French Philosopher and Epistemologist
Étienne Bonnot de Condillac
French Philosopher and Epistemologist
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.
Rhime did not, in the fame manner as measure, figures, and metaphors, derive its origin from the first institution of languages.
Thus the most natural order of ideas required, that the government should precede the verb: they said, for example, fruit to want.
If we want to revive a perception which is not familiar to us, such as the taste of a fruit of which we have eaten but once, our endeavors will terminate, generally speaking, in causing a kind of concussion in the fibres of the brain and of the mouth; and the perception shall bear no resemblance to the taste of that fruit. It would be the same in regard to a melon, to a peach, or even to a fruit of which we had never tasted. The like remark may be made in respect to the other senses.
The dissimilarity that arose between poetic style and common language, opened a middle way from which eloquence derived its origin, and from which it sometimes deviated to draw near to the style of poetry, and sometimes to resemble common conversation. From the latter it differs only as it rejects all sorts of expressions that have not a sufficient dignity, and from the former only because it is not subject to the same measure, and according to the different character of languages, it is not allowed some particular figures and phrases which are admitted in poetry. In other respects these two arts are sometimes confounded in such a manner, that it.is no longer possible to distinguish them.
To produce harmony, the cadences ought not to be placed indifferently. Sometimes the harmony ought to be suspended, and at other times it ought to terminate with a sensible pause. Consequently in a language, whose prosody is perfect, the succession of sounds should be subordinate to the fall of each period, so that the cadences shall be more or less abrupt, and the ear shall not find a final pause, till the mind be entirely satisfied.
In forming a habit of communicating to one another this fort of ideas by actions, mankind accustomed themselves to determine them; and from that time they began to find a greater ease in connecting them with other signs.
The expression of the sounds in their tuneful prosody, and that which they had also in their musical recitation, must have been introductory to the impression they were to make, when separate from the human voice.
Verbs originally expressed the state of things, only in an indeterminate manner. Such are the infinitives, to go, to act. The action accompanying them supplied the rest ; that is, the tenscs4 moods, numbers, and persons. In saying tree to fee, they signified by some gesture, whether they spoka of themselves or of a third person, of one or of many, of the past, present, or future, in fine, whether in a positive or in a conditional sense.
In vain would outward objects solicit the senses, the mind would never have any knowledge of them, if it did not perceive them. Hence the first and smallest degree of knowledge is perception.
The ideas of extension are those which we revive the most easily; because the sensations from which we derive them, are such as it is impossible for us to be without, so long as we are awake. The taste and smell may not be affected.
We judge the objects to touch only because we have learned to judge. In fact, if we consider the size of an object, we see that it is relative to that of other objects, so we have to compare it with and judge the extent to which these differ from them, if we want to get an idea of its size, and so for ideas of substance, of shape and weight. In other words, all the ideas that come from touch presuppose the comparison and judgment.
It frequently happens that the imagination produces even such effects within us, as might seem to proceed from present reflection. Though we may be greatly taken up with a particular idea, yet the objects which surround us, continue to solicit our senses; the perceptions they occasion, revive others with which they are connected; and these determine certain movements in our bodies.