British Associationism



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British Associationism
David Hume

David Hartley

James Mill

John Stuart Mill

Alexander Bain
-Major idea that separates empiricism from rationalism is the source of knowledge (innate vs learned)….empiricist emphasize “nurture” over “nature”
--two major line of empiricism is Associationism (British) and Mechanism (French).
--associationists explain psychological effects in terms of lawful relations among ideas separate from the context of the body…..still dualist….parallel dualist
---mechanists tend to explain mental phenomena in terms of bodily processes….assumed mental processes were the same as bodily processes….brain action is mind, mind is brain action….more monistic view.
David Hume (1711-1776) ..

Wanted to combine the sciences. He thought the methods of other fields of science were relevant to the study of the mind. He thought that studies of the mind should not only be empirical, but experimental…wanted to create a science of the mind


Association of Ideas –

---Law of Resemblance –Ideas of one thing stimulate ideas of similar things.

---Law of Contiguity – tendency to recall things experienced at the same time.

---Law of Cause and Effect –When thinking of an outcome one tends to recall events that proceeded the outcome.

---Hume thought the law of cause and effect was the most important of his laws of association….stressed how causation could be determined
Analysis of Mind and the Self

---thought the content of the mind could be analyzed like physicists analyze movement of the stars.

can observe what we call the “mind”



David Hartley (1705-1757) –not known for his own ideas as much as for summarizing the ideas of his predecessors….formalized the association camp.

---Hartley’s Parallelism – viewed humans has both physical and mental aspects….thought both must be studied b/c body and mind are related…….so each psychological phenomenon must be studied through both aspects.

---everything was in parallel….effects in the brain and ideas run parallel to each other but one does not cause the other

---Law of Association – His law of association was the principle of contiguity……you can induce one idea from another provided one has occurred in conjunction with the other….paired over time.

.broadened the conception of association to include motor activity…..movement may help recall an idea and idea may recall a movement… (ex. Learning to catch a football).

first to explain all forms of mental life on the basis of association in a lawful manner.
James Mill (1773-1836)– similar view as Hartley…..

---2 classes of mental elements 1. sensations 2. ideas…..all associations reduced to contiguity, but, he had two subdivisions of contiguity 1. successive 2. synchronous.

--also described strength of an association….strength of association explained by 1. frequency 2. vividness

.more often items are contiguous the stronger the connections….also degree of vivid (uniqueness of the pairing)

.Held to a form of mental compounding like most empiricists at the time…..complex mental states are a cluster of compounding of two more simple states…..example….experience of a flavor is made up of simpler states of taste, smell, texture…..the whole is just the sum of the parts.----also called “mental physics” or “mental mechanics”
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) – Rid himself of his father’s rigid compounding form of associations.

.stressed activity in mind and said when mental elements combine to form more complex states they give rise to something new, something not present in the original parts….presaged Gestalt. (Whole is more than the sum of its parts).

idea of the whole is more than the sum of its parts became known as “mental chemistry” in contrast to the ‘mental compounding” which his father thought.
Important because he described the methodology that should be used by all sciences and showed how they could be used in a science of human nature.
Argued for science of ethology. Here ethology means how individual’s behave in specific situations. Thought psychology would describe the universal laws that control general human behavior, but that ethology would describe individual differences in specific situations.

Alexander Bain (1818-1903) – Linked psychological and physiological processes even more closely than Hartley

.paid particular attention to reflexes, also habit and instinct.



---Attempted a solution to the mind-body problem…..said they are not separate processes (suggesting monism)….still a cautious parallelist though.

........dual nature of mind and matter depends on how they are viewed…observed objectively “outside” the mind is a bodily process….viewed subjectively ‘inside” the processes that go on is mind

.last of the old–school psychologist



---Main innovation was that his psychology rests on up-to-date physiology, not a hypothetical physiology like that created by Hartley….thought associations were linked neurological changes in the brain (like changes in the synapse in neurons).
---Considered similarity as a second principle of association…..

Added Law of Compound Associations – ideas are usually associated with multiple idea.

Also added Law of Constructive Associations –imaginary powers of the mind

…….Bain’s form of mental chemistry became known as constructive association or imagination

……people can form new ideas (creativity) from old ideas…..Introduced idea of spontaneous behavior and hedonism as the source of imagination….with voluntary behavior some actions are associated with pleasure and others pain. Those associated with pleasure are repeated.
Philosophical associationism supplanted by psychological asscociationism in the laboratory with Ebbinghaus.
French Mechanism
..true monist view….mind and body are one

..saw humans as machines, automata

...significance is that mind, being material, obeys natural laws….no longer can be considered to function in terms we cannot understand.

--materialist viewpoint (like Hobbes) there is only matter and motion…..
Julen Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751) – first of the modern line of mechanists

---sought to extend Descartes’ views on animal and human body as machine to mental states as well.

---primary thesis was that the mind (which he says is the soul) is not immaterial but material.

----equates sense impression with ideas, but even more sensationalist than Locke, since he makes sensation alone the source of knowledge…….only by studying experience and bodily organs can we understand human nature and actions.

---Human action and misbehavior is explained as a function of body function and dysfunction.

----other influences on behavior include experience…enlighten the machine…and drugs and alcohol.

--differed from other philosophers because he did not distinguish between humans and animals….thought they only differed in their desire or wants….humans have more wants……being without wants is being without mind.

---own form of hedonism….organisms are constructed to seek pleasure…not debauchery which harms the public, but pleasure that does not harm.
De Condillac – all desire is based on the experience of pleasure and pain….so all Locke’s powers of the mind are derived from senses, and memory of senses.

..primary influence was Locke, but his problem with Locke’s system was that it made higher mental processes such as judging, willing, and reasoning “powers of the mind” without tracing their origins back to sensations….not empirical



..gave validity to the idea that animals had the same processes of the mind as humans…..


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