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Emotion and Poetry in Condillac's Theory of Language and Mind

Author(s): Christopher Coski


Source: The French Review, Vol. 80, No. 1 (Oct., 2006), pp. 157-170
Published by: American Association of Teachers of French
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The French
Review,
Vol.
80,
No.
1,
October 2006 Printed in U.S.A.
Emotion and
Poetry
in
Condillac's
Theory
of
Language
and Mind
by Christopher
Coski
Jtrench
intellectuals of the
eighteenth century
looked
upon
their
era
as an
"Age
of
Enlightenment"
or an
"Age
of
Reason,"
and it is not sur
prising
that these
thinkers,
so
conscious of their own
rationality, attempt
to define reason itself. This article examines the Essai sur
I'origine
des con
naissances humaines
(1746)
of Etienne Bonnot abbe de Condillac
(1714
1780)
and its contribution to the
thinking
in this
philosophical
discus
sion.1
Language,
for
Condillac,
is the basis of all
analytical reasoning.
In
the
Essai,
he
provides
a narrative of how human
beings progress
from a
primitive, languageless, purely
emotional state to a
civilized,
rational
state made
possible by
institutional
language. My analysis
of this narra
tive focuses on the role of emotion and
poetic expression
in Condillac's
theory
of the evolution of
language
and reason.
There is a
line of
thought, pervasive
in
eighteenth-century
French consid
erations on
language,
that French is the most rational of all
languages,
and
thinkers like
Rivarol, Diderot,
and Court de Gebelin hold that its inherent
logic
renders it
superior
to other
languages
which tend to be less
analytical
and
more
poetically expressive.
Qualities
such as
"heat,"
"passion,"
"elo
quence," "energy,"
and "falsehood" are
generally
associated with
poetic
languages?Italian, English,
Greek,
and Latin?while
French,
as a rational
language,
is
assigned qualities
such as
"clarity," "precision,"
"order,"
and
"truth."2 The value of
an examination of this
opposition
is
suggested by
Ricken's historical overview of the
question
as addressed
by
Rivarol and
the others:
Lorsqu'en
1784 Rivarol fonda la clarte du
frangais
sur la
logique
naturelle de son ordre de
mots,
c'etait
la,
un
argument qui
avait fait ses
preuves depuis plus
de deux siecles. La source de cette
argumentation
etait la theorie
scolastique
de Vordo naturalis. Elle
s'appuyait
sur
le
postu
lat
que
Tordre naturel des mots etait le reflet d'un ordre de
categories
logiques
[...].
La
piece
maitresse de cette theorie etait Tordre:
sujet-verbe
objet.
Sa concordance
avec le
type
de
phrase
le
plus
usuel en
frangais
permit
des le xvie siecle la naissance de la theorie de Tordre naturel du
157
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158 FRENCH REVIEW 80.1
franqais.
Le besoin d'une
apologie
de
langue
nationale, et,
au xvir siecle
l'amour des
regies,
conferaient a cette theorie
un
poids comprehensible.
Celui-ci se trouva
augmente quand
on fit du rationalisme cartesien un
soutien des
postulats
de l'ordre naturel.
(79-180)
Ricken's assessment serves as the basic
premise
for this article?that
the interest of Condillac's
inquiry
into rational and
poetic languages
is
not
simply linguistic,
but rooted in the
epistemological
issues of his
day,
such as
natural order of the universe and of
logic,
as well as the
opposi
tion of rationalist and
empiricist
theories of mind.
In
addressing
the
question
of rational and
poetic expression,
the abbe
distinguishes
himself from the
general tendency
of his time. As Cassirer
points
out,
the
epistemological
inclination of the
Enlightenment
was to
use the emotions as "the
original
and
indispensable impulse
of all the
operations
of the mind"
(105-06).
I
argue
that for
Condillac,
the emotions
and
poetic language
are not
merely secondary
faculties that serve as sim
ple impulses
for
higher
intellectual
operations.
Condillac
may superfi
cially
seem to adhere to this mainstream
cognitive
model,
but
my
thesis
is that in
reality
Condillac
upsets
this
accepted opposition, blurring
the
distinction between rational and
poetic languages,
and
opening
the door
to a more fluid and relativistic view not
only
of
language
and reason but
also the interaction of emotion and reason in sensualist
philosophy.
I
contend
that,
for
Condillac,
the emotional side of man is so
essential to
his
capacity
to reason that the
poetic
elements of
language
cannot
truly
be set in
opposition
to,
or be subordinated
to,
language's
rational ele
ments. To this
end,
my study
will
explore
the "emotive
spectacle"
of
man's earliest natural
language,
the
poetic
elements of
prosody,
inver
sion,
and
metaphor
in
early
institutional
languages,
and
finally poetic
ex
pression
in modern
languages
as the central element in human
progress.
Condillac's
primary goal
in the Essai is to combat Cartesian innatism
by demonstrating
that man has no
natural,
formal
reasoning capacity.
