The Modern Idea of Progress by Jean A. Condorcet

Ryszard Podgórski

Katedra Aksjologicznych Podstaw Edukacji, Uniwersytet Warmińsko-Mazurski w Olsztynie, ul. ks. Feliksa Szrajbera 11, 10-007 Olsztyn


The 18th century is the opening to cognitive progress (epistemology) which becomes the core of historical progress. They were defined more precisely by Robert Turgot (1727-1781). Turgot’s lecture entitled Discours sur l´histoire universalle of 1750 significantly contributed to the notion of “progress”. The lecture presented a broad programme of historical studies whose object was humanity striving for perfection. Turgot’s programme was implemented by his friend Jean Antoine de Condorcet (1743-1794). He contained the interpretation of his programme of historical progress in Esquisse d´un tableau historique des progrés de l´esprit humain (A sketch of the picture of progress of human spirit through the ages). It was 1794 and in that year Condorcet was imprisoned. Jean Antoine de Condorcet proposed a secular mechanism of progress which was to take place through development of knowledge and science. In his outline of the development of humanity, Condorcet emphasised that the progress of humanity occurs because of efforts of people without interference of divine factors. Man is able to improve due to his own mind. The history of humanity is presented in his philosophy as a linear, continuous process taking place along a rising line, whereas the description of progress includes both past times and the future. In this way, Condorcet showed the perspective of further development of humanity in the direction of a system consistent with the law of nature and the complete elimination of suffering. This view of Condorcet motivated August Comte (1798-1857) when he built the “first philosophy”, and Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715-1771) and Paul Henry d´Holbach (1723-1789). Keywords


empiricism, scientism, mathematization, industrialism, philosophy of progress

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Cited by

Podgórski, R. (2017). The Modern Idea of Progress by Jean A. Condorcet. Studia Warmińskie, 54, 59–67.

Ryszard Podgórski 
Katedra Aksjologicznych Podstaw Edukacji, Uniwersytet Warmińsko-Mazurski w Olsztynie, ul. ks. Feliksa Szrajbera 11, 10-007 Olsztyn