Progress of the Human Mind - the tenth stage

The future progress of the human mind

Our hopes for the future condition of the human race can be subsumed under three important heads: the abolition of inequality between nations, the progress of equality within each nation, and the true perfection of mankind. Will all nationals one day attain that state of civilization which the most enlightened, the freest and the least burdened by prejudices, such as the French and the Anglo-Americans, have attained already? Will the vast gulf that separates these peoples from the slavery of nations under the rule of monarchs, from the barbarism of African tribes, from the ignorance of savages, little by little disappear?

The time will therefore come when the sun will shine only on free men who know no other master but their reason; when tyrants and slaves, priests and their stupid or hypocritical instruments will exist only in work of history and on the stage; and when we shall think of them only to pity their victims and their dupes; to maintain ourselves in a state of vigilance by thinking on their excesses; and to learn how to recognize and so to destroy, by force of reason, the first seeds of tyranny and superstition, should they every dare to reappear amongst us.

Background

Antoine-Nicholas de Condorcet (1743-1794) was a French philosopher, mathematician and social theorist.

Condorcet was one of the philosophers whose thought and writings prepared the ground for the French Revolution. His approach is typical of the leaders of the Enlightenment. He argues that reason, rather than religion, offers the basis for human progress, justice and the good of society.

The central idea of Condorcet's book is that humankind progresses continuously towards perfection. Mankind starts in savagery and advances towards enlightenment (rationalism), virtue, and happiness.

Condorcet argued that the human race had already progressed through nine stages (great epochs of history). The tenth stage would be the epoch of the future. According to Condorcet the characteristics of the future would be shaped by history. By this method he stated that tenth stage would be characterised by three tendencies:

  • equality between nations
  • equality between classes
  • the intellectual, moral and physical improvement of all individuals

Condorcet's equality is not absolute equality, but specifically the equality of freedom and rights. He believed that there were no limits to the human mind's capacity for knowledge and virtue, or even to the prolongation of life itself. As a result he placed enormous importance on education.

Condorcet's book shows a deep hatred of monarchy and religion, particularly Christianity.

Louis Sebastian Mercier (1740-1814), a contemporary of Condorcet, developed a similar theme in Memoires of the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred. Mercier describes a utopian society of the future entirely based on reason. He asks of the government of the future 'Is it monarchical, democratic or aristocratic?' and answers 'It is neither of them; it is rational, and made for man. Monarchy is no more' .

Taken from: Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind
Author / Creator: Antoine-Nicholas de Condorcet (translated by June Barraclough)
Publisher: Weidenfeld and Nicholson
Date: 1955
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: W.P.C.691/3