For
Condillac,
the mind is a clean slate?even cleaner than the one
proposed
by
Locke.3 Descartes claims that all of man's mental functions
are innate?
both in terms of the
conception
of ideas and the
ability
to reason with
those ideas. Locke counters Descartes
by insisting
that man has
no innate
ideas. All ideas are
obtained
through
sense
perception.
Locke, however,
allows
man an innate
capacity
to
reason,
just
as Descartes does. Condillac
goes
a
step
further than Locke and seeks to eliminate all that
can be con
sidered innate in man's mental faculties. Like
Locke,
he states that ideas
originate
in sense
perception,
but then insists that
man cannot reason
clearly
and
distinctly
without
language.
His
argument
is that
analytical
reasoning
is
by
nature
formal,
and formal
logic
is
propositional
and there
fore
dependent
upon language. Many
seventeenth- and
eighteenth-cen
tury
thinkers
following
the basic rationalist
theory
of mind of
Descartes,
had held that
thought
exists
independently
of
language,
and that lan
guage
merely
expresses
man's ideas.
Starting
with Condillac?who in
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CONDILLAC'S THEORY OF LANGUAGE AND MIND 159
turn is followed
by
thinkers such
as La
Mettrie, Rousseau,
Maupertuis,
and
even
Herder?there is a shift
away
from this
paradigm
and toward
the idea that
language produces
or at least influences reason.
By making
this
shift,
Condillac is then left to narrate the
origin
of
language
to show
that
language
itself is not innate.4
According
to
Condillac,
primitive
man is
just
as
incapable
of reason as
an
animal
(34-36).
He has
feelings
and sensations
(and
therefore
ideas)
but he has
no
language
and therefore
no true reason.
However,
man does
have
a limited number of
intuitive,
emotional outcries that reflect his sen
sations and
feelings:
les cris naturels introduisent necessairement
l'usage
des inflexions vio
lentes,
puisque
differents sentiments ont
pour signe
le meme son varie
sur differents tons.
Ah,
par exemple,
selon la maniere dont il est
prononce, exprime
[...]
presque
tous les sentiments de Tame.
(105)
The earliest sounds emitted
by
the voice are at their
core
violent and ani
mal,
and thus are not
unique
to
man,
allowing
Condillac to maintain the
proposition
that there are no
specifically
human innate
capacities. Only
man's
environment,
his
greater variety
of needs and his lesser natural
ability
to survive
require
him to invent
language
while other animals
survive
perfectly
well without it.5 But it is debatable whether the natural
cries that constitute man's first
language
are
really language
at
all,
and
many
of Condillac's
contemporaries,
such as
Rousseau,
La
Mettrie,
and
Herder,
argue
both sides of the issue. Condillac's stance is that while
man's first
language
is not an
articulate
language,
it is nevertheless
a
pre
cursor to it.6 For
Condillac,
the elements of this
proto-language
are im
petuous
sounds
expressing
brute
feelings
with an
intense
power
and
energy.
Such brute
expression
acts as a
linguistic
DNA which determines
the form of future
language.
The
key
caracteristic of this code is
inflexion,
which is
meaning
at this
stage.
Its sound
quality,
timbre,
and vocal inten
sity
denote the full
range
of
early
man's
psychological
states. The
primi
tive
sign
is a
paradox
of
alterity
and
identity,
in which each of a
limited
number of
signifiers
is
polysemie,
where
simple
sounds
encompass
com
plex
affective states.7
Condillac theorizes that
early
man uses
gesture
to
complement
his cries.
He
gives
the
example
of two
primitive
men,
one
of whom is in a state of
need,
the other who
comes to his aid. The
first,
who suffers from the
pri
vation of an
object
which his
bodily
needs
require
him to
have,
does not
simply cry
out for the unattainable
object.
He
attempts
to
grab
the item
and flails his
head, arms,
and
legs
in
desperation.
The other man
is alerted
by
this
disturbance,
and turns his attention to the
object
of the first man's
efforts. He feels emotions that he himself does not
understand, and,
dri
ven
by sympathy?in
itself an
effect of
identity
and
alterity
("il
souffrait
de voir souffrir ce
miserable")?he
relates to and feels the need to
help
the
other
(100).
Condillac is
very
careful to avoid in his narrative
any
allusion
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160 FRENCH REVIEW 80.1
to reason or
intent in the mind of either
party.
Takesada indicates that this
takes
place
in an
"instinctive" manner
(49).
This is true to the extent that it
is
unintentional,
and to the extent that our
understanding
of "instinctive"
corresponds
to Condillac's definition of instinct as an
ingrained
habit?a
definintion to which Takesada does indeed
successfully
remain faithful?
and which
explains
how the
understanding
of such communications takes
place.
