Philosophical Works of Etienne Bonnot, Abbe De Condillac, Volume 2

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The evidence of a proposition is in the identity of the two terms. The evidence of a reasoning is in the identity of the successive propositions. No definition, however, is given of identity. The evidence of fact informs us of the relations which bodies have to us ; it can have no other object. The evidence of feeling enables us to distin-guish what passes in us, the modes or states of the mind. Some good remarks are made in chapter iii. The evidence of reason is discussed in the first three chapters of the first part of L' Art de Raisonner.

There Condillac merely formulates the principle of identity, and cites as examples the geometrical theorems which his pupil will require, that he may understand the rest of the work. Condillac was of opinion that one method of analysis is common to all the sciences. Our cognitions ought to form a system in which all is strictly connected together. Every series of facts should be reduced to an initial fact, of which the others are only transformations.

Identity is a rule of method as well as a criterion of certainty; and analogy completes the primary lessons which are given us by nature. Condillac takes as his model the method of mathematics, and reiterates through his logical writings that we must take nature for our guide. On the relation of analysis to language he held that there is an innate language, although there are no innate ideas. This language produces a kind of analysis, since it is necessary for the communication of our ideas to analyze and express in succession what is simultaneous in thought.

Analysis then reacts on language and improves it. Finally, perfec-tion of language leads to perfection of analysis, and science is only a langue bien faite.

Condillac, Étienne Bonnot De

The method of invention is discussed chiefly in the Essai sur I' Origine des Connaissances and in the Langue des Calculs. In the former, Condillac bids us take the simple ideas furnished by sensation and reflection, form different collections of them, which in their turn will produce others, and give distinct names to these different collections. In the Langue des Calculs the idea of analogy is developed. This is not the analogy set forth in the Art de Raisonner, which consists only in forming more or less probable conjectures about the unknown from the known. The analogy of the Logique and the Langue des Calculs is that which creates and regulates languages, which causes us to invent different systems of signs and submit them to uniform rules.

Reasoning cannot have the purely subjective character which Condillac's theory assigns to it. It takes its-departure from the idea, which is objective, and therefore establishes a real relation between the mind and its object. On the question of the need for a middle term it is not enough to decompose the two ideas. The two decomposi-tions must meet at a point, and that is the middle term. Laromiguiere preserves the intermediate ideas, which he thinks are found by analysis of the extremes.

So they are. Condillac is incon-sistent with himself in his criticism of Descartes.

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His first objection to the methodic doubt is based on the opinion that all our errors proceed from the indeterminate character of language, and that the use of definite signs is the only security against error. But he believes that analysis makes language; and the methodic doubt is a kind of analysis, for it remounts to the primary truths. His second objection, that we cannot doubt about mathematical rela-tions, is invalidated by his own statement that mathe-matics are only part of metaphysics.

Condillac is right in saying that the Cartesian criterion of truth lacks a theory of ideas and of their origin. But it is not to be condemned as useless because it is incomplete. Condillac was led away by the supposed need for a sign whereby to recognize truth. As Hegel would have put it, he refused to go into the water until he could swim. But it would be as difficult to determine the value of the sign as that of the truth itself. Some such criterion as identity is the only resource of empiricism.

But if the notion of identity is derived from experience, it cannot give certainty. If, that it may serve as the basis of logic, it is regarded as necessary, then empiricism cannot reconcile it with its psychology. Laromiguiere tries to get over the difficulty of accounting for progress in a system based on the notion of identity, by drawing a distinction between partial identity and total identity, and saying that the former alone should be admitted. But what is partial identity 1 Condillac himself takes refuge in extreme idealism.

Truth, he says, considered in itself and in the divine intelligence, is one and identical. But he had himself laid down the rule to limit our consideration to the condition of human knowledge, and of course he had no idea of developing thought as such from its primal unit by a dialectic process after the manner of Hegel. As to the three kinds of evidence, Condillac in reality reduces the evidence of fact to that of feeling and that of reason.

