Skip to main content
Select Source:

Condillac, Étienne Bonnot De

Condillac, Étienne Bonnot De

WORKS BY CONDILLAC

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1714–1780) was a philosopher of the Enlightenment, psychologist, economist, and educator; through his work he helped to bring about the dominance of the ideas of Locke and Newton over the philosophy of Descartes. Born at Grenoble into a well-to-do family with a legal background, he led the life of a man of letters from 1740 to 1758, enjoying the friendship or the acquaintance of France's leading philosophers and authors, among them Rousseau, Voltaire, Turgot, Diderot, d'Alembert, Morellet, Condorcet, Helvétius, Holbach, Grimm, Cabanis, Quesnay, Baudeau, Dupont de Nemours, Le Trosne, and Saint-Peravy. From 1758 to 1767 he served as tutor to the young grandson of Louis xv, the orphaned duke of Parma, for whom he prepared a series of works which reflect his educational theories; then he returned to Paris, only to retire in 1770 to a small property near Beaugency. There he remained, except for occasional visits to Paris, until his death, completing La logique ([1780] 1947–1951, vol. 2, pp. 369–416)—done at the request of the government of Poland for use in Palatinate schools—and other works. His reputation as a philosopher, together with his writings (renowned for precision, clarity, and simplicity), won him membership in the Royal Academy of Berlin in 1752 and in the French Academy in 1768.

Condillac's writings fall into three categories: the philosophical, the educational, and the economic. His systematization, exposition, and development of Locke's philosophy, together with his appreciation of Newton's empiricism, constitute four books, the most important of which, Traité des sensations, “no student of the history of philosophy can afford to neglect” ([1754] 1930, p. xv). In Essai sur I'origine des connoissances humaines ([1746] 1947–1951, vol. 1, pp. 1–118), he dealt with the origin of the faculties of mind and soul, the acquisition of knowledge, and the role of language in transforming sensation into reflection and in generating the highest operations found in thinking. In his Traité des systèmes ([1749] 1947–1951, vol. 1, pp. 119–217) he criticized in detail the doctrines of Descartes, Malebranche, Leibniz, and Spinoza, rejected recourse to fixed ideas and abstract principles, and urged reliance upon observation and experience. In his Traité des sensations Condillac made simple sensation the sole source of man's ideas and mental powers as well as of reflection and instinct or habit. He imagined a statue that has man's organic structure, whose sleeping senses are awakened one at a time, then in pairs, and finally all together. With one sense awakened, the statue can experience only the sensations of which that sense is capable; but although only touch can judge of externality, other senses can learn from touch how to judge external objects. The development of understanding, desires, passion, ideas, dreams, personality, and the faculties of the soul grows accordingly. Condillac explained the formation of general ideas, the genesis of attention, memory, judgment, reasoning, and various sensations as originating in the experience of pleasure or pain. To the Traité des sensations he appended a short Dissertation sur la liberté in which he showed that experience, cognition, and reflection lead man to apprehend the consequences of alternative courses of action and to choose the preferable course. In the Traité des animaux ([1755] 1947–1951, vol. 1, pp. 337–379) he criticized Buffon's animal psychology and his neglect of the role of language in the differentiation of man from animal.

Condillac's philosophy of education is represented mainly in his Cours détudes ([1775] 1947–1951, vol. 1, pp. 395–776; vol. 2, pp. 1–237), prepared for the duke of Parma but not published until 1775. In keeping with Condillac's earlier psychological theory that all knowledge arises from sensations, he supposed that the mind and its capacities develop best when a child's education proceeds by stages. The Cours consists of an introduction; sections dealing with grammar, the arts of writing, reasoning, and thinking; and extensive accounts of ancient and modern history, which also include treatments of philosophy, government, literature, and post-fifteenth-century scientific progress. Condillac also made use of De I'étude de I'histoire, a work prepared for him by his brother Gabriel Bonnot de Mably, a well-known author and expounder of collectivism. In La logique (1780) Condillac developed further his pedagogical views, explaining how “nature” teaches man to think and analyze, how ideas and faculties of the soul come into being, and how language develops and makes systematic analytical methods possible. In his incomplete and posthumous work, La langue des calculs ([1798] 1947–1951, vol. 2, pp. 417–529), having remarked the ambiguity and methodological inadequacy of verbal language as used in various sciences, Condillac noted the need in every science for exactitude similar to that found in mathematics and indicated how analogy might lead the student from the language and method of one science to the language and method of another.

