January 25, 2008

Marquis de Condorcet, Enlightenment proto-transhumanist

Marquis de Condorcet (1744-1794) was a hugely influential Enlightenment era thinker who contributed significantly to the rise of secular humanism and helped plant the seeds of transhumanism. He is said to have best represented the ideals of the Enlightenment.

To this end, Condorcet advocated for a liberal economy, free and equal public education and constitutionalism. He also advocated for the primacy of reason as way to liberate humanity from the church, authoritarianism and nature.

He was a brilliant mathematician and political scientist; he forged the two disciplines together and became the first person in history to effectively use mathematical principles to study social science.

Condorcet speculated about utopian possibilities and wrote a piece on the perfectability of society. He gave no concrete definition of a "perfect" human existence, but he believed that the progression of the human race would inevitably continue throughout the course of its existence. His thoughts prompted Thomas Malthus to write his famous paper on unsustainable population growth.

His most influential work from a transhumanist perspective was his book, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, which he wrote when he was in hiding after the French Revolution and subsequently published posthumously.

In this book he argued that reason and science can and should be applied to better develop humanity's intellectual and moral faculties. He thought that all facets of nature should be re-evaluated and conformed to the needs of human intelligence.

He wrote,
The time will therefore come when the sun will shine only on free men who know no other master but their reason; when tyrants and slaves, priests and their stupid or hypocritical instruments will exist only in works of history and on the stage; and when we shall think of them only to pity their victims and their dupes; to maintain ourselves in a state of vigilance by thinking on their excesses; and to learn how to recognize and so to destroy, by force of reason, the first seeds of tyranny and superstition, should they ever dare to reappear among us.
He pin-pointed a number of factors that he believed were responsible for the various inequalities and injustice that inflicted humans -- a list that included disparities in wealth, status, education and -- of interest to transhumanists -- length of life.

Indeed, Condorcet was an early advocate of life extension and saw no reason why it shouldn't be a part of humanity's inexorable path towards perfectability.

As he wrote,
The real advantages that should result from this progress, of which we can entertain a hope that is almost a certainty, can have no other term than that of the absolute perfection of the human race; since, as the various kinds of equality come to work in its favor by producing ampler sources of supply, more extensive education, more complete liberty, so equality will be more real and will embrace everything which is really of importance for the happiness of human beings ....
Read more about Condorcet here and here. Read excerpts from A Sketch here.

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