Habits of Mind A Brand New Condillac

Journal of Modern Philosophy 1 (1):1 (2019)
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Is there anything in the mind that was not first in the senses? According to the received view, the French empiricist Étienne Bonnot de Condillac’s answer to this was a firm “No”. Unlike Locke, who accepted the existence of innate faculties, Condillac rejected the existence of all innate structure and instinctive behaviours. Everything, therefore, is learned. In this article, I argue that from at least the writing of his 1754 Traité des sensations, this reading fails to capture the true nature of his philosophy of mind. I present a genetic reading of Condillac’s philosophy that shows that from the 1750s until his death in 1780, he developed, by engaging closely with the life sciences of his day, an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the mind and perception. This understanding depends on the acceptance of the activity of the mind, innate structure, and a moderate defence of instincts—all characteristics of the mind that he is most commonly read as rejecting. Reading Condillac in this genetic way demonstrates that his philosophy of mind is much more original and powerful than has previously been recognised.



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Jeremy William Dunham
Durham University

Citations of this work

Certainly useless: empiricists’ uncomfortable relationship with intuition.Lewis Powell - 2023 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 31 (4):724-743.
Locke on the guise of the good.Antonia LoLordo - 2021 - Philosophical Explorations 24 (1):21-33.

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