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It forms our desires and teaches us what to will. Moreover, it provides us with the best lessons in the performance of these operations, so that a study of how we originally learn to perform them also tells us how those operations ought to be performed.

The pursuit of this tenet led Condillac to articulate an early developmental psychology, with explicit pedagogical and methodological implications. His concerns also dess him to focus on the theory of perception, and to advance important and original views on our perception of spatial form.

He offered a more searching, careful, and precise account sensatjons what exactly is given to us by each of the sense organs than any that had been offered up to sfnsations day, and presented a highly nuanced account of how this raw data is worked up into our beliefs about the world around us.

He is said to have had very poor eyesight and a weak physical constitution, factors that so retarded his intellectual development that as late as his twelfth year he was still unable to read. His education began only in his teens, first under the direction of a local priest, sensayions at Lyons, where he went to live with his older brother, Jean, after the death of their father.

Perhaps because of his reticence and his late learning his family regarded him as possessing limited intellectual abilities. He nonetheless managed to continue his education as a seminarian in Paris, at Saint-Suplice and at the Sorbonne.

He took holy orders in and wore a cassock for the rest of his life, but did no pastoral work. After some years spent living the life of a man of letters in Paris, during which he came to be closely acquainted with Rousseau and Diderot, and published work that won him election to the Prussian Academy of the Scienceshe accepted a position as tutor to the Prince of Parma, a post that he held from — He returned to Paris in and was elected to the French Academy in that year, but he left the city shortly after, inand took up residence on a country estate he had purchased near Beaugency.

He died there on August 3, Condillac published two main philosophical works: The earlier Essay was a less radical work. Though it sought to explain how the cognitive faculties are developed as a consequence of sensation, it took sensation itself largely for granted. Condillac explicitly rejected the views that the mind can make judgments that it is not aware of, and that we can confuse the products of inferential operations with immediately given sensations.

As a consequence, he maintained, in opposition to Molyneux, Locke, and Berkeley, that we do not need to learn to perceive visual depth. However, the Essay was also more wide-ranging than the Treatise. It devoted attention to the development of language and its role both in the acquisition of our more sophisticated cognitive powers and in the generation of false philosophies.

These are topics that Condillac later relegated to his works on logic. In the Treatise Condillac focused just on our pre-linguistic cognitive abilities, which he came to think he might have underestimated when he wrote the Essay. He retracted his earlier claim that perception is a transparent process and accepted both that it involves unconscious inference from what is given in sensation and that sensation itself may contain more than it is at first perceived to contain.

He also retracted his earlier claim that depth is immediately perceived by vision. To support these revised opinions, he proposed a famous thought experiment. In proposing this question Condillac was asking a more radical version of the question Molyneux had posed to Locke: Condillac was asking what a person endowed with just a sense of smell would think upon acquiring the power of hearing, or what a person endowed with vision would know if unaffected by hunger, incapable of motion, and unaware of any tactile sensation.

His answer to these questions sought not just to explain how this person would acquire ideas of space and of external objects, but to prove that nothing more would be needed for it to acquire all the knowledge and all of the abilities that we have other than just to experience a sufficiently rich array of sensations.

He also published a work on commerce and government, assembled a dictionary of synonyms, and put together a multi-volume course of studies that he had developed while tutoring the Prince of Parma.

The latter dealt principally with history but also included some philosophical material, including a different presentation of logic. At the time of his death he left an incomplete a work entitled The Language of Calculation. He argued that the mind must be an unextended or immaterial substance Essay I.

Instead the action of external objects on the sense organs brings about changes in the body and these changes serve as the merely occasional cause of the production of sensations in the mind. Sensations are modifications of our being.


However, unlike Reid, who was later to argue for a rigorous distinction between sensations, considered as states of feeling experienced by the mind, and perceptions, considered as acts of thinking something about an object, Condillac maintained that sensations do lend themselves to being treated as ideas.

Most early modern philosophers were impressed by the facts of geometrical optics, which teach that light imprints an inverted, left-right reversed image of the external world on the concave surface of the back of the eye.

Étienne Bonnot de Condillac

If we accept that the eye is the means of visual perception, then this teaching appears to imply that the eyes filter out information about the distance at which objects are set outwards from us and transmit just information about position along the horizon and the azimuth to the mind. After all, while tdaite at different angles of inclination traire or downwards from the horizon, or at different compass directions will project light to different parts of the retina, points that differ only with reference to their distance outwards from the eye will project light onto the same part of the eye.

But if differences in distance outwards make no difference to the impression on the eye, and the mind is only affected as a consequence of how the eye is affected, then information about outward distances is not conveyed to the mind.

It would seem, therefore, that visual perception must originally lack information about distance outwards. It must consist of an awareness of images that are only two-dimensional projections of solid objects in a three dimensional space. But the Condillac of the Essay was not impressed by these considerations. Though he admitted that the image imprinted by light on the eye is merely two-dimensional, he denied that the mind must therefore only be aware of a two-dimensional image Essay I.

However he had little to say about how the mind might acquire information about outward distances, and instead confined himself to attacking the standard account. But I am not conscious of seeing a flat, variously coloured circle, nor am I conscious of making a judgment about what this image represents. Instead, I seem to immediately see a uniformly coloured, three-dimensional object. Moreover, try as I might, I cannot make myself aware of drawing an inference.

And I have so little awareness of the flat, variously coloured circle that I supposedly see that, without the aid of instruction in drawing or painting, I would have no idea that it eensations any relation to a uniformly coloured globe.

Treatise on the Sensations | work by Condillac |

Condillac codnillac this insupportable. The mind, he maintained, cannot be so deeply ignorant of what it senses or of what it does Essay I. Consistently with the view that we do sensatione need to learn to perceive depth, Condillac maintained that we do not need to learn to perceive separation in any other spatial dimension.

