French Philosopher and Epistemologist
Étienne Bonnot de Condillac
French Philosopher and Epistemologist
All men cannot connect their ideas with equal force, nor in equal number: and this is the reason why all are not equally happy in their imagination and memory.
Mankind did not multiply words without necessity, especially in the beginning: for they were, at no small trouble to invent and to retain them.
The very dawn of memory is sufficient to make us masters of the habit of our imagination. A single arbitrary sign is enough to enable a person to revive an idea by himself; this is vcertainly the first and smallest degree of memory, and of the command which we may acquire over the imagination.
And yet it is not always in our power to revive the perceptions we have felt. On some occasions the most we can do is by recalling to mind their names, to recollect some of the circumstances atr tending them, and an abstract idea of perception; an idea which we are capable of framing every instant, because we never think without being conscious of some perception which it depends on ourselves, to render genera).
Memory, as we have seen, consists only in the power of reviving the signs of our ideas, or the circumstances that attended them; a power which never takes place, except when by the analogy of the signs we have chosen, and by the order we have settled between our ideas, the objects which we want to revive are connected with some of our present wants.
The whole tribe of philosophers have fallen into the fame error with Locke. Some of them, who pretend that every perception leaves an image in the mind, in the same manner almost as a seal leaves its impression behind it, are not to be excepted: for what is the image of a perception, which is not the perception itself? The mistake is owing to this, that for want of having sufficiently considered the matter, they have mistaken, for the very perception of the object, some circumstances, or some general idea, which revive themselves in its stead. To avoid such mistakes, I shall here distinguish the different perceptions we are capable of feeling, and examine them each in their proper order.
And yet, let the nature of these perceptions be what it will, and let them be produced as they will, if we look amongst them for the idea of extension, for instance, of a line, of an angle, and any other figure, we shall find it in that repository very clearly and distinctly.
Music must naturally have been criticized in proportion as it improved, especially if its progress was considerable and subitaneous: for then it differs most from the sounds to which our ear is accustomed. But if we begin to be used to it, then it pleases, and it is prejudice any longer to oppose it.
There is evidence that the faculty of reflection will appear as soon as our senses begin to develop, and it is equally true that we have the use of the senses from an early age, just because at an early age we began to reflect.
But as soon as a man comes to connect ideas with signs of his own choosing, we find his memory is formed.
Our declamatory speaking is therefore naturally less expressive than music. For I want to know what sound is best adapted to express any particular passion? In the first place, it must surely be that which imitates the natural sign of this passion; and' this is common both to declamation and music.
There is neither error, nor obscurity, nor confusion in what passes within us, nor in the application we make to that which is without us.
Further, laws and public transactions, together with everything that deserved the attention of mankind, were multiplied to such a degree, that the memory grew too weak for so heavy a burden; and human societies increased in such a manner, that the promulgation of the laws could not, without difficulty, reach the ears of every individual.
There is still another operation which arises from the connection established by the attention betwixt our ideas; this is contemplation. It consists in preserving, without any interruption, the perception, the name or the circumstances of an object which is vanished out of sight.
Hence arises a perception which represents them to us as distant and limited; and which consequently implies the idea of some extension.
Our inquiries are sometimes more difficult, in proportion as the object of them is more simple. Our very perceptions are an instance of this. What is more easy in appearance than to determine whether the soul takes notice of all those perceptions by which it is affected? Need there anything more than to reflect on one's self? Doubtless all philosophers have done it.
There were two reasons why persons of any abilities, that attempted this kind of music, could not help meeting with success. The first is, that without doubt they pitched upon such pieces, as in the course of reciting, they had been accustomed to render particularly expressive; or at least they imagined some such. The second is the surprise, which this music must needs have produced by its novelty. The greater the surprise she greater the impression of the music.
Hence the prejudice of the ancients against separating the music from the words. Music was in regard to them, very steady what recitation is to us: by it they learnt so regulate the voice, which before that time was under no fort of direction.
Our vocal music is so greatly different from our common recitation or declamatory speaking, that the imagination is not easily imposed upon by our musical tragedies.
These suppositions admitted; in order to recollect the familiar ideas, it would be sufficient to be capable of giving attention to some of our fundamental ideas, with which they are connected. Now this is always feasible; because, so long as we are awake, there is not an instant in which our constitution, our passions, and our situation, do not occasion some of those perceptions which I call fundamental.
I distinguish therefore two sorts of perceptions among those we are conscious of; some which we remember at least the moment. After others which we forget the very moment they are impressed. This distinction is founded on the experience just now given. A person highly entertained at a play shall remember perfectly the impression made on him by a very moving scene, though he may forget how he was affected by the rest of the entertainment.
Our wants are all dependent upon one another, and the perceptions of them might be considered as a series of fundamental ideas, to which we. might reduce all those which make a part of our knowledge.
These two arts associated themselves with that of gesture, their elder sister, and known by the name of Dance. From whence there is reason to conjecture, that some kind of dance, and some kind of music and poetry, might have been observed at all times, and in all nations.
I distinguish three sorts of signs: 1. Accidental signs, or the objects which particular circumstances have connected with some of our ideas, so as to render the one proper to revive the other. 2. Natural signs, or the cries which nature has established to express the passions of joy, of fear, or of grief, 3. Instituted signs, or those which we have chosen ourselves, and bear only an arbitrary relation to our ideas.