Turgot (1786), a biography which spoke fondly of Turgot and favoured Turgot's economic theories. Condorcet continued to receive prestigious appointments. In 1777, Condorcet was appointed Secretary of the Académie des Sciences. In 1782, he was appointed secretary of the French Academy.

Condorcet's paradox

In 1785, Condorcet wrote the Essay on the Application of Analysis to the Probability of Majority Decisions, one of his most important works. In this, he explores the "Condorcet's paradox", which describes the intransitivity of majority preference. Condorcet's paradox states that it's possible for a majority to prefer A over B, another majority to prefer B over C, and another majority to prefer C over A, all from the same electorate and same set of ballots. In this paper, he also outlines a generic Condorcet method, a method designed to simulate pairwise elections between all candidates in an election. He would have many debates with Jean-Charles de Borda about the suitability of a Condorcet method over the Borda count.

In 1786, Condorcet worked on ideas for the differential and integral calculus, giving a new treatment of infinitesimals. This work was never printed. In 1789, he published Vie de Voltaire (1789), which agreed with Voltaire in his opposition to the Church.

French Revolution

In 1789, the French Revolution swept France. Condorcet took a leading role, hoping for a rationalist reconstruction of society, and championed many liberal causes. As a result, in 1791 he was elected as the Paris representative in the Legislative Assembly, and then became the secretary of the Assembly. The Assembly adopted Condorcet's design for state education system, and Condorcet drafted a proposed Constitution for the new France.

There were two competing views on which direction France should go, embodied by two political parties: the moderate Girondists, and the more radical Montagnards, led by Maximilien Robespierre who favored purging France of its royal past. Condorcet was quite independent but still counted many friends in the Girondist party. He presided the Legislative Assembly, as the Girondist held the majority, until she was replaced by the Convention, elected in order to design a new constitution and which abolished monarchy in favor of the republic.

At the time of the Louis XVI's trial, the Girondists had however lost their majority in the Convention. Condorcet, who was against death penalty but still a strong supporter of this trial, pronounced against the execution of the King during the public vote at the Convention. He was then usually considered as a Girondist. Unfortunately, the Montagnards were becoming more and more influential in the Convention as the King's betrayal was confirming their theories. One of these, Heraut de Sechelles, a member, like Condorcet, of the Constitution's Commission, misrepresented many ideas from Condorcet's draft and presented what was called a Montagnard Constitution. Condorcet criticized the new work, and as a result, he was branded a traitor. On October 3, 1793, a warrant was issued for Condorcet's arrest.

The warrant for his arrest forced Condorcet into hiding. He hid for five months in the house of Mrs. Vernet, street Servandoni, in Paris. It was there that he wrote Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrés de l'esprit humain, which was published posthumously in 1795. On March 25, 1794 Condorcet left his hidout, no longer convinced he was safe, and attempted to flee Paris. He was arrested in Clamart two days later, and put in prison in the Borough-the Equality (Borough-the-Queen, French: Bourg-la-Reine). Two days later, he was found dead in his cell. The main theory is that his friend, Doctor Cabanis, gave him a poison which he eventually used. However, some historians believe that he may have been murdered (perhaps because he was too loved and respected to be executed).


External links