Nicolas de Condorcet


Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis of Condorcet. 

Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind.

“From the time of Descartes, to the Formation of the French republic.” 




[247] A class of men speedily made their appearance in Europe, whose object was less to discover and investigate truth, than to disseminate it; who, pursuing prejudice through all the haunts and asylums in which the clergy, the schools, governments, and privileged corporations had placed and protected it, made it their glory rather to eradicate popular errors, than add to the stores of human knowledge; thus aiding indirectly the progress of mankind, but in a way neither less arduous, nor less beneficial.

In England, Collins and Bolingbroke, and in France, Bayle, Fontenelle, Montesquieu, and the respective disciples of these celebrated men, combated on the side of truth with all the weapons that learning, wit, and genius were able to furnish; assuming every shape, employing every tone, from the sublime and [248] pathetic to pleasantry and satire, from the most laboured investigation to an interesting romance or a fugitive essay: accommodating truth to those eyes that were too weak to bear its effulgence; artfully caressing prejudice, the more easily to strangle it; never aiming a direct blow at errors, never attacking more than one at a time, nor even that one in all its fortresses; sometimes soothing the enemies of reason, by pretending to require in religion but a partial toleration, in politics but a limited freedom;  siding with despotism, when their hostilities were directed against the priesthood, and with priests, when their object was to unmask the despot; sapping the principle of both these pests of human happiness, striking at the root of both these baneful trees, while apparently wishing for the reform only of glaring abuses and seemingly confining themselves to lopping off the exuberant branches; sometimes representing to the partisans of liberty, that superstition, which covers despotism as with a coat of mail, is the first victim which ought to be sacrificed, the first chain that ought to be broken; and sometimes denouncing it to tyrants as the true [249] enemy of their power and alarming them with recitals of its hypocritical conspiracies and its sanguinary vengeance. These writers, meanwhile, were uniform in their vindication of freedom of thinking and freedom of writing, as privileges upon which depended the salvation of mankind. They declaimed, without cessation or weariness, against the crimes both of fanatics and tyrants, exposing every feature of severity, of cruelty, of oppression, whether in religion, in administration, in manners, or in laws; commanding kings, soldiers, magistrates and priests, in the name of truth and of nature, to respect the blood of mankind; calling upon them, with energy, to answer for the lives still profusely sacrificed in the field of battle or by the infliction of punishments, or else to correct this inhuman policy, this murderous insensibility; and lastly, in every place, and upon every occasion, rallying the friends of mankind with the cry of reason, toleration and humanity!

Such was this new philosophy. Accordingly to those numerous classes that exist by prejudice, that live upon error, and that, but for the credulity of the people, would be powerless [250] and extinct, it became a common object of detestation.



Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis of Condorcet. Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind. London: Printed for J. Johnson 1795. 247-50. Googlebooks.

Cantos LII - LXXI

confucius adams 2