Condillac's political economy is found almost entirely in Le commerce et le gouvernement considérés relativement I'un à I'autre ([1776] 1947–1951, vol. 2, pp. 239–367), only the second part of which conforms to the title. Therein he illustrated his opinion that economic science, while complicated and requiring (as does every science) a special language to convey its ideas, can be formulated in simple terms and yet serve analytical needs. He also showed how commerce can be constrained, as it was in France, and how, if it is free of all impediments, it fosters the growth and spread of wealth and prosperity.

Part 1 is concerned specifically with the dependence of occupations and classes upon one another, to the role of property and national and international markets, and to the beneficial organizing role of competition and the price system when not impaired by monopoly or other contrived barriers to commercial freedom—then price variation can keep the supply of each good in balance with the demand for it at “le vrai prix.” Condillac's views reflect mainly those of Cantillon and some of those of Galiani, Verri, Turgot, and the physiocrats. He described value as depending upon utility and as varying inversely with supply, as does price; grain constitutes the best measure of value over time. While his comments on determinants of supply are scattered throughout his work, the gist of his argument seems to be that these determinants are reducible to terms of factor scarcity, cost of materials, and cost of labor (mainly subsistence). Having rejected the nominalist theory of money and having shown how gold and silver became the dominant forms, he reasoned that their value depends upon their utility and scarcity, which, in turn, are conditioned by type of enterprise and access to credit, bills of exchange, and clearing arrangements. When unimpeded, gold or silver flows from places where its value is low to where its value is high, even as does grain, which, however, is less mobile; whence the supply of gold or grain comes into balance with demand, and “le vrai prix” tends to prevail. Condillac defended lending at interest, condemning its restriction, and noted that interest rates reflect the comparative abundance of borrowers and lenders and, in particular instances, degree of risk. He discussed the structure of demand and its determinants; the interaction of increasing wants and progress in the arts; the impact of changes in the composition of demand upon the employment of land and labor; population growth and concentration; class and occupational composition; and the adverse effects of some types of luxurious expenditure upon a nation's welfare and power. He did not appreciate the role of the division of labor, but he did identify the entrepreneurial role.

Condillac's psychological and epistemological theories exercised great influence in the eighteenth century and some influence in the early part of the nineteenth century. His views on pedagogy also seem to have exercised influence until the early nineteenth century; indeed, Joseph Neefs translation of La logique (see Condillac [1780] 1809) was used as a guide for education at Neefs school. Condillac's work on economics, however, exercised little influence. It appeared when Turgot and the physiocrats (with whose opinions his own were incorrectly identified) were in disfavor. Later, Condillac's economic ideas were overshadowed by the work of Adam Smith and J. B. Say—the latter dismissed Condillac's work as “ingenious trifling.” Only in the later nineteenth century did the expounders of utility theory appreciate Condillac's merit as an economist.

Joseph J. Spengler

[For the historical context of Condillac's work, seeEconomic thought, article onPHYSIOCRATIC THOUGHT; Laissez-faire; and the biographies ofCantillon; Galiani; Quesnay; Turgot. For discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, seeDEMAND AND SUPPLY; Utility.]

WORKS BY CONDILLAC

(1746–1798) 1947–1951 Oeuvres philosophique de Condillac. Edited by Georges Le Roy. 3 vols. Corpus général des philosophes français, auteurs modernes, Vol. 33. Paris: Presses Universitaire de France.

(1754) 1930 Condillac's Treatise on the Sensations. Translated by Geraldine Carr. Los Angeles: Univ. of Southern California, School of Philosophy. → First published as Traité des sensations. The quotation in the text is from the translator's introduction.

(1780) 1809 The Logic of Condillac. Translated by Joseph Neef. Philadelphia: Privately published. → First published as La logique, ou les premiers développements de I'art de penser. The 1809 edition is a partial translation.

Lettres inédites à Gabriel Cramer. Edited by Georges Le Roy. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1953.

Oeuvres de Condillac. 23 vols. Paris: Houel, 1798.

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baguenault de Puchesse, Gustave 1910 Condillac: Sa vie, sa philosophic, son influence. Paris: PlonNourrit.

Lebeau, Auguste 1903 Condillac économiste. Paris: Guillaumin.

Le Roy, Georges 1937 La psychologic de Condillac. Paris: Boivin.

Le Roy, Georges 1947 Introduction à 1'oeuvre philosophique de Condillac. Volume 1, pages vii-xxxv in Étienne Bonnet de Condillac, Oeuvres philosophiques de Condillac. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Mann, James L. 1903 L'éeducation selon la doctrine pàdagogique de Condillac. Grenoble (France): Allier.