On the other
hand,
what
can
be added to Takesada's assessment of
that
process,
in terms of the
output
of
expression,
is that it is natural
and,
most
importantly,
emotional,
since the
"speaker"
is
simply throwing
a
temper
tantrum. The listener is
merely
startled
by
the
commotion,
and
feels
sorry
for him. Pecharman
very rightly emphasizes
the "theatraliza
tion of human needs" in Condillac's
thought
(101-02).
The
significance
of
this theatralization can be extended
even
further,
in that this
primitive
communication,
which Condillac calls the
"language
of
action,"
is
nothing
more than
an emotive
spectacle,
a
comedy
of human
need, frustration,
and
compassion.
The
primitive sign
itelf is
a
drama whose
signifier
is
movement of the the voice and the
body
and whose
signified
is emotion.
Condillac's
very language
of action is a
theatrical illusion of communica
tion and
understanding.
Condillac's focus
on the
expression
of emotional
states,
sets him in
op
position
to
contemporaries
such
as Smith or
Herder,
who
see
primitive
expressions
as nominative in nature.8 For such
nominalists,
early
lan
guage
is
inherently objective.
For Condillac its emotional basis makes
primitive language inherently subjective.
This
subjective,
emotional lin
guistic prototype
is the
source of three
"poetic"
features of
early
institu
tional
language?prosody,
inversions,
and
figures.
Condillac describes each in
turn,
beginning
with
prosody:
La
parole,
en succedant
au
langage
d'action,
en conserva le caractere.
Cette nouvelle maniere de
communiquer
nos
pensees,
ne
pouvait
etre
imaginee que
sur le modele de la
premiere.
Ainsi,
pour
tenir la
place
des
mouvements violents du
corps,
la voix s'eleva et s'abaissa
par
des inter
valles fort sensibles.
(104-05)
The articulate elements of
spoken language
and the
language
of action's
primitive system
of screams
and
gestures parallel
each other. In the first
place, they
both
express
affective
impulses
such that an
effect is
pro
duced
on another
person.
Primitive
speech
exteriorizes man's
psychical
states in an act of emotional mimesis.9 In the second
place
both forms of
expression
are movement-based. The
language
of action is a
language
of
movement in a
very
literal
physical
sense.
Early speech reproduces
the
movements of the
language
of action in its modification of vocal tone.
The
rising
and
falling
of the voice is
just
as
impetuous,
brutal,
forceful
and
energetic
as man's
previous physical
communication.10 In a
sense,
these two elements of emotion and movement
overlap.
The earliest rela
tional
thought
and the earliest communication come from one
primitive
man
being
moved
(from
the latin "emovere"
or "to set into
movement")
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CONDILLAC'S THEORY OF LANGUAGE AND MIND 161
by
another's
plight,
and motivated
(from
the latin "motivus"
or "mo
bile")
to
help
him. Primitive
speech
possesses
the same
expressive
power
for
feelings
and sensations
as the
language
of
action,
and does so
through
the imitation of movement in its content and form.
The second
poetic concept
that Condillac associates with the formation
of the earliest
languages
is that of "inversion."
Just
as with the
prosody
of
early language, syntactic
inversions
occur because
early speech
takes on
the word order of the
language
of action
(136-37).
Condillac theorizes that
the name of the
object
of one's attention
is,
in the
language
of
action,
pro
nounced
at the same time that
one indicates the
object
with a
gesture,
thereby signifying
an emotional state. As
gestural language gives
way
to
spoken language,
the
name
of the
object
is
spoken
first,
since it is the most
familiar of the vocal
signs
involved. Thus
one
says
"fruit
want,"
inverting
what
polished logical languages
hold to be the rational order of
subjet
verb-object
(136-37).
Initially
in the Condillacian
origins
of
thought
and
language,
the
only subject
is the first
person.
As man evolves
mentally,
the use of other
subjects
renders the
subject-verb-object
order
necessary.
However,
even in
established,
analytical languages, speakers
revert to
syn
tactic inversion for a
variety
of reasons. Condillac outlines four main func
tions of inversions in modern institutional
languages:
Le
premier,
c'est de donner
plus
d'harmonie
au discours.
[...]
Un autre
avantage,
c'est
d'augmenter
la force et la vivacite du
style:
cela
parait par
la facilite
qu'on
a de mettre
chaque
mot a la
place
ou il doit naturelle
ment
produire
le
plus
d'effet.
[...]
De ce second
avantage
[...]
il en nait un
troisieme,
c'est
qu'elles
font un
tableau,
je
veux dire
qu'elles
reunissent
dans
un
seul mot les circonstances d'une
action,
en
quelque
sorte comme
un
peintre
les reunit sur une
toile: si elles s'offraient Tune
apres
Tautre,
ce ne serait
qu'un simple
recit.
[...]
Le dernier
avantage que je
trouve
dans ces sortes de
constructions,
c'est de rendre le
style plus precis.
