Étienne Bonnot de Condillac Bibliography

Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines 1746
Published by Mortier in Amsterdam and translated as An Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge in 1756.

A work which Condillac’s friend, Diderot, helped to get published. It addressed Molyneux’s problem, namely, if someborn born blind were to have his sight restored, would he be able to recognize objects previously known to him only through the sense of touch? In giving an account of the development of the mind, Condillac went further than Locke, who he greatly admired, by arguing that not only ideas, but the mind’s very faculties originate in sensation.

The essay also inaugurated the celebrated controversy about the origins of language, dividing those such as Harris (1751), Maupertuis (1756), De Brosses (1765), Herder (1772) and Monboddo (1773), who believed that it was of human invention, from those such as Sussmilch (1756), who supposed it had been given to mankind by God.

When the essay was translated into English ten years later, it was announced in its subtitle as “A Supplement to Mr. Locke’s Essay on the Human Understanding”. The aim of the book is clearly announced in its Introduction: “Our first object, which we should never lose sight of, is the study of the human mind - l’esprit humain - not in order to discover its nature, but to understand its operations, to observe in what manner they are combined and how we should employ them that we might acquire all the intelligence of which we are capable. It is necessary to go back to the origin of our ideas, to work out their generation, follow them up to the limits nature has prescribed to them, and thus establish the extent and the limits of our knowledge, and renew all of human understanding.”

From basic building blocks of knowledge and from these alone, provided that we allow them to differ in vivacity and agreeableness, we can show how attention, memory, pleasure and pain, reminiscence, comparison are produced. “All mental operations are nothing but sensation transformed in different ways.” For instance, attention is nothing other than an impression standing out by virtue of its vivacity. Memory just is an impression which persists. Condillac, unlike Locke, does not distinguish between ideas of inner sense, which arise from awareness of what goes on within us, and ideas of outer sense which have their origin in the outside world. Furthermore, unlike Locke, he claims that language plays a constitutive role in the formation of ideas from impressions.
Les Monades 1747
Prize essay published anonymously in the proceedings of the Academy of Berlin, of which he was made an associate member in 1749. The essay was identified and attributed to Condillac only in 1980. Did Condillac have his own reasons for keeping his authorship secret? Did he fear that it would undermine his empiricism and his attack on traditional metaphysics? For although, in the first part Condillac, criticizes the Leibnizians and asserts that we must start with ideas of sensations, in the second part, he gives a finitist argument for the existence of simple indivisible entities, i.e. monads. It is interesting that Derrida in his introduction to the Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines (an introduction that was originally published before Les Monades was identified), speculates whether “Condillac plagiarized Leibniz without knowing it”.
Traité des systèmes 1749
Published by Neaulme in The Hague the Treatise is a critique of abstract and speculative systems, with Locke and Newton as its twin heroes.

“Today a few physical scientists, above all the chemists, are concentrating on collecting phenomena, for they have recognized that one must possess the effects of nature, and discover their mutual dependence, before one poses principles that explain them. The example of their predecessors has been a good lesson to them; they at least wish to avoid the errors that the mania for systems has brought in its train. If only all the other philosophers would imitate them!”

“Ideas in no way allow us to know things as they are; they merely depict them in terms of their relationship with us...the good and the beautiful are by no means absolutes; they are relative to the character of the man who judges and to the way in which he is organised.”

The art of reasoning reduces itself to a well constructed language.” (italics, Condillac)
Traité des sensations, including Dissertation sur la liberté 1754
Published by de Bure in London and Paris.

Condillac was Locke’s French disciple. In the Traité Condillac gives an imaginary step-by-step account of the building up of a human being’s mental life from sense-impressions alone. Employing a fantasy, possibly borrowed from Diderot, he asks us to imagine a statue, endowed initially only with the sense of smell , and view its development as the various senses become fully equipped with all the mental faculties. The Traité was the most forthright defence of sensationalism in the 18th century.
Traité des Animaux, including Dissertation sur l’existence de Dieu 1755
Published by de Bure in Amsterdam.

“Ideas come and go without order, forming only moving tableaux which offer bizarre and imperfect images. It is our needs which must lend them definite character again and place them in their true light”.

In the Treatise Condillac attacked Buffon and Descartes for their account of animals as mere automatons, devoid of cognitive powers.
i>Cours d’études pour l’instruction du prince de Parme 1775
In 1758, Condillac was appointed tutor to Prince Ferdinand of Parma (grandson of Louis XV), a post which he held for nine years, and which resulted in the eventual publication in 1775 of his Course of Studies for the Instruction of the Prince of Parma in 16 volumes covering a variety of subjects. The work, appearing under the Imprimerie Royale in Parma, consisted of the following volumes:

1 Grammaire

2 Art d’écrire

3 Art de raisonner

4 Art de penser

5-10 Introduction à l’étude de l’histoire ancienne

11-16 Introduction à l’étude de l’histoire moderne

Le commerce et le gouvernement considérés relativement l’un à l’autre, Jombert et Cellot: Amsterdam and Paris (Commerce and Government considered in relation to each other) 1776
La logique ou les premiers développements de l’art de penser 1780
In the Logique (Logic, or the first development of the art of thinking) published in the year of his death, Condillac reconsiders the origin of ideas and the means to facilitate the acquistion of knowledge. Before he died Condillac was working on a comprehensive edition of his works and La Langue des calculs (The Language of Calculation). His collected works were published in 1798.
Essai sur l’admission des femmes au droit de cité (On the Admission of Women to the Rights of Citzenship) 1790
&;uvres, revues, corrigées par l’auteur, imprimées sur ses manuscrits autographes et augmentées de la &; Langue des calculs &;, ouvrage posthume 1798