Meoli, Umberto 1961 Il pensiero economico del Condillac. Milan (Italy): Istituto Editoriale Cisalpino.

Salvucci, Pasquale 1957 Linguaggio e mondo umano in Condillac. Urbino, Università Libera, Pubblicazioni, Serie di lettere e filosofia, Vol. 5. Urbino (Italy): Stabilimento Tipografico Edit. Urbinate.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Condillac, Étienne Bonnot De." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Condillac, Étienne Bonnot De." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/condillac-etienne-bonnot-de

"Condillac, Étienne Bonnot De." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/condillac-etienne-bonnot-de

Étienne Bonnot de Condillac

Étienne Bonnot de Condillac

The French philosopher and educator Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715-1780) was a Lockean psychologist and early positivist who greatly influenced economic and political thought in prerevolutionary France.

On Sept. 30, 1715, Étienne Bonnot was born to Gabriel Bonnot, Vicomte de Mably. He later became the Abbé de Condillac, a territory purchased by his father in 1720. Educated in Paris at the Sorbonne and at St-Suplice, he was ordained a priest in 1740 but chose to become a writer and a tutor. From 1740 to 1758 he frequented the literary salons of Paris and worked at his own education. John Locke's psychology and empiricism and Sir Isaac Newton's search for fundamental principles were strong influences in his reading.

Condillac's Essai sur l'origine des connaissances humaines (1746) followed Locke's principles but reduced the operations of human understanding to one principle—sensation—and treated reflection as a sequence and comparison of sensations. The work stated language to be the source of man's superiority to animals and recognized interest as an intimate part of any perception. Traité des systèmes (1749) was a study on proper method and the proper use of hypothesis and system.

In the Traité des sensations (1754) Condillac showed how ideas originate through sensation. The work stressed the integration of man's senses and stated that the higher forms of understanding develop from mere animal sensation because of man's needs. Condillac's Traité des animaux (1755) opposed Buffon's and Descartes's view of animals by declaring that man is like the animals, although more complex because of his more numerous needs, and that neither man nor animal is mere machine.

In 1758 Condillac went to Parma for 9 years to tutor Louis XV's grandson, Ferdinand de Parma. During this time he composed a 16-volume Cours d'études pour l'instruction du Prince de Parme. Opposition from the bishop of Parma delayed publication until 1775, when the volumes appeared in France, under the relaxed censorship of the Turgot ministry.

On returning to France in 1767, Condillac declined an offer to tutor the Dauphin's sons and retired instead to a quiet life of writing at Flux. His 1776 work, Le Commerce et le gouvernement considerés relativement l'un à l'autre, considered the consequences of his basic psychological ideas in relation to political economy. Asked to compose an elementary logic for Palatinate schools, Condillac finished La Logiquein 1779. He died from a fever on Aug. 2, 1780. His unfinished Langage des calculs was published posthumously.

In his opposition to obscurantist metaphysics Condillac was an early positivist. He insisted that, although man is ignorant of the thing-in-itself, he need not be in error if he will use a language of analysis, observation with thoroughness, and systems with circumspection.

Further Reading

The best introduction to Condillac in English is Condillac's Treatise on the Sensations, translated by Geraldine Carr (1930). Zora Schaupp, The Naturalism of Condillac (1926), is a fine introduction to Condillac's thought in relation to early-20th-century psychology. A less readable but still useful work is Isabel F. Knight, The Geometric Spirit: The Abbé de Condillac and the French Enlightenment (1968). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Étienne Bonnot de Condillac." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Étienne Bonnot de Condillac." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/etienne-bonnot-de-condillac

"Étienne Bonnot de Condillac." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/etienne-bonnot-de-condillac

Condillac, Étienne Bonnot de

Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (ātyĕn´ bônō´ də kôNdēyäk´), 1715–80, French philosopher who developed the theory of sensationalism (i.e., that all knowledge comes from the senses and that there are no innate ideas). He took holy orders, and in 1768 he became a member of the French Academy of Sciences. His major works were Essai sur l'origine des connaissances humaines (1746) and Traité des sensations (1754). In these he tried to simplify Locke's theory of knowledge by arguing that all conscious experience is simply the result of passive sensations. In spite of this reduction of consciousness to the passive reception of sensation he nevertheless retained the Cartesian dualism of soul and body. He thus attempted to harmonize his deterministic psychology with his religious profession.

See I. F. Knight, The Geometric Spirit (1968).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Condillac, Étienne Bonnot de." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Condillac, Étienne Bonnot de." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/condillac-etienne-bonnot-de

"Condillac, Étienne Bonnot de." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/condillac-etienne-bonnot-de