En
accoutumant
l'esprit
a
rapporter
un terme a ceux
qui,
dans la meme
phrase,
en sont les
plus eloignes,
elles Taccoutument
a en eviter la
repeti
tion.
(151-53)
Inversion is both structural and semantic. The
prime quality
of inversion
is
harmony,
a
"musical" feature which renders discourse
agreeable
to the
ear.
Musicality
is,
in
essence,
a
metaphor
for the relation between institu
tional
language
and the
language
of action. Musical
harmony
is the
com
bination of sounds
perceived simultaneously. Melody
on
the other hand
consists of the successive
production
of sounds in a
linear form. This
op
position corresponds perfectly
to the
opposition
of
language
of action
and articulate
speech.
In contrast with Rousseau's ideas on
language
and
music,11
Condillac's model
implies
that the
language
of action "harmo
niously"
combines all of its
signifying
elements
simultaneously,
whereas
articulate
speech "melodically" lays
them out one
by
one. Thus
harmony,
even in institutional
language, represents
a
structural link with man's
primitive
natural
language.
At the same
time,
the
impact
of inversion
goes beyond
form. The inversion adds an
intensity
or
power
to discourse
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162 FRENCH REVIEW 80.1
and renders it more
lively.
Inverted
speech
has
an
emotional
aspect,12
and
the
weight
of its emotional
signification represents
a
semiotic link with
the content of earlier
expression.
By bringing
these two elements of harmonious form and emotional con
tent
together,
inversion transforms
ordinary speech
into art. Condillac
insists on
the aesthetic
quality
of inversions which
create,
through
lan
guage,
a
pictoral representation.
In terms of the
epistemological
basis of
such
mimesis,
Demoris has indicated that "la naturalite du
principe
d'imitation n'est
pas
plus
mise en
question que
celle du
principe
^'identi
fication"
(383).
In addition to the
importance
of imitation in basic
cogni
tion,
the mimesis mechanism identified
by
Demoris can be
applied
to
this
present study,
since the
painting-like images
created
through
inver
sion
highlight
the
paradoxical
combination of
unity
and
plurality
in the
polysemic
nature of a
single sign.
The
syntactic
element of the inversion
ties
together multiple signifieds
in a
fashion that
permits
not
only
the
expression
of a
single
idea but also the circumstances
surrounding
it. I
would
suggest
that Thomas's view
that,
for
Condillac,
the
simultaneity
of
perception
"cannot be
captured
in the instantaneous
glance,
but must
be reconstructed in method
through
a
process
of directed
analsysis"
(152)
can be seen to come
directly
into
play
within the discussion of
inversions,
as
the inverted structure becomes a
signifier
in its own
right, denoting,
even more
importantly
than the
signifieds
it
combines,
the connections
between them.13
For Condillac the connective
polysemia
inherent in inversion renders
expression
more exact and
precise. Intuitively
one would assume the
op
posite
to be true. But for the
abbe,
a
single
inverted
sign
with a
plurality
of
meanings
is clearer than
multiple sequential signs
each
representing
a
single
idea,
since in an
inversion,
multiple
elements
directly
related to
a
particular
notion
are
inherently expressed
in a
single expression.
With
out the
inversion,
such ideas would need to be
expressed linearly
further
along
in the
sentence,
at a
syntactic
distance from the other ideas to which
they
are
attached,
thus
causing
the listener to make a mental "stretch" in
order to
put
the connected elements
together.
Inversion eliminates this
stretch. In a
sense,
this
poetic
feature of inversion makes
language
more
rational.
Condillac also
explores
a third
poetic
element?the formation of
figures
and
metaphors?in early
institutional
languages:
"le
style,
afin de
copier
les
images
sensibles du
langage
d'action,
adopta
toutes sortes de
figures
et de
metaphores,
et fut
une vraie
peinture"
(130).
Here
again
the abbe
qualifies language
as a
polysemic pictoral representation.
He
gives
the
example
of
how,
in the
language
of
action,
in order to
represent
the idea
of a
frightened
individual,
the
only
means available is to imitate the cries
and movements of fear. In the
early stages
of articulate
language,
man
needs
expressions
that strike the listener with the same force: "Un seul
mot
qui
ne
peint
rien,
eut ete
trop
faible
pour
succeder immediatement au
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CONDILLAC'S THEORY OF LANGUAGE AND MIND 163
langage
d'action"
(130).
Early
men's minds are so
primitive
that articulate
sounds
can
only reproduce
such action
through images
and
figures?a
form of communication which involves the
compilation
of connected se
miotic elements in a
single expressive
instant. As
primitive speech
can
never
really produce
the "mot
juste," speakers
are
required
to combine
multiple
elements in a
single "signifier,"
thus
"overexpressing"
in order
to be understood. This semiotic
overloading
is
responsible
for the first
fig
ure?pleonasm
(130).14
By
similar
(albeit
unspecified)
methods,
Condillac
pretends
that all
figures
and
metaphors
have this basis of invention?the
creation of
speech
that
can be understood
by
the
primitive
mind.
