What is the philosophy of human progress

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Condorcet and the idea of ​​progress

Summary of
Esquisse d'un Tableau Historique des Progrès de l'Esprit Humain
The text Draft of a historical representation of the progress of the human mind (1794) was written by the French philosopher Marquis de Condorcet, who is considered one of the most important thinkers of the Enlightenment. During the French Revolution, Condorcet was a Girondin MP and later Secretary of the National Assembly. At the time he was writing the draft, Robespierre was pursuing it and therefore it is a draft (Esquisse), namely, a fairly simple text, which, however, will be very famous immediately after Condorcet's death. The design is undoubtedly the most representative and systematic presentation of the ideas of the progress of the Enlightenment and its optimism. In it, the French philosopher argues that the historical development of human beings is governed by laws that can be derived from reason, similar to the other sciences. With this notion, Condorcet actually lays the basis for the “sociological view” that Saint-Simon and Comte, for example, would later develop.

The law that Condorcet announced to have found is the relationship between material, scientific and moral progress. He speaks of the existence of an "indissoluble chain" between industry, science and human rights. According to Condorcet, this progress is made possible thanks to the development of knowledge. The more knowledge a person receives, the less space there is for the superstition and religious fanaticism that have kept people in a barbaric state for centuries. With the development of philosophy and science, man simultaneously discovers the idea of ​​"human rights" which are born of reason and which demand freedom and equality between individuals and nations of the world.

Condorcet divides the development of human history into ten evolutionary phases which prove the progressive advancement of the spirit. It began with the discovery of livestock and agriculture and continued with the invention of the alphabet and printing to modern philosophy and science. Although Condorcet recognizes that there can be moments of long regression (as in the Middle Ages, for example), he believes that in general man is guided by progress. The tenth stage, to which he devotes himself in the tenth chapter of the book, is the one that opened with the French Revolution.

For Condorcet, this revolution represented the political climax of the emergence of modern science and the struggle between philosophers and religion, which justified the old oppressive political order. In this epoch man finally frees himself from the power of the religious authorities who would have supported political tyranny, ignorance, inequality and intolerance and he substitutes them with a secular worldview and the idea of ​​human rights.

According to Condorcet, unlimited progress awaits people from this stage. Through scientific knowledge man will be able to better understand the world and his own nature and on this basis to establish new and better political, economic and moral institutions. In this sense, education plays an important role in future human progress. According to the author, education should teach us about our own nature and rights, and also about how to overcome prejudices and how to use reason properly. In the new modern society that began with the French Revolution, everything must be called into question, since it is precisely in this that there is the possibility of unlimited human advancement.

Indeed, one could argue that Condorcet understands progress in two ways: first, as a distancing from a barbaric past, where superstition, fanaticism, ignorance and inequality reigned, or second, as the concretization of a project that is slowly but steadily moving into the future will develop. The general purpose of progress, according to Condorcet, is to reduce inequality within and between nations. Only if there was real equality in the world would a person be happy. This inequality encompasses both political and economic as well as social. Therefore, in Chapter 10, he condemned European imperialism and hoped that the revolutionary example of France and North America would inspire other nations. In the same vein, he advocated the abolition of slavery and equality between women and men.