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Etienne Bonnot de Condillac

Updated on February 26, 2012


Etienne Bonnot de Condillac was a French philosopher. A contemporary of Jean Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot, Condillac was the only philosopher of the Encyclopedist era to create a systematic theory of knowledge. He was strongly influenced by John Locke and was instrumental in introducing Lockean psychological orientation into French 18th century thought.


Condillac was born at Grenoble on September 30, 1715. He attended the Seminary of St. Sulpice, where he became an abbe. His official ties to the church were of little importance in his career, however, and he devoted his time to writing philosophical tracts. From 1758 to 1767 he was tutor to Ferdinand, son of the Duke of Parma, and in 1768, after his return to France, he was elected to the French Academy. He died at Flux, near Beaugency, on August 3, 1780.


Condillac's early works, such as the Essai sur l'origine des connaissances humaines (1746), manifested an almost complete agreement with Lockean epistemology. However, with the publication of his famous Traite des sensations (1754), Condillac parted with Locke in claiming that sensations alone (rather than sensations and reflection) dictate the workings of the mind and are the source of all knowledge. Accordingly, all mental operations, including such "higher" faculties as comparing, judging, and willing, are reducible, in the long run, to sensation. Though many scholars considered this theory deterministic, with man as the sum of his sensations, Condillac in his Extrait raisonne, appended to later editions of the Traite, also argued for freedom of the will.

Condillac's other works include Traite des systemes (1749) and La logique (1780, issued posthumously). His collected works were published in 23 volumes in 1798.


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