An
important
feature of these
figurative
and
metaphorical expressions
is that
they
are
responsible
for the
making
of abstract terms:
L'imagination
travailla
pour
trouver dans les
objets qui frappent
les sens
des
images
de ce
qui
se
passait
dans l'interieur de Tame.
[...]
on se con
tenta d'avoir trouve
un
rapport quelconque
entre une action de Tame et
une action du
corps pour
donner le meme nom a Tune et a l'autre.
(142)
Abstract terms are a crucial
part
of Condillacian
logic
(40-42).
Yet
they
are the invention of
imagination,
thus
linking
reason to
fantasy,
creativ
ity,
and artistic
inspiration.
Takesada's view that "le
progres
des
opera
tions de Tame et celui de
l'usage
des
signes
sont etroitement
imbriques
et
l'imagination,
comme instance de
liaison,
occupe
une
place
centrale dans
cette double evolution"
(47)
is an
important point.
The idea that
imagina
tion is the
key
to
cognitive-linguistic
evolution deserves
more
discussion
than it
generally
receives. In terms of this
present study,
it should be rec
ognized
that at the center of the
imagination's process
of abstraction is a
dichotomy
of
interior/exterior
signification,
in the sense that the
process
of abstraction is the creation of an
analogy
between two
seemingly
unre
lated
images?one
from outside the
body
and one from "within the
soul." The creation of abstract
signs
is rooted in the same
play
of
identity
and
alterity
as man's earliest cries and that of man's earliest
linguistic
interaction with his fellow
man. For Condillac as well as for
many
of his
contemporaries,
such as Rousseau
or
Herder,
all terms not
denoting
con
crete
objects
are
metaphors,
based
on
this
type
of
quasi-analogy:
"On voit
evidemment comment tous ces noms ont ete
figures
dans leur
origine"
(143).15
But for
Condillac,
this takes
on an
additional
importance
in that
the
operation
of abstraction is a
fusion of man's reason
and his creative
imagination.
Ultimately,
all of
early
articulate
language's qualities,
from the sounds it
uses for
signs,
to its
intonation,
its word
order,
and its
meanings,
are
infused one
way
or
another with
poetic
elements of the
language
of action.
The earliest
languages
are
entirely poetic
in
nature,
composed
of an
exag
gerated prosody,
inverted
syntax,
and
figurative
and
metaphorical signi
fiers. Condillac theorizes that as
languages develop they begin
to become
less
dependent upon
these
poetic signifying
elements. In its earliest
stages,
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164 FRENCH REVIEW 80.1
articulate
language depends
on
the model of the
language
of action
because the human mind knows
nothing
else. As more terms are
invented,
the mind becomes more accustomed to
working
with words and ideas
rather than
images
and emotions. The concrete
signifieds
of
metaphorical
expressions
are
lost,
and all that remain are abstract
signs. Syntax
also
takes
on a new
order,
because the
gradual
evolution of the mind
requires
it. As word
meanings
become clearer and sentence structure
stabilizes,
the
movement factor inherent in
early language
becomes
an
unnecessary
exer
tion. Man
begins
to
speak
in
prose
rather than
poetry
(131-32).
However,
even
here there is in the
progress
of the human mind no
sep
aration of
poetic expression
from rational
language,
and
no
subordina
tion of the former to the latter. For
poetic expression, though
no
longer
used for
ordinary everyday expression,
is still
preserved by
writers: "les
auteurs
adopterent
le
langage
ancien,
comme
plus
vif et
plus
propre
a se
graver
dans la memoire:
unique moyen
de faire
passer pour
lors leurs
ouvrages
a la
posterite.
On donna differentes
regies
pour
en
augmenter
l'harmonie,
et on en fit
un art
particulier"
(131).
While
on the surface it
might
seem that from this
point
on
poetry
and
logic
would follow
sep
arate
paths,
this is not the case. In
fact,
for
Condillac,
this "art
particulier"
is
directly
linked to all
progress
in human
knowledge
after the formation
of institutional
languages:
Quand
un
genie
a
decouvert le caractere d'une
langue,
il
l'exprime
vive
ment et le soutient dans tous ses
ecrits. Avec ce
secours,
le reste des
gens
a
talents,
qui auparavant
n'eussent
pas
ete
capables
de le
penetrer
d'eux
rnemes,
l'aperqoivent
sensiblement,
et
l'expriment
a son
exemple,
cha
cun dans son
genre.
