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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 Condorcet's method.

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Early years

He was born in Ribemont[?], Aisne in 1743, and descended from the ancient family of Caritat. The Caritat's 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 a very devoutly religious woman, and had him educated at the Jesuit College in Reims and at the College of Navarre in Paris.

Condorcet quickly displayed his mental prowess in all endeavors. His first public distinctions were gained in mathematics. When he was sixteen, his analytical abilities gained the praise of D'Alembert and A.-C. Clairaut, and soon Condorcet would study under D'Alembert.

Condorcet the mathematician

From 1765 to 1774, he focused on scientific endeavors. 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 the Sciences.

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

Entering politics

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 rights and of the blacks 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 this post until 1791. Condorcet later wrote Vie de M. Turgot (1786), an expository biography of Turgot which spoke fondly of Turgot and favoured Turgot's economic theories.

Condorcet would continue 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 Condorcet's 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 Condorcet's method over the Borda count.

In 1786, Condorcet worked more 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.

However, Condorcet was soon to find himself on the unfortunate side of history. There were two competing views on which direction France should go, embodied by two political parties: the moderate Girondists who favored a peaceful reconstruction of France, and the more radical Jacobins, led by Maximilien Robespierre who favored purging France of its imperial past. Condorcet was a member of the Girondists, and voted against the execution of Louis XVI.

The Girondist lost control of the assembly to the Jacobins in 1793. The Jacobins drafted a new Constitution very different from the one that Condorcet drafted. 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, for having dared to criticize the Constitution presented by Harault de Sachelles.

In Hiding

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 progr�s 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 (on the 27th), 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, having allegedly committed suicide (some suspect he may have been murdered).


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