His numerous contradictions are largely due to his attempts to defend the authority of the senses, while he accepts the idealistic theory of external perception. The objections to identity as a criterion of truth apply as well to Condillac's statement of the evidence of reason. And if the three kinds of evidence are inadequate taken separately, they cannot suffice when combined. Condillac rightly insisted that there is one fundamental method for all the sciences ; but he nowhere reconciles this unity of method with the variety of form which it assumes as applied to different objects.

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By demanding at the outset the initial fact, of which all the others are to be shown to be transformations, he virtually quits the safe road of experience. He errs, too, in thinking that the method of mathematics is applicable to all the sciences. His oft-repeated advice to follow nature would have been advantageously accompanied by a clearer explana-tion of what nature is.

One thing which he certainly excludes from it is the mind viewed as the seat of intel-lectual principles. Condillac's analysis combines what are generally regarded as the two distinct processes of analysis and synthesis. Synthesis he conceives to be that method which starts from abstract principles, and accordingly he treats it with supreme disdain. But while banishing the name he retains the thing, and insists that no analysis is complete without a process of recomposition. The logic of Condillac finds its most important applica-tion ;in psychology. In the Essai sur l'Origine des Connaissances he starts from sensation as the primitive fact, and seeks to show that all the ideas and operations of the mind are only transformations of it.

He neglected, how-ever, to make sure of his way back to the primitive fact of sensation, before using it as his starting point. Under the influence of Locke, he simply assumed it, and applied his ingenuity to derive from it all the ideas and operations of the mind.

Étienne Bonnot de Condillac - Wikipedia audio article

Throughout the Essai sur l'Origine he con-founds sensation with perception in a way that vitiates his whole argument. At the outset he affirms that sensations are ideas, because representative of objects. It is difficult to understand in what sense he uses such language. For a long time it was supposed that he regarded the pure sensation as the primary element of consciousness; but his more recent followers have adopted a different interpreta-tion. They try to make out that his meaning was that in the simplest state of consciousness the whole mind is to be found, equipped with all its so-called faculties.

Condillac found an opinion prevailing that the mind is partitioned off, as it were, into a variety of different faculties, each having its separate function, which it discharges independ-ently of the others. It was against this opinion, they say, that he contended. He maintained that the mind is not a congeries of faculties, but is one and indivisible, and appears in all its forms of activity in the simplest state of consciousness. This opinion is difficult to reconcile with his avowed purpose, to which he adheres throughout all his psychological treatises, of tracing the genesis of the faculties; for sensation would then not be a primitive fact, from which all the later furniture of the mind is derived by a process of transformation.

There would, in fact, be no generation of the faculties, for all would be given in the rudimentary consciousness, and any reasoned account of their relations to each other would need to refer to something anterior to the individual consciousness. Probably the more correct view to take of Condillac's psychology is that when he tried to deal with sensation, pure and simple, he found it impossible to do so, and was compelled to invest the mere sensation with all the ideas of reason, that it might do duty in his system.

The sameness of the elementary sensation with the higher faculties and ideas is secured, whether the faculty is degraded to the level of the sensation, or the sensation is raised to the level of the faculty. And there is much in Condillac to countenance either view. But it is probable that if he had been willing to concede that the mind is all in the primary sensation, in the sense in which his later followers understand him, he would have felt the necessity of exhibiting the relations of the different mental operations, which in such case would be moments of the sensation, anterior to the sensation, instead of subsequent to it, in terms of the relations of different sensations to each other.

The opening sentences of the Traite des Sensations show that Condillac was aware of the difficulties attending the study of our rudimentary consciousness on the presuppositions of sensationalism. If the mind at birth was a tabula rasa, there can be no traces left of our primary state. It is in vain therefore to interrogate our consciousness to learn what it was then. To show how all proceeds from sensation, we must considet our senses separately. As Condillac could not do this by examining his own consciousness, he devised the experiment of the statue. It is supposed to be possessed of a mind destitute at first of every sort of ideas, and only to have the use of its senses at the pleasure of the experimenter, who opens them at his choice to their appropriate impres-sions.

