Through a study of the history of human progress, the Marquis of Condorcet, better known as Nicolas de Condorcet, speculates on the future development of human society. He envisages that scientific and technological advances will contribute fundamentally to the progress of the human race:
the progress of the sciences secures the progress of the art of instruction, which again accelerates in its turn that of the sciences; and this reciprocal influence, the action of which is incessantly increased, must be ranked in the number of the most prolific and powerful causes of the improvement of the human race.
In Condorcet’s work, education is seen as fundamental in revealing the unfolding of history: i.e. a trajectory that leads humanity from barbarism to enlightenment, a basic tenet of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s thought. This is not a new idea – it is seen in Voltaire and Turgot – but Condorcet extended it to every field of human activity, including politics.
He gives an outline of reformist movements which would arise in Britain in the 19th century:
Already in Great Britain, some friends of humanity have set the example; and if its Machiavellian government, forced to respect public reason, has not dared to oppose this measure, what may we not expect from the same spirit when, after the reform of an object and venal constitution, it shall become worthy of a humane and generous people?
How did Condorcet’s work influence Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Queen Mab?
We know Percy Bysshe Shelley read Condorcet’s work as he refers to Condorcet in the notes to Queen Mab. Pages 280-81 show Condorcet advocating gender equality, the gradual abandonment of war and even the breaking down of national sovereignty, as ‘all the causes which produce, envenom, and perpetuate national animosities, will one by one disappear’. ‘A false mercantile interest will lose the terrible power of imbuing the earth with blood’ – compare this with Shelley’s attack on commerce in Book 5 of Queen Mab.
- Full title:
- Outline of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind
- 1796, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, New York
- Marie Jean Anotine Nicolas Caritat Marquis de Condorcet
- Usage terms
- Public Domain
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Matthew White
- Politics and religion, Language and ideas
The Enlightenment's emphasis on reason shaped philosophical, political and scientific discourse from the late 17th to the early 19th century. Matthew White traces the Enlightenment back to its roots in the aftermath of the Civil War, and forward to its effects on the present day.