La
langue
s'enrichit
peu
a
peu
de
quantite
de
nouveaux tours
qui, par
le
rapport qu'ils
ont a son
caractere,
le
develop
pent
de
plus
en
plus;
et
l'analogie
devient comme un flambeau dont la
lumiere
augmente
sans cesse
pour
eclairer un
plus grand
nombre d'ecri
vains. Alors tout le monde tourne naturellement les
yeux
sur ceux
qui
se
distinguent:
leur
gout
devient le
gout
dominant de la nation: chacun
apporte,
dans les matieres
auxquelles
il
s'applique,
le discernement
qu'il
a
puise
chez eux: les talents fermentent: tous les arts
prennent
le carac
tere
qui
leur est
propre,
et l'on voit des hommes
superieurs
dans tous les
genres.
(164)
Condillac
plays
with the word
"genie."
In the first
place,
he uses
the
term to refer to an
individual
or to a mind that
possesses special apti
tudes
or a natural
disposition capable
of
creations, inventions,
or enter
prises
that
seem
superhuman
or even
supernatural.
At the
same
time,
Condillac
uses the term in a
chapter
entitled "Du
genie
des
langues"
re
ferring
to the character
or
spirit
of individual
languages
that makes each
distinct from all others. Trabant has
convincingly
demonstrated the im
portance
of the
genius
of
language
in Condillac's
philosophy
as "le but et
la fin de sa theorie du
langage"
(83),
suggesting
a certain
circularity
in
that the evolution of
language
leads to this
"genius"
which in turn leads
to further evolution. What is
additionally
of
interest, however,
is what
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CONDILLAC'S THEORY OF LANGUAGE AND MIND 165
could be considered
a second
circularity
in Condillac's
very
use
of the
term,
in that
genius
of
one
type begets genius
of the other
type,
which in
turn
begets genius
of the first
type again.
It is the
person
of
genius
that
manages
to understand and make known the true
genius
or character of
his
language,
which was
previously
hidden from the common conscious
ness of his
linguistic community.
This individual alone
sees
the real
nature and
quality
of that
system
of
expression, rendering
it
perceptible
by
his own
forceful,
intense
expression
of that character. This forceful
and intense
expression parallels,
across eons of
linguistic
evolution,
the
same
force and
intensity
of man's
primal
emotional
cries,
his
language
of
action,
and his
early prosody,
inversions,
and
figures.
The
ability
to discover this character of the
language
is what consitutes
the difference between the creative
genius
and the
merely
talented. Those
who are
talented,
whatever their natural or
acquired gifts
and
aptitudes,
cannot
pierce
the
mysteries
of the
language's
character.
They
cannot ex
ceed the limitations of their own
cognitive-linguistic impotence. Only
the
genius
with his
near-supernatural abilility
to
penetrate language's
essence
truly
creates new
language.
In a
sense,
he becomes for Condillac
a sort of
Socratic
"name-giver"
without whose
help language
would
go
nowhere.
However,
this individual of
genius
is not
just any person
of
genius?he
is
specifically
a writer. For
Condillac,
it is
only by expressing
the
newly
discovered character of the
language
in
writing
that this
discovery
can be
given any stability.
The written form of
literary composition
defends the
new
expression
from the
ravages
of time and
forgetfulness.16
But while the
progress
of a
society begins
with the
literary genius
for
Condillac,
that
progress
is not limited to
language,
since all
progress
is
analogous
for the abbe. The close
relationship
between
language
and rea
son means that the evolution of
language
is
equivalent
to an evolution in
human
understanding,
an
evolution of
analytical
method,
and
an evo
lution of how we
put
information
together
and move
forward to new
knowledge.
In the hands of the Condillacian
language-maker,
a
linguistic
community's system
of communication becomes
more
abundant,
grow
ing
in
metaphors, tropes,
and
figures,
and thus new
words and struc
tures. The
literary genius's
work
may initially appear
as
nothing
more
than a
linguistic
exercise of
extraordinary difficulty,
destined
only
to
serve as
printed spectacle
to entertain a literate
public.
But the
driving
force of
analogy
takes
hold,
and shows the
new
modes of
expression
to
be
worthy
of
replication.
All individuals of talent in all fields and cate
gories
of work or
endeavor,
having
now
perceived
this
adjustment
to the
language
that is their
analytical
framework,
adopt
it in their turn.
The
widespread adoption
of the
newly
discovered
aspects
of the char
acter of
a
language
are the basis for
enlightenment
for Condillac. His
entire
metaphorical explanation
of the
adoption
of new
modes of ex
pression
and
thinking
centers around the small semantic network of
"flambeau," "lumiere,"
"eclairer." To Du Marsais's future claim that "le
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166 FRENCH REVIEW 80.1
philosophe
marche la
nuit,
mais il est
precede
d'un flambeau"
(12: 509),
Condillac would
certainly
have added that the torch is the work of the
literary genius.
The taste and aesthetics of the
literary genius
are
inseparable
from the
concept
of wider
progress.
All of the arts?not
only
the "beaux
arts,"
but
also the liberal
arts,
the
mechanical,
military
and
political
arts as well?
benefit from the
linguistic evolutionary surge sparked by
the writer
(164).
