In Which I Discuss The Original Sophie Grouchy

[CW: Moar Bad Writing, Reign of Terror, Badass Women who are Cooler Than You]


Madame Sophie de Condorcet, born Marie-Louise-Sophie de Grouchy (1764), was a motherfuckin badass. You know she had to be, because she had like 20 names. Like Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. The more names you have, the more badass you are, and Madame de Condorcet was a venerable Name Collage.

One of the original SJWs, Sophie was a progressive, feminist, atheist, intellectual. Her translation of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments became the standard French translation. Twitter was still a couple centuries away, so instead she published a series of Letters on Sympathy along with the Smith translation.

Grouchy shares Smith’s view that sympathy is the source of our ability to form moral judgments, but her account differs from Smith’s in two principal respects. First, she does not accept his postulate that sympathy is a given that needs no explanation, and instead she seeks to understand its physiological origins. Secondly, she is very much concerned to show the implications of a moral theory that has sympathy as a central element, not just for the development of humanity in general, as is Smith’s concern, but for those attempting to create a republic. She is concerned with rebuilding human relations in a world where tyranny and arbitrary power may no longer be directly present but have left harmful traces in the form of laws, institutions, traditions, and attitudes of one class towards another.

There is a strong sense in which her Letters provide the ethical theory behind the sort of republicanism defended by herself, Condorcet, and Paine. They establish first, that domination is harmful as it prevents people from developing sympathy towards each other, and therefore from developing moral judgment. But they also argue that private property and free markets are not obstacles to nondomination, provided they do not lead to great inequalities (thus marking her allegiance to an Anglo-American form of commercial republicanism)…

She emphasizes that domination is harmful regardless of whether there is any actual interference. All that matters is the possibility of interference, the existence of a person or institution who dominates, who is able, at any moment, to interfere with our decision-making. It is not, she says, the character of the monarch, which is dangerous to liberty, but his very existence…Monarchy is harmful, she says, even when it is benign: whether the king is stupid or evil, or wise and beneficent, it remains that those who live under his authority must crawl and be servile.26 In other words, a slave is a slave even when their master is kind…

In the Letters, she draws a precise picture of moral development as emotional development: one needs to learn to be attached to the well-being of others, first the physical well-being of those who are immediately close to us…and, ultimately, the moral and physical well-being of every member of the human race.


…Or something. Whatever.

Anyways, Sophie was also a salonnierre, which is a fancy-schmancy way of saying she hosted a salon, which is a fancy-schmancy way of saying “a bunch of super-smart people getting together and talking about shit, hosted by a fancy-schmancy lady”. But while most salonnierres only invited fancy-schmancy men to their salons, Sophie was known for inviting WOMEN. It was almost as if she thought that women were more than just hostesses! As if they could also be super-smart and have interesting thoughts and talk goodly about them! *gasp!*

Crazy, right?

She married this old dude, the Marquis of Condorcet, who is more famous than her. I think because he had EVEN MORE names than she did, I’m just not listing them out here, cuz this post isn’t about him. She was known for being beautiful (cuz why would anyone care that she was also super-duper smart?), and he was known for his intellect, and together they had a happy meeting-of-minds marriage, at least until the Reign of Terror started, which was pretty Terrorful. Condorcet had to go on the run, and Sophie filed for a secret divorce which would allow her and her daughter to keep their property from being confiscated, and Condorcet ended up captured, imprisoned, and likely poisoned himself during his first night in jail. Sophie didn’t even hear about his death until a few months afterwards. Would probably make a good HBO show, if they were naked for more of it.

Now penniless and grieving, Sophie pulled herself together, like the badass bitch she was. Posthumously published Condorcet’s last work, translated the Adam Smith thing (this post totally isn’t in chronological order), possibly opened up a shop to support herself and her daughter, and eventually re-started the salon.

She was hella awesome, and so I stole her name so that I can be hella awesome too. Cuz that’s how Names work.


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