A beginning is made with the sense of smell, because it seems to contribute least to our knowledge. The other senses are successively experimented on, singly and in groups, and at last the statue is found to have become an animal able to preserve itself. Condillac claims to have stripped man for the first time of all his habits. Feeling is observed at its birth, and proof is given of how we acquire the use of our faculties. The principle of their development is found in the various degrees of pleasure and pain attaching to our sensations ; for none of them are indifferent absolutely.

The contrast between pleasure and pain impels us to court some sensations and flee others. A sense of need is produced by the want of an object judged necessary for happiness. Needs beget desires ; old needs repeated and new ones formed are the ground of the development of our knowledge and our faculties. The outcome of Condillac's psychology is given in briefest form in chapters vii. Laromiguiere corrected Condillac by substituting attention for sensation as the principle of the active half of the mental phenomena.

Cousin pointed out that attention is a voluntary act. He showed the essential difference between desire and will, as also between sensation and desire, and remarked that the organic impression must not be con-founded with the sensation. If the sensation is the con-dition of the exercise of the faculties, still it is not the principle of any. Condillac defines personality to be a collection of sensations plus the ability to say "me. How comes it that this particular collection of sensations can say " me 1" Because, answers Condillac, it is a collection of present and remembered sensations.

But whether does the statue say " me " because it can remember its sensations, or remem-ber its sensations because it can say " me "] Is not all that is involved in saying me already involved in memory, so that his answer merely repeats the fact which it professes to explain i Condillac thought so in his first stage, as he then found the feeling of one's own existence to be an essential element of reminiscence. Then, indeed, reminiscence was distinguished by him from memory, but only in an artificial v. A collection of sensations is a less correct account of personality than the synthetic unity of Kant.

What renders the collection possible? For Condillac its essential condition, a unifying principle, is wanting.

That cannot be found in sensation. It is a condition of the ordering of sensations, and is the all-important unit out of which a true philosophy of spirit must grow. Sensations cannot give an answer to the question what constitutes experience. Even Mill had to confess that it must at least be sensations which have the strange property of turning back upon themselves.

Con-dillac has the very same phrase, " As long as the statue changes not, it exists without any return upon itself. And just as it is present in the first fibre of personality, the first flash of self-consciousness, its various modes of opera-tion are no less essentially present throughout all the subsequent fabric of experience, and in the full sunlight of conscious life.

He accepts with some reluctance Locke's deduction of our knowledge from two sources, sensation and reflection. He uses as his main principle of explanation the association of ideas.

Treatise on the Sensations by Condillac, First Edition

His polemic, which is inspired throughout by Locke, is directed against the innate ideas of the Cartesians , Malebranche 's faculty-psychology, Leibniz 's monadism and pre-established harmony, and, above all, against the conception of substance set forth in the first part of the Ethics of Baruch Spinoza. He questioned Locke's doctrine that the senses give us intuitive knowledge of objects, that the eye, for example, naturally judges shapes, sizes, positions, and distances. He believed it was necessary to study the senses separately, to distinguish precisely what ideas are owed to each sense, to observe how the senses are trained, and how one sense aids another.

He believed that the conclusion has to be that all human faculty and knowledge are transformed sensation only, to the exclusion of any other principle, such as reflection. The author imagines a statue organized inwardly like a man, animated by a soul which has never received an idea, into which no sense-impression has ever penetrated. He unlocks its senses one by one, beginning with smell, as the sense that contributes least to human knowledge.

At its first experience of smell, the consciousness of the statue is entirely occupied by it; and this occupancy of consciousness is attention. The statue's smell-experience will produce pleasure or pain; and pleasure and pain will thenceforward be the master-principle which, determining all the operations of its mind, will raise it by degrees to all the knowledge of which it is capable.

The next stage is memory, which is the lingering impression of the smell experience upon the attention: "memory is nothing more than a mode of feeling. From comparison of past and present experiences in respect of their pleasure-giving quality arises desire; it is desire that determines the operation of our faculties, stimulates the memory and imagination, and gives rise to the passions. The passions, also, are nothing but sensation transformed.

