Condillac: Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge

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Cambridge University Press, Sep 6, 2001 - Philosophy - 225 pages
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Condillac's Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge, first published in French in 1746 and offered here in a new translation, represented in its time a radical departure from the dominant conception of the mind as a reservoir of innately given ideas. Descartes had held that knowledge must rest on ideas; Condillac turned this upside down by arguing that speech and words are the origin of mental life and knowledge. His work influenced many later philosophers, and also anticipated Wittgenstein's view of language and its relation to mind and thought.
 

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Contents

Section 1
11
Sensations
15
Analysis and generation of the operations of the soul
19
Imagination contemplation and memory
27
How the connection of ideas formed by attention brings forth imagination contemplation and memory
32
The use of signs is the true cause of the progress of imagination contemplation and memory
36
Reflection
41
Operations that consist in distinguishing abstracting comparing compounding and decompounding our ideas
44
The prosody of the first languages
120
The prosody of the Greek and Latin languages and en passant the declamation of the ancients
123
Progress of the art of gesture among the ancients
132
Music
138
Musical and plain declamation compared
146
Which is the most perfect prosody?
148
The origin of poetry
150
Words
156

Digression on the origin of principles and of the operation that consists in analysis
46
Affirming Denying Judging Reasoning Conceiving The understanding
51
Defects and advantages of the imagination
54
The source of the charms that imagination gives to truth
61
On reason and on intellect and its different aspects
63
Simple and complex ideas
71
Section 4
78
Facts that confirm what was proved in the previous chapter
84
Abstractions
92
Some judgments that have been erroneously attributed to the mind or the solution of a metaphysical problem
101
Language and method
111
The origin and progress of language
113
The language of action and that of articulated sounds considered from their point of origin
114
The same subject continued
164
The signification of words
169
Inversions
173
Writing
178
Origin of the fable the parable and the enigma with some details about the use of figures and metaphors
182
The genius of languages
185
Method
196
The manner of determining ideas or their names
200
The order we ought to follow in the search for truth
208
The order to be followed in the exposition of truth
217
Index
221
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About the author (2001)

Born in Grenoble, France, Etienne Bonnot de Condillac studied theology at Saint-Sulpice and the Sorbonne and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1740. He was, however, always less interested in pursuing his sacred calling than in the advancement of secular knowledge. In this he was supported and encouraged by his cousin, the philosopher Jean le Rond d'Alembert, who introduced him to the circle of the encyclopedists. Condillac set out to develop an experience-centered epistemology founded on sensation, modeled on Locke's genetic account of human knowledge and on the mechanistic paradigm of science embodied in nineteenth-century Newtonian physics. The result was that, along with Hume, Condillac invented modern empiricism. His first works were A Treatise on Systems and An Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge (both 1746). The former was a critique of traditional metaphysicians and the latter a positive statement of Condillac's sensationalist psychology and epistemology. Condillac composed his most influential work, the Treatise on Sensations (1754), in which he attempted to explain how through sensation the mind naturally arrives at the ideas of independent material objects. His later writings include Commerce and Government (1776), a defense of physiocratic doctrines, and the posthumously published Logic (1792).

Hans Aarsleff is Professor of English, Emeritus, Princeton University.

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