Biography of Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715-1780)

French philosopher, born in 1715 and died in 1780. Under the influence of Locke, tries to explain all the formation of psychic life and knowledge, based on feelings and their various combinations. The introducer of the sensualism in French philosophy of the enlightenment is regarded as.

Life and works

Born in Grenoble, Condillac studied at a Jesuit College and then went to the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, where he/she was ordered priest and earned a doctorate in theology. Had a church benefit, but he/she never played the priestly functions. He/She came into contact with the English philosophy and the most famous French intellectuals of his time (Rousseau, Voltaire, d'Alembert and Diderot). The most famous works from this period are: Essai sur l'origine des connaissances humaines (essay on the origin of human knowledge, 1746), Traité des Systèmes (1747), Traité des sensations (treated of the sensations, 1754, his most famous work), and Traité des animaux (1755). These writings earned him accusations of materialism and sensualism, so it became mired in a controversy. The King Luis XV, sent him to Parma, as preceptor of the infante Fernando, Duke of Parma, his nephew. This experience served as base for his work Cours d' études (course of study). He/She was appointed member of the Academy of France in 1768, in which, however, only took part in its session of income. He/She spent the last years of his life in the field, dedicated to publishing the Cours d' études and the drafting of other works, such as: Logique (logic, 1772), commissioned by the Government of Poland for the use of young, Le commerce et le gouvernement considérés la l' a à l'autre (1776) and Langue des calculs (1798, work that left incomplete). Other works are: grammar, art of writing, art of reason, art of thinking. His writings, notable for the clarity and the method, are the scientific expression of the spirit of his time. According to him, all the ideas come from the senses and the same faculties of the soul, are nothing more than processed sensations.

Aspects of its doctrine

The analytical method

Base and the feature of his philosophy is in the method consisting in the analysis. To have a true knowledge of an object of nature, just to see it in its entirety, is not necessary to observe it in its parts. The same applies to ideas and operations of the understanding. But the task of knowledge does not end in break down, but in the recomposition of the object. The analytical method of Condillac is not more than a continuous application of the principle of identity (A = A). The analysis, which indeed, is to replace one mother the idea by several simple ideas that are implied in the other, does more than replace the term expressing the complex idea by a greater number of equivalent terms that designate the main idea.

Origin of the faculties and ideas from the feeling

In opposition to the Cartesian teaching of innate ideas, endorsed the position of Locke about the empirical origin of ideas, demonstrating that the ideas of extension and thought do not escape this genesis. It surpassed the doctrine of Locke, and rejected the distinction between primary and secondary qualities according to which we would have the first an appropriate idea, and of the latter, only a subjective idea. Actually the position of Condillac, regarding the real extent of our ideas, is always maintained between realism and idealism. It also rejected the distinction between sensations and reflections, to reduce all the ideas to the only source of feelings. This served the famous example of the marble statue, at the beginning devoid of all the senses, and therefore any idea, and which then progressively is encouraged by the separate and successive action of all the senses. Condillac begins giving the statue's smell, because apparently it is the sense that contributes less to the understanding of man. Before the first smell, the ability to feel the statue shakes with the printing on the organ of smell. This is what is called attention. In this way, we have the first Faculty of the soul which is the same feeling. The statue then begins to enjoy or suffer, depending on the pleasant or unpleasant odor. When the object that caused the smell disappears, a more or less strong impression, left as it has been the attention. Thus was born the memory, second Faculty of the mind. If the current sensation is unpleasant, the statue can turn their attention to a pleasant feeling that now is not, then this is presented with such intensity that it becomes seem as present. Thus was born the imagination that only differs from the memory in terms of intensity.Condillac continues his example, with the other senses, to demonstrate that all the faculties of the soul are born on the feelings and their various combinations.


Condillac is located between the founders of the subjective theory of value. The value of a commodity is linked to its usefulness, but this is a subjective fact that varies as arise or disappear needs. The value, then, depends on the variable degree of utility.


From the point of view of the metaphysical Condillac is an agnostic. Since all our knowledge comes from the senses, they may only extend to where come the feelings. I.e., we can never penetrate the intimate things of substance, because of them we only capture appearances (phenomena). We know that humans are, not what they are about us. It is not possible to go from what we feel to what is. However, agnosticism does not stop him, and against his own claims, tries to penetrate into the intimate nature of the beings, demonstrates the immortality of the soul, and tries to prove not only the existence of God, but it establishes, in a way, their nature. Condillac distinguishes two metaphysics: an ambitious, aiming to penetrate all mysteries; another, more cautious, that provides its investigations to the weakness of the human spirit and shows so little curious what escapes, as Avid that can cover. The latter is true metaphysics.Closely related to his gnoseológicas thesis, is his theory of language, in which you can see a history of subsequent semiotics.