Condillac, Mandeville, and the Origin of Language
The study of 18th-century theories on the origin of language offers interesting insights into history of linguistics. These theories are intimately linked with 17th-century inquiries into the social and intellectual nature of man, and particularly with the views of Hobbes, Locke, and the Cartesians. 18th-century thinkers analyse these problems from a genetic viewpoint. Condillac in his Essai sur Vorigine des connoissances humaines (1746) tries to solve them by advancing a theory of the progress of the operations of the mind, a theory in which a central role is attributed to language. This theory has recently attracted the attention of historians of linguistics, since it is considered the main source of an international debate on the origin of language culminating in Herder. It can be shown, however, that a large number of Condillac’s ideas were anticipated in Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees (1729). The present study suggests that Condillac was very likely familiar with the theses of the Fable and that he made use of them in his Essai. This suggestion is supported by an anlysis of the arguments and of certain fundamental concepts common to both works and by an account of the influence of Mandeville’s theses in France during the first decades of the 18th century. But, as Condillac mentions neither Mandeville nor his Fable, his indebtedness to his precursor cannot be proved once for all. Nevertheless, the evidence presented makes it very plausible that Condillac profited from the original and innovative ideas of Mandeville.
Published online: 01 January 1978
Cited by 8 other publications
Subbiondo, Joseph L.
This list is based on CrossRef data as of 27 october 2021. Please note that it may not be complete. Sources presented here have been supplied by the respective publishers. Any errors therein should be reported to them.
Allen, Don Cameron
Condillac, Étienne Bonnot de
Hine, Ellen McNiven
Knowlson, James R.
Mémoires de Trévoux
Sebeok, Thomas A.