In the
end,
for
Condillac,
"c'est aux
poetes que
nous avons les
pre
miers et
peut-etre
les
plus grandes obligations.
[...]
les
progres
subits du
langage
sont-ils
toujours l'epoque
de
quelque grand poete".
(165)
At all levels of
linguistic
evolution?from the
primitive language
of
action to
early
and modern institutional
languages,
emotion and
poetic
expression play key
roles. The
imagination engages
the mind in a
contin
ual
play
of
identity
and
alterity, objectivity
and
subjectivity,
and
a
cy
clical
passage
from emotional
impulse
to
poetic expression
to new
language
and therefore new
analytical
structures. The
cyclical
nature of
this
passage
and the continual fusion of emotional and
poetic
elements
with the rational is the basis of
my
claim that Condillac distances himself
from the mainstream
ideology,
identified
by
Cassirer,
that held these ele
ments to be
"merely"
an
impulse
to the rational
operations
of the mind.
For each level of
language
is different from the
last,
and
yet
at the heart
of each is
always
a
single overriding principal,
that of movement: the
movements of vocal inflexion and the
body
in the
language
of
action,
which
serve as
models for
prosody, polysemia
and
metaphor, expressive
force,
and inversion in institutional
languages.
Each of these
poetic
ele
ments?either
through
the
reproduction
of the
physical
movements of
the voice and
body
of the
language
of
action,
through
the movement of
meaning
within the
sign
(where
the
signifier
is
displaced
from
signified
to
signified), through
the effect of "force"
(for
force in
general produces
movement,
and "force of
expression" yields
"movement of the
soul"),
or
through
the
shifting
of
syntactic
elements within a sentence?creates as
much movement in modern discourse
as there once was in man's
origi
nal communication.
Addressing
the
problem
of
poetic
versus rational
languages,
one must
conclude that for Condillac
a
purely
rational
language, existing separate
from,
and in
opposition
to,
poetic languages,
can in no sense be consid
ered ideal. Nor
can a
purely poetic language
be
preferred.17
I would
argue
that the
problem
with
any language
at the extreme ends of the
spectrum
is that neither would allow for
progress.
Reason is
a
key
com
ponent
of
progress
in
eighteenth-century thought.
So
any language
of
"unreason" is unthinkable
as a
vehicle of
progress.
However,
the emo
tion and
creativity
of the
imagination
is a
necessary component
of reason
for Condillac.
Progress
is
movement,
and this
point
is consistent with the fact that the
parts
of
language
which
express
movement?emotional content and
poetic
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CONDILLAC'S THEORY OF LANGUAGE AND MIND 167
form?play
such
a
substantial role in Condillac's narrative of intellectual
progress.
Indeed,
there can be
no
greater
force
acting against
innatism?
Condillac's
philosophical
enemy
number one?than that of movement.
Innatism
requires
a
stable,
immutable
universe,
and an
unwavering
truth
passed
from God to man. A movement-based
metaphysics changes
this.
Nothing
can be immutable in an
ever-changing
universe,
nor can ideas
ever
be innate in man's
ever-changing
intellect.
It is therefore not
surprising
that Condillac ends his Essai on the follow
ing
note:
Je
finis
par proposer
ce
probleme
au
lecteur.
L'ouvrage
d'un homme
etant
donne,
determiner le caractere et Tetendue de son
esprit,
et dire en
consequence
non
seulement
quels
sont les talents dont il donne des
preuves,
mais encore
quels
sont ceux
qu'il peut acquerir: prendre, par
exemple,
la
premiere piece
de
Corneille,
et demontrer
que, quand
ce
poete
la
composait,
il avait
deja,
ou du moins aurait bientot tout le
genie
qui
lui
a
merite de si
grands
succes.
(190)
Condillac's Essai
is,
at its
core,
an
analysis
of man's intellectual facul
ties. If we take this final
problem
as a framework for
examining
the Essai
itself,
it becomes evident
that,
for the
abbe,
the
analysis
of man's faculties
and their historical evolution is an
endeavor whose focus is to trace the
path
of future
development.
In this effort
past
and future
are
inextricably
linked. Condillac's choice to
present
Corneille
as a
model in his final
pas
sage
is also
significant.
The abbe selects not a scientist or
mathematician,
no
military
leader
or
king,
no
philosopher
or
theologian,
but rather a
man
whom he
specifically designates
as
poet.
For in the end
poetic
ex
pression
is the
linch-pin
that must hold Condillac's sensualism
together,
and sets sensualism
apart
from traditional views on order of universe
and
thought
that define rationalism. What is true for Condillac in identi
fying
the
progress
of an individual of
genius,
a
poet,
such as
Corneille,
is
by
extension
paralleled by
the
development
of human intellect as a
whole
throughout
a
society
or even the
species.
The
genius
of the indi
vidual is a combined function of
feeling, expression,
and
reason,
and
these
elements,
the
very
seeds of
genius
and
progress,
are all simultane
ously present
at all
stages
of
development
from
past
to future. As it is
with the
individual,
so it is with the
group.
