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. He was
fatherless at a young age. His mother was devoutly religious, and
had him educated at the Jesuit College in Reims and at the College
of Navarre in Paris.
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.
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 Académie royale
des Sciences (French Royal Academy of Sciences).
Jacques Turgot was Condorcet's mentor and longtime friendIn 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.
was recognized worldwide and worked with such 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.
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.
1776, Turgot was dismissed as Controller General. Consequently,
Condorcet submitted his resignation as Inspector General of the
Mint, but the request 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.
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 is 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 disagreed strongly with the
alternative method of aggregating preferences put forth by Jean-Charles
de Borda based on summed rankings of alternatives. Condorcet may
have been the first to systematically apply mathematics in the
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. In
1798 Thomas Malthus wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population
partly in response to Condorcet's views on the "perfectibility
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. He advocated women's
suffrage for the new government, writing an article for Journal
de la Société de 1789, and by publishing "De
l'admission des femmes au droit de cité" ("For
the Admission to the Rights of Citizenship For Women") in
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 it was replaced by the Convention, elected in
order to design a new constitution and which abolished monarchy
in favor of the republic.
the time of King Louis XVI's trial, the Girondists had, however,
lost their majority in the Convention. Condorcet, who opposed
the death penalty but still supported this trial, spoke out against
the execution of the King during the public vote at the Convention.
He was then usually considered a Girondist. The Montagnards were
becoming more and more influential in the Convention as the King's
betrayal was confirming their theories. One of these, Hérault
de Seychelles, 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.
Condorcet was interred in The Pantheon in 1989, where his remains
now rest.The warrant for his arrest forced Condorcet into hiding.
He hid for five months in the house of Mme. Vernet, Rue Servandoni,
in Paris. It was there that he wrote Esquisse d'un tableau historique
des progrès de l'esprit humain (English translation: Sketch
for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind), which
was published posthumously in 1795 and is considered one of the
major texts of the Enlightenment and of historical thought. It
narrates the history of civilization as one of progress in the
sciences, shows the intimate connection between scientific progress
and the development of human rights and justice, and outlines
the features of a future rational society entirely shaped by scientific
March 25, 1794 Condorcet, convinced he was no longer safe, left
his hideout and attempted to flee Paris. Two days later he was
arrested in Clamart and imprisoned in the Borough-the Equality
(Borough-the-Queen, French: Bourg-la-Reine). Two days after that,
he was found dead in his cell. The most widely accepted 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). Edward
O. Wilson proposed that Condorcet's death marked the end of the
was interred in The Pantheon in 1989, in honor of the bicentennial
of the French Revolution and Condorcet's role as a central figure
in the Enlightenment. His grave can be found there today among
other great French citizens.