In the second section of the treatise, Condillac invests his statue with the sense of touch, which first informs it of the existence of external objects. In a very careful and elaborate analysis, he distinguishes the various elements in our tactile experiences-the touching of one's own body, the touching of objects other than one's own body, the experience of movement, the exploration of surfaces by the hands: he traces the growth of the statue's perceptions of extension, distance and shape.

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The third section deals with the combination of touch with the other senses. The fourth section deals with the desires, activities and ideas of an isolated man who enjoys possession of all the senses; and ends with observations on a " wild boy " who was found living among bears in the forests of Lithuania.

The conclusion of the whole work is that in the natural order of things, everything has its source in sensation, and yet that this source is not equally abundant in all men; men differ greatly in the degree of vividness with which they feel.

Etienne Bonnot de Condillac

Finally, he says that man is nothing but what he has acquired; all innate faculties and ideas are to be swept away. Modern theories of evolution and heredity have differed from this. In logic , on which he wrote extensively, he is far less successful than in psychology. He enlarges with much iteration on the supremacy of the analytic method; argues that reasoning consists in the substitution of one proposition for another which is identical with it; and lays it down that science is the same thing as a well-constructed language, a proposition which in his Langue des calculs , he tries to prove by the example of arithmetic.

His logic is limited by his study of sensations and lack of knowledge of science other than mathematics. He rejects the medieval apparatus of the syllogism ; but is precluded by his standpoint from understanding the active, spiritual character of thought; nor had he that interest in natural science and appreciation of inductive reasoning which form the chief merit of JS Mill. It is obvious enough that Condillac's anti-spiritual psychology, with its explanation of personality as an aggregate of sensations, leads straight to atheism and determinism.

There is, however, no reason to question the sincerity with which he repudiates both these consequences. The common reproach of materialism should certainly not be made against him. He always asserts the substantive reality of the soul; and in the opening words of his Essai , "Whether we rise to heaven, or descend to the abyss, we never get outside ourselves—it is always our own thoughts that we perceive," we have the subjectivist principle that forms the starting-point of Berkeley. Condillac considered language as the vehicle by which senses and emotions were transformed into higher mental faculties.

He believed that the structure of language reflects the structure of thought, and compared ideas to the sounds of a harpsichord. His theories had a major effect on the development of linguistics. Condillac promoted " sensationalism ," a theory that says all knowledge comes from the senses and there are no innate ideas. Condillac promoted an expressionist theory of linguistic creation that anticipates the prime features of later thoughts about language by German theorist Johann Gottfried Herder — Condillac's 'Le Commerce et le Gouvernement' published in , the same year as Adam Smith 's Wealth of Nations attempted to place economics in a coherent logical framework.

Much of Condillac's work reflected mainstream Physiocrats, particularly his analysis of the structure of taxation and proposals for the revival of the economy, but he also proposed another line of argument, claiming that producers work to obtain utility. Most physiocrats rejected utility and the idea was ignored until his 'rediscovery' by Stanley Jevons and Carl Menger in In his theory of "vrai prix" [true price], Condillac proposed a theory of human history divided into two phases: progress and decline. Progress is marked by a rational development and use of resources; decline is precipitated by bad behavior from the upper classes that then trickles down to the workers, encouraging excess, luxury, and false prices that harm the masses.

Condillac saw the remedy to this as "vrai prix," a true price created by the unimpeded interaction of supply and demand, to be achieved by complete deregulation. People would be taught to work toward their best interest in an open market through a reshaping of their perceptions. By advocating of a free market economy in contrast to the prevailing contemporary policy of state control in France, Condillac influenced classical liberal economics [4]. Condillac's Histoire ancienne and Histoire moderne — demonstrated how the experience and observation of the past aided man.

History was not a mere retelling of the past, but a source of information and inspiration as well. Reason and critical thinking can improve man's lot and destroy superstition and fanaticism.



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