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Since the middle of the eighteenth century the concept of the association of ideas has increasingly been seen as the most basic, the most fecund, and the most pervasive explanatory principle in the human and, to a lesser extent, the biological sciences. The tendency to identify the association of ideas with the school of associationist psychology which flourished in the late nineteenth century has helped to obscure the fact that the principle in its most general form has played the central role in attempts to apply the methods and assumptions of science to the study of man. The principle has aspects: (1) that complex mental phenomena are formed from simple elements derived ultimately from sensations and (2) that the mechanism by which these are formed depends on similarity and/or repeated juxtaposition of the simple elements in space and time. The association of ideas provides a mechanism for ordered change through experience which complements (and plays an analogous role to) the concept of attraction (or gravity) in the physico-chemical sciences. Aside from its obvious position in empiricist epistemology and in psychological theories of learning, it has played a fundamental role in the idea of progress; in utilitarian legislative, economic, and moral theory; in theories of organic evolution; in functionalist social theory; in theories of the functions of the nervous system; and in psychoanalysis. Many of these theories are themselves closely interrelated and can be seen as parts of a coherent tradition in the history of ideas.

In the first systematic elaboration of an associationist theory of mind and brain, David Hartley points out the long prehistory of the concept:

The influence of Association over our Ideas, Opinions, and Affections, is so great and obvious, as scarce to have escaped the Notice of any Writer who has treated of these, though the word Association, in the particular Sense here affixed to it, was first brought into Use by Mr. Locke. But all that has been delivered by the Ancients and Moderns , concerning the Power of Habit, Custom, Example Education, Authority, Party-prejudice, the Manner of learning the manual and liberal arts, &c. goes upon this Doctrine as its Foundation and may be considered as the Detail of it, in various Circumstances" (Observations on Man [1749], I, 65).

It is true, as so often in the history of ideas, that aspects of the association of ideas were mentioned by numerous writers prior to Locke, e.g., Plato, Aristotle, Vives, Hobbes. The development of the concept as a central principle of explanation depended, however, on a series of related developments in seventeenth-century ontology, epistemology, and scientific methodology, most of which were formulated in opposition to aspects of the Aristotelian tradition. These combined to provide an intellectual context in which the association of ideas became the central explanatory conception in the interpretation of the nonmaterial world.

The twin impacts of Cartesian mind-body dualism and of the increasing acceptance of the mechanical philosophy as the most fruitful interpretation of the material world separated man’s mind from his body and from the world of objects outside the mind, and made the epistemological problem of how we acquire veridical knowledge more, not less, acute. If one accepted, as Locke did, the mind-body dualism but did not share Descartes’ belief in innate ideas, the explanation of the acquisition of knowledge and the operations of the mind was left (literally) with no materials with which to work.

It is possible to interpret Descartes’ views on man and on animal automatism as providing the basis for a theory of conditioning, and this interpretation was made in France and again in nineteenth-century Britain, e.g., by T. H. Huxley, thereby placing his work as a seminal influence on the early development of associationism. In more recent times Descartes has been credited with such a theory, but these last attributions are clearly examples of "Whig" historiography - looking for precursors without considering the contemporary (as opposed to the current) intellectual context. The theory is here being considered as it was understood in the seventeenth century, with particular reference to the reception of Descartes' ideas in Britain. His epistemology and his ontology, implied a rigid dualism, and his ideas on acquired, involuntary movements provided no warrant for a learning theory, since learning referred to "experience" in the mental realm. In order to attribute to him a theory of conditioning which could be said to be relevant to human learning, one would have to commit an anachronism. In establishing the contemporary impact of his views-and especially in considering the reactions of Locke, Gay, and Newton as precursors to Hartley-it is necessary to take care not to interpret Descartes' automatism as applying to human learning. It is important to appreciate that the British (unlike the French) did not interpret Descartes as implying a theory of automatic learning, if only because they considered his mechanistic physiology very crude and were not prepared to indulge in the reductionism which is required to derive a theory of human learning from his views on animals and on the passions of men. The modern fusion of the Cartesian animal physiology with associationism was a product of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Descartes defined the concept of mind negatively as all that does not pertain to the body. The concepts which were proving so fruitful in physics and astronomy were unavailable to epistemology and psychology. The mind was not for Descartes a possible object for scientific knowledge. It was unextended and indivisible, and its essence was thought or free will. The philosophical consequence of this situation was that there was no language for describing mind except by analogy.

Locke wished to emphasize the primacy of experience in the acquisition of ideas. He took the units of experience from contemporary, non-Cartesian expressions of the mechanical philosophy. Despite their common medical experience, Locke, like Hartley, drew his analogies for the analysis of experience from physics. His general mechanical point of view was Newtonian, but the physics of his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) was the corpuscular physics of Robert Boyle, while the epistemology owes much to Pierre Gassendi's revived atomistic sensationalism. Thus Locke laid the foundation of one aspect of associationism in accounting for the origin of ideas by means of the juxtaposition in experience of simple ideas to form complex ones. This was a mechanistic, though not a materialistic, epistemology. It is often pointