March 2013

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A Thought From Condorcet

by Jonathan Wallace

I dozed off yesterday and woke thinking, "Condorcet". No clue who that was, so I Googled him, and found Condorcet was a nobleman, scientist and philosopher who tried to make friends with the French revolution, but was accused of treason and went into hiding as the most radical element took power. He either killed himself or was murdered, leaving behind the manuscript of an optimistic work on human progress.

I always wake up thinking of names or phrases, but they are mostly random. I am sure I read about Condorcet sometime, but why think of him now?

Here is a thought towards the end of his essay, my translation:

How much this image of humanity, free of all its chains, removed from the influence of chance, and from that of the enemies of progress, walking with a sure step on the pathway of truth, virtue and happiness, presents to the philosopher a spectacle which provides consolation for errors, crimes and injustices with which the world is still stained, and of which he is often the victim! It is in contemplating this image that he receives compensation for his efforts on behalf of progress and reason, for his defense of liberty. He dares then to link these to the eternal chain of human destiny: there he finds the true reward for virtue, the pleasure of having created something enduring and good, which the Fates can never destroy in deadly repayment of his efforts, restoring prejudice and slavery. This thought is for him a refuge, where the memory of his persecutors cannot follow him; where, living by thought alone, with humanity re-established in its rights and also in the dignity of its nature, he forgets those who are tormented and corrupted by greed, fear and envy; it is in this place that he truly exists with his peers, in a paradise created by reason, and which his love for humanity embellishes with the purest pleasures.