Antoine Louis Claude Destutt, comte de Tracy (French: [dəsty də
tʁasi]; 20 July 1754 – 9 March 1836) was a French
Enlightenment aristocrat and philosopher who coined the term
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
The son of a distinguished soldier, Claude Destutt, he was born in
Paris. His family was of Scottish descent, tracing its origin to
Walter Stutt, who in 1420 had accompanied the Earls of Buchan and
Douglas to the court of France, and whose family afterwards rose to be
counts of Tracy. He was educated at home and at the University of
Strasbourg, where he was noted for his athletic skill. He went into
the army, and when the
French Revolution broke out, he took an active
part in the provincial assembly of Bourbonnais. Elected a deputy of
the nobility to the states-general, he sat alongside his friend, the
Marquis de La Fayette. In the spring of 1792, he received the rank of
maréchal de camp in command of the cavalry in the army of the north;
but the influence of the extremists becoming predominant he took
indefinite leave of absence, and settled at Auteuil, where, with
Condorcet and Cabanis, he devoted himself to scientific studies.
Under the Reign of Terror, he was arrested and imprisoned for nearly a
year, during which he studied Condillac and Locke, and abandoned the
natural sciences for philosophy.
In 1795, he was named associate of the Institut de France; this was
the year when the Institut was established. On the motion of Cabanis,
he was named in the class of the moral and political sciences. He soon
began to attract attention by the memoires which he read before his
colleagues—papers which formed the first draft of his comprehensive
work on ideology, named Eléments d'idéologie. He conceived of
ideology as the "science of ideas." The society of "ideologists" at
Auteuil embraced, besides Cabanis and Tracy, Constantin-François de
Chassebœuf, Comte de Volney and Dominique Joseph Garat, professor in
the National Institute. (See also: Les Neuf Sœurs)
Under the Empire, Tracy was a member of the senate, but took little
part in its deliberations. Under the Restoration he became a peer of
France, but protested against the reactionary split of the government,
and remained in opposition. In 1808, he was elected a member of the
Académie française in place of Cabanis, and in 1832, he was also
named a member of the Academy of Moral Sciences on its reorganization.
He appeared, however, only once at its conferences, owing to his age
and to disappointment at the comparative failure of his work. Destutt
de Tracy was one of the principal advocates of liberalism during and
after the Revolution. He died in Paris.
Bust of Destutt de Tracy by
David d'Angers (1837).
Destutt de Tracy was the last eminent representative of the
sensualistic school which Condillac founded in
France upon a one-sided
interpretation of Locke. In full agreement with the materialist views
of Cabanis, de Tracy pushed the sensualist principles of Condillac to
their most necessary consequences. While the attention of Cabanis was
devoted mostly to the physiological side of man, Tracy's interests
concerned the then newly determined "ideological," in contrast to
"psychological," sides of humanity. His grounding notion of ideology,
he frankly stated, fell as "a part of zoology" (biology). The four
faculties into which de Tracy divides the conscious life—perception,
memory, judgment, volition—are all varieties of sensation.
Perception is sensation caused by a present affection of the external
extremities of the nerves; memory is sensation caused, in the absence
of present excitation, by dispositions of the nerves which are the
result of past experiences; judgment is the perception of relations
between sensations, and is itself a species of sensation, because if
we are aware of the sensations we must be aware also of the relations
between them; and volition he identifies with the feeling of desire,
and is therefore included as a type of sensation.
Considered for the influences of his philosophy, de Tracy minimally
deserves credit for his distinction between active and passive touch,
which ultimately fed the development of psychological theories of
muscular sense. His account of the notion of external existence, as it
derived not from pure sensation, but from the experience of action on
the one hand and resistance on the other, stands in this light to be
compared with the works of
Alexander Bain and later psychologists.
The title page of A Commentary and Review of Montesquieu's Spirit of
Laws (1811), an English translation by
Thomas Jefferson of Destutt
de Tracy's Commentaire sur l'esprit des lois de
His chief works are the five-volume Eléments d'idéologie
(1817–1818), the first volume of which was presented as "Ideology
Strictly Defined," and which completed the arguments made in earlier
completed monographs; Commentaire sur l'esprit des lois de Montesquieu
(1806), and Essai sur le génie, et les ouvrages de Montesquieu
(1808). The fourth volume of the Eléments d'idéologie the author
regarded as the introduction to a second section of the planned
nine-part work, which he titled Traité de la volonté (Treatise on
the Will and Its Effects). When translated into English, editor
Thomas Jefferson retitled the volume A Treatise on Political Economy,
which obscured the aspects of Tracy's concern not with politics, but
with far more basic questions of will, and the possibility of
understanding the conditions of its determinations.
