Doomed to a Cycle or Constantly Improving?

The Marquis de Condorcet’s believed one day humankind would reach a future where the individual could be free to reason for himself and there would be no more positions of power such as tyrants or priests. ((Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, 1795)) He wrote that this future would have equality between nations, equality between individuals, and where decisions are made based on science and rationalization. ((Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, 1795)) His view directly opposes Marx’s idea we heard in class the other day, that there must be oppressors and oppressed in society until the oppressed overthrow the oppressors in a revolution. He based his argument off general world history, starting with slave owners and slaves, lords and serfs, and the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
In order to believe in Condorcet’s idea that there is an end all society in the future we must see that there have been large steps forward in equality. Is our world more equal and more based on rational thought than it was one hundred years ago? How about two hundred years ago? It’s very difficult to answer this question in a global setting, so I ask that we focus domestically, on the United States. From Marx’s view, is there an oppressed people in the U.S?  It is difficult for many people to see any citizen of the U.S as oppressed, due to our status as a world power, and they are right. Compared to most places in the world we could not be viewed as oppressed. But solely within our country, when looking back, there has never been such a gap in income inequality. In history, the people with power have that power due to their wealth. For the slave owners and lords they owned people and land. The Bourgeoisie owned private property. The majority of the money in the U.S is in the top five percent. When looking at income inequality from this perspective, is it fair to say that there is an oppressor and oppressed in the U.S? Furthermore, do they hold a power over us that we are unaware of?

Ideals of Liberty

The Marquis de Condorcet and John Stuart Mill were philosophers concerned with the idea of liberty and governments. Condorcet was a Frenchman writing during the time of the French revolution, undoubtedly inspired by the values of the revolution and the Enlightenment, putting reason above all else and valuing the progression of nations towards equality. He advocated for liberties that resembled the U.S. Bill of Rights, that is freedom of speech and press, abolition of torture, a simpler civil code and ensuring the security of innocent people. ((Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, 1795. Mill focused his writing on the struggle between liberty and authority and how this progression had changed government forms over time, as well as his views on individual liberties. He thought that human’s needed to have liberty of individual thought, liberty of one’s tastes and pursuits and the liberty to unite with others for a purpose that does not harm other people. ((John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1869.

Condorcet and Mill have similar views on what liberties individuals are entitled to, mainly focusing on freedom of individual thought and opinion, as well as the fact that they were both known to be advocates for women’s rights, which was unique for men of their time. In 1795, when Condorcet was writing, women and many men did not have access to many of the liberties he discussed and this had not changed substantially in 1869 when Mill was writing in England. Mill was addressing the lack of these issues over seventy years later, implying that most individuals still did not have access to them.

There is still a lot of talk today about inequalities between men and women, with the obvious example being that women make 79 cents for every dollar made by a man. Women have made great strides in equality since Condorcet and Mill were writing but there is still a ways to go. Condorcet says at the beginning of his writing that the “perfectibility of man in indefinite”, do you think we will ever achieve full equality between men and women? ((Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, 1795. Or between all members of society?

Condorcet’s Perfection

In his Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, Condorcet expounds on mankind’s struggle for perfection. Although Condorcet determines the quest to be “indefinite”, he also acknowledges its irreversibility “as long as the earth occupies its present place in the system of the universe, and as long as the general laws of the system produce neither a general cataclysm nor such changes as will deprive the human race of its present faculties and its present resources…” During the European enlightenment, mankind was just beginning to identify the unalienable rights possessed by all humans. Condorcet recognized that mankind was on the right track to attaining “perfection” but still had a long way to go. The elimination of prejudice and injustice is paramount to the progression of the human race.

Much progress has been made in the area of human rights since 1795, but we are still striving for the “perfection” Condorcet alluded to. Condorcet was ahead of his time in recognizing the rights of all humans and in advocating for tolerance and acceptance. Mankind must refer to back to Condorcet’s principles to finally realize the perfection that has eluded us. Provided we do not regress into the ideology of those who cam before us, the human race will continue to push forward in its quest for perfection.

Indefinite Perfection

Condorcet, in his Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, argued that mankind progressed at a continuous rate toward perfection. His philosophy for perfection was guided by his own reason and science. Condorcet was adverse toward religion and believed that reason was the sole basis for man’s ability to progress, become virtuous, and better society. He saw man’s ability to be limitless and unconstrained by nature, and concluded, “that this perfectibility of man is truly indefinite.” He observed that society had gone through many stages and periods of error and false theories regarding the rights of man. This resulted from the constraints of tyranny from monarchs and hypocrisy from priests and the church. However, Condorcet revealed the single truth, “that man is a sentient being, capable of reasoning of acquiring moral ideas.” In other words, man has the ability to reason, think on his own, and become enlightened. From the single truth, Condorcet advocated liberalism where man possessed inalienable rights of liberty. He believed the future condition would be determined by, “the abolition of inequality between nations, the progress of equality within each nation, and the true perfection of mankind.” Condorcet had a very practical and scientific view of the future of the human condition, a society shaped by history that would reflect the progress of the human mind.

Condorcet’s views on human progress and liberalism reflect many of the past readings we studied this year, such as Locke, Kant, and Smith, who agree that man is inherently good. Condorcet’s philosophy is still held in society today. It is amazing that Condorcet published his thoughts as a liberal activist during the French Revolution, and today, our society still strives for the same basic tenets of equality of nations, equality of class, and perfection of mankind. It is clear to me that Condorcet was correct when he said that continual progress toward perfection is indefinite.