It is in
poetic expression,
with
its forces of
movement,
that the
primitive
life of the
body
resonates still
within the modern rational
mind,
and in which one
finds the center of all
mental
development
of
society
or of the
species
as a whole. There is in
human reason
always
and
everywhere
an
element,
however small
or
dis
tant,
of that
emotional-poetic
echo. And this echo is the
key component
in the creation of a
viable
replacement
for
innatism,
enabling
Condillac's
sensualist
theory
to be rid of
any
inborn elements
by linking
mind and
body
in an
always fluctuating relationship
of mutual
dependence
that
defies the rationalist notion of reason as
eternal and
invariable,
and
sep
arate from the
passions.
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168 FRENCH REVIEW 80.1
In
distancing
himself from from the
proponents
of Cartesian
innatism,
Condillac also
separates
himself from
contemporaries
such as Rivarol and
others who
relegate
emotional,
poetic expression
to a
lower status than
logical expression.
For the interrelation of reason and
feeling
means that
reason does not overcome the
power
of emotion.
Instead,
human lan
guage
becomes the mechanism of
reason,
harnessing
the
power
of emo
tion in the construction of mankind's future.
Ohio University
Notes
aAll
page
number references for Condillac are to the
Essai,
unless otherwise noted.
2Diderot (Sourds 113-14),
Rivarol
(44),
and Court de Gebelin
(45)
promote
such a
theory.
On the other hand Beattie is a staunch defender of
English
and a harsh critic of French
(240).
3Pariente also
emphasizes
Condillac's anti-innatist stance
(3).
4Condillac would later state that
"l'analyse
de la
pensee
est toute faite dans le discours
[...].
C'est
ce
qui
me
fait considerer les
langues
comme autant de methodes
analytiques"
(Cours
2:
427).
The rationalist stance that
language expresses thought
is seen in Descartes
(109-11),
Lancelot and Arnauld
(5),
Beattie
(234; 239),
Court de Gebelin
(1),
and Monboddo
(1: 5).
The Condillacian stance is seen in La Mettrie
(163-64),
Rousseau
(Discours 198-99),
Maupertuis
(31-32),
and even Herder
(116).
For excellent treatments of this
point
see
Auroux,
Joly, Swiggers,
and Simone.
5Coski
(62-67).
6A similar idea is seen in Rousseau
(Discours 205)
and La Mettrie
(160),
though
Herder
argues
the
opposite
(87-99).
^any contemporaries
of Condillac show the
polysemic
nature of
early signs,
such as
Rousseau
(Discours 205),
and
Maupertuis
(34).
Such
multiplicity
of
meaning
is,
for
Diderot,
the
very
soul of
poetic expression
(Sourds 116).
*See Smith
(225)
and Herder
(116).
9Demoris also underlines the
importance
of mimesis
(383).
10Rousseau has a similar idea
(Discours 225).
"Rousseau sees
melody
as
simple
and
natural,
while
harmony
is artificial
(Essai 123-24).
12Ricken underlines the emotional
quality
of inversion
(189).
13For more on the
simultaneity
of human
perception
in
Condillac,
see Pariente
(4)
and
Thomas
(152).
14Turgot
also
agrees
that
original
words are
metaphorical,
but
they
are too
"grossiers"
to
make?
any
contribution to human
progress
(64).
15See Rousseau
(Essai 68)
and Herder
(156).
16An idea that can be traced back at least as far as the
Defense
et illustration de la
langue
franqaise.
17Takesada
presents
an
interesting
discussion of Condillac's ideal
"middle-ground"
lan
guage
(55).
Works cited
Auroux,
Sylvain.
"Condillac,
inventeur d'un nouveau materialisme". Dix-huitieme siecle 24
(1992):
153-63.
Beattie, James. "Theory
of
Language."
1783. The
Philosophical
and Critical Works
of
James
Beattie. Ed. Bernhard Fabion. Hildesheim:
Verlag,
1974.
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CONDILLAC'S THEORY OF LANGUAGE AND MIND 169
Berkeley, George.
1710. Treatise
Concerning
the
Principles of
Human
Knowledge.
New York:
Bobbs-Merrill,
1957.
Cassirer,
Ernst. The
Philosophy of
the
Enlightenment.
Trans. Fritz Koelln and
James
Pette
grove.
Princeton: Princeton
UP,
1951.
Condillac,
Etienne Bonnot abbe de. Cours d'etudes
pour
Vinstruction du Prince de Parme. 1776.
CEuvres
philosophiques.
Ed.
Georges
Le
Roy.
3 vols. Paris: PU de
France,
1947-51.
_
.
Essai sur
I'origine
des connaissances humaines. 1746. Paris:
Vrin,
2002.
Coski,
R.
Christopher.
"Condillac:
Language, Thought
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