Tracy advanced a rigorous use of deductive method in social theory,
seeing economics in terms of actions (praxeology) and exchanges
(catallactics). Tracy's influence can be seen both on the
Continent, particularly on Stendhal, Augustin Thierry, Auguste Comte,
and Charles Dunoyer, and in America, where the general approach of the
French Liberal School of political economy competed evenly with
British classical political economy well until the end of the 19th
century, as evidence in the work and reputation of Arthur Latham Perry
and others. In his political writings, Tracy rejected monarchism,
favoring the American republican form of government. This
republicanism, as well as his advocacy of reason in philosophy and
laissez-faire for economic policy, lost him favor with Napoleon, who
turned Tracy's coinage of "ideology" into a term of abuse; Karl Marx
followed this vein of invective to refer to Tracy as a "fischblütige
Bourgeoisdoktrinär"—a "fish-blooded bourgeois doctrinaire."
Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, thought highly enough of Destutt
de Tracy's work to ready two of his manuscripts for American
publication. In his preface to the 1817 publication, Jefferson wrote,
"By diffusing sound principles of Political Economy, it will protect
the public industry from the parasite institutions now consuming it. .
. ." Tracy's criticism of
Montesquieu and his endorsement of
representative democracy were influential on Jefferson's thinking.
Stendhal was much influenced by de Tracy's enlightenment ideals, and
attended the de Tracy salon regularly, in the 1820s, as he described
in Memoirs of an Egotist. Destutt de Tracy was important to the
liberals of the 1820s; Richard Stites writes:
Franco Venturi noted that the Commentary “resounded throughout the
whole period of the liberal revolutions, from the Spain of 1820 to the
Russia of 1825.” An American historian wrote that “the Russian
Decembrists, along with numerous other liberals, Carbonari, and
revolutionaries of the 1820s used this Commentary as their political
Bible.” The Decembrist Mikhail Orlov recalled that his circle
considered it “the epitome of wisdom.”
His legacy left lessons for coming generations
Victor Destutt de Tracy, his son
^ a b c d e f This article incorporates text from a
publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911).
"Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude Destutt, Comte de". Encyclopædia
Britannica. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
^ Joseph F. Byrnes (1 November 2010). Catholic and French Forever:
Religious and National Identity in Modern France. Penn State Press.
pp. 83–. ISBN 0-271-04779-8.
^ Antoine Louis Claude Destutt, comte de Tracy (1811), A Commentary
and Review of Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws. Prepared for Press from
the Original Manuscript, in the Hands of the Publisher. To which are
Annexed, Observations on the Thirty-first [sic: Twenty-ninth] Book, by
the Late M. [Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat Condorcet, marquis de]
Condorcet: and Two Letters of [Claude Adrien] Helvetius, on the Merits
of the Same Work, Thomas Jefferson, transl., Philadelphia, Penn.:
[Thomas Jefferson]; printed by William Duane. No. 98, Market Street,
OCLC 166602192 .
^ Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de, A Treatise on Political
Economy, trans. edited by
Thomas Jefferson (Georgetown: Joseph
Milligan, 1817; reprinted New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1970), p. x.
^ "Antoine Louis Claude Destutt, Comte de Tracy, 1754–1836 Archived
July 23, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.", The History of Economic
^ Klein, Daniel (1985). "Deductive economic methodology in the French
Enlightenment: Condillac and Destutt de Tracy". History of Political
Economy. 17 (1): 51–71. doi:10.1215/00182702-17-1-51.
^ de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude Destutt, A Commentary and Review of
Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws, trans.
Thomas Jefferson (1811) (New
York: Burt Franklin, 1969)
^ Campbell, Willisam F. "Liberty, Peace, and Self-Interest Properly
Understood Archived September 8, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.",
speech before The Philadelphia Society, Regional Meeting, Wilmington,
Delaware, October 10, 1998.
^ Dahl, Robert (1998). On Democracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University
Press. p. 104.
^ Matthew Josephison, Stendhal, p. 277
^ Richard Stites, The Four Horsemen: Riding to Liberty in
Post-Napoleonic Europe (Oxford University Press, 2014;
ISBN 0199978085), p. 13.
Histories of philosophy, especially F. Picavet, Les Idéologues chs.
v. and vi. (Paris, 1891), and La Philosophie de Biran (Académie des
sci. mor. et pol., 1889).
Hart, David (2008). "Tracy, Destutt de (1754–1836)". In Hamowy,
Ronald. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE;
Cato Institute. pp. 509–10. doi:10.4135/9781412965811.n311.
ISBN 978-1412965804. LCCN 2008009151.
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