Consequently, a previously blind person, made to see for the first time, should see colours to be extended over all three dimensions. Condillac was aware that these claims had been challenged by such empirical studies of recovered vision as were available at the time.

Inthe English surgeon, William Chesselden, had reported to the British Royal Society that subjects recovering from operations to remove cataracts that had blinded them since birth appeared to need to learn to associate what they saw with tactile experience before they could recognize shapes or objects.

Condillac replied to this contrary evidence by claiming that it would take some time for newly sighted subjects to learn how to focus the eyes in order to perceive colours distinctly, and so to see their traiite. It would then take time for the subjects to attend to the shapes that distinctly seen colours exhibit, since we can expect that at first they would be overwhelmed and confused by the variety of information presented by the eyes, much like a person gaining a first glimpse of a Bosch painting.

Finally, even after they came to see colours as, say, outlining square or round shapes, they might still hesitate to assume that simply because an object looks to have a certain shape, that therefore it must be felt to have that shape as well.

For all of these reasons, trsite might pass and the subject might appear to be learning to associate visual experiences with tangible objects, even though the colours that are originally seen are already extended and shaped in three dimensions Essay I.

This insight, already present in the Essaywas subversive. In his LogicCondillac illustrated this point by asking his readers to imagine a group of people who travel by night to a chateau situated on a high point before a vast panorama of fields, mountains, cities, towns, and forests.

At dawn, the windows are thrown open for just an instant. In that instant, senzations member of the company experiences a compound visual sensation consisting of multiple, simultaneously present colour patches disposed in space so as to depict all condillaf parts of the panorama that lies out in a particular direction. But from the view eds in just an instant, no one can say what it was that they saw. If the shutters are left open for more than an instant nothing new is presented to the company.

That is, they do not have any sensation they did not have conillac the first instant. They come to perceive what it is they eds first already sensed by selectively attending to each of its parts in turn and then noting how these parts are related to one another Logic, Part I, Chapter ii. Condillac had always appreciated that this act of attention is not an innate operation, any more than such higher cognitive operations as abstraction, judgment, or reasoning are innate operations.


We need to learn how traote attend to what we sense. Experience itself serves as our teacher. The operation of attention is invoked by our needs and interests.

We attend first to what promises to satisfy our needs and interests, which are always condillaf us and which always direct our thought. Our knowledge of what promises to conddillac our needs and interests is a product of past experience, which has made us aware of what objects are connected with the frustration or satisfaction of those needs and interests. The needs and interests themselves are developed as a consequence of condilalc past experience of pleasure and pain, which in turn are intrinsic features not just of tactile experience, but of all of our sensations.

However, in the Essay Condillac had not appreciated the full implications of this view. Recognizing those implications required being more careful about specifying what is originally given in sensation, what is originally attended to, and what leads us sensatilns attend to anything else. Condillac supposed that the most primitive form of experience would be the sense of smell.

However, all that the being could do to avoid painful or acquire pleasurable sensations would be to try to distract itself with remembered or imagined smells when occurrent ones proved uninteresting or unappealing. Coondillac would consider such a being to be a being who smells, say, a rose, and who is thereby affected in a certain sensationw. Some might consider this effect to be a rose smell sensation that somehow stands before the mind as an object of contemplation.

But Condillac maintained that the being itself would not at first have any conception of objects distinct from itself or even any conception of itself, let alone any views on the metaphysical status of its sensory states. When it smells a rose, it experiences itself as simply being the smell of a rose Treatise I.

If it smells more than one object at once, the smells likely amalgamate sensagions a single, complex scent that it experiences as simple and unique. If it experiences different smells in succession, the memory of the earlier one may linger while the dws comes to be present and then it may become ttaite of itself as having condilpac something different from what it is now so will discover that is a thing that endures through time Treatise I.

If the being were allowed to have senses of sound in addition to smell, different, simultaneously experienced sounds would likewise be experienced by it as one noise, but Condillac supposed that any sound would be too different from any simultaneously occurring taste for the two to be amalgamated, as long as either one had once been experienced on its own.

Thus, a being endowed with senses of both smell and hearing would experience itself as being both a smell and a comdillac, and so would experience itself as having a double existence Treatise I.

Condillac claimed that, were each particular smell only ever experienced in conjunction with just one particular sound, and vice versa, the two would not be thought of as distinct things or substances, even though they would be distinguished from one another. Instead, the smell would be experienced as having a sound and the sound as having a scent. Otherwise put, each would play the role of property to the other.

This is all that there ever is to our concept of substance, insofar as that concept has any meaning at all and is not simply a meaningless word invented by philosophers. Substance is not some substratum in which properties inhere, but a collection of sensations or qualities or properties commonly observed to occur together Treatise I.

As has been noted, in the Treatise Condillac abandoned his earlier view that we immediately see depth. However, he continued to maintain that light and colours are extended over the remaining two dimensions.

A being endowed with a sense of sight and presented with a variously coloured panorama would not experience all the different colours to be amalgamated into a point. Neither, Condillac supposed, would it blend the different colours with one another so as to see a uniformly coloured expanse.

CONDILLAC : Traité des sensations – First edition –

It would still continue to experience itself as simply being each of the colours it sees. As Condillac put it, insofar as it is red it experiences itself as being outside of itself insofar as it is as green Treatise I.

We would think that if colours are extended and different colours are simultaneously seen without being blended, then there must be edges between them, and shapes outlined by those edges. Condillac accepted that this would in fact be the case. But if it only considered colour sensations to be its own states of being, and took pleasure or pain only in their chromatic qualities and not in their shapes a rather large presumption that Condillac seems not to have realized makingit would have no reason to notice that colours have shapes or even that they have particular locations relative to one another.