Who was Marquis de Condorcet?
Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, better known as Marquis de Condorcet was a French mathematician, philosopher and political thinker whose works exemplified the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment. The Condorcet method—the election method of selecting the candidate who would win in all pairings against each of the other candidates—was proposed by him. He was of liberal political views and believed in equal rights for everyone regardless of race or gender. A much loved and respected figure in 18th century France, his works and writings hold their relevance to this day. A learned man, he was acquainted with several distinguished men of his time like Leonhard Euler, Jacques Turgot and Benjamin Franklin. He was a protégé of the great mathematician and philosopher, Jean Le Rond d’Alembert and became a well respected mathematician in his own right. Over the course of time he focused his interest on philosophy and politics. He became a campaigner for human rights and voiced his opinions seeking equal rights for the blacks and women. He was excited about the French Revolution in which he took an active interest and believed that bringing about political, economical and socials reforms were necessary to transform France. His political activities however led to his arrest and he was later found dead in prison under mysterious circumstances.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on 17 September 1943 in Ribemont, France. He lost his father when he was very young and was raised by his mother who was a religious woman.
He went to Jesuit College in Reims after which he went to the College de Navarre in Paris. He was very bright and intelligent and possessed a keen interest in mathematics.
As a teenager he impressed the great mathematician Jean le Rond d’Alembert with his analytical abilities and was taken in as a protege by him. He published his first work on mathematics, ‘Essai sur le calcul integral’ in 1765. This paper was very well received and established him as a respected mathematician.
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He was elected to the Academie royale des Sciences (French Royal Academy of Sciences) in February 1769. A few years later he published a paper on integral calculus in 1772 which was much appreciated by the scientific community.
Over the years he became much accomplished not just as a mathematician, but also as a philosopher and political thinker. He was acquainted with several distinguished personalities of his time and was a very popular figure.
He was made the inspector General of the Paris mint in 1774 and served in this post until 1791. This was a turning point for him as from then on he shifted his priority to philosophy and politics from pure mathematics.
He was an abolitionist and believed that everyone, irrespective of their race or gender should get the right to free education. During the 1780s he played an active role in the Society of the Friends of the Blacks.
Condorcet wrote Essai sur l’application de l’analyse a la probabilite des decisions rendues a la pluralite des voix (Essay on the Application of Analysis to the Probability of Majority Decisions), in 1785 which is considered one of his most significant works.
He gave the Condorcet’s jury theorem which is a political science theorem about the relative probability of a given group of individuals making a correct decision. He is also credited with propounding the Condorcet method of selecting a candidate in elections.
In 1785, he became an honorary member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and in 1792 the Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 1786, he published ‘Vie de M. Turgot’, a biography of his friend, Jacques Turgot, a French economist which was followed by the publication of ‘Vie de Voltaire’ in 1789. These two biographies are widely read even today.
When the French Revolution started in 1789, Condorcet played an active role in campaigning for social, political and economic reforms. He was elected as a Paris representative in the Assembly in 1791 and later became the secretary of the Assembly.
He was an early feminist and advocated for women’s rights. He wrote ‘De l'admission des femmes au droit de cite’ ("For the Admission to the Rights of Citizenship For Women") in 1790.
The 1790s was a period of great political turmoil in France. Marie-Jean Herault de Sechelles, a politician, misrepresented many of Condorcet’s political ideas and thus Condorcet was branded a traitor and an arrest warrant was issued in his name.
He went into hiding to escape being caught; he got the full support of his wife and friends while he was in hiding. He wrote ‘Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progres de l'esprit humain’ (Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Spirit) during this time which was published posthumously.
Personal Life & Legacy
He courted and married Sophie de Grouchy, one of the most beautiful women of the day, in 1786. His wife was more than 20 years his junior. The couple had a strong marriage which produced one baby girl and remained close till his death. She never remarried.
He went into hiding after an arrest warrant was issued for him in October 1793. After being in hiding for some months he attempted to escape but was arrested and imprisoned. He was found dead two days later, on 28 March 1794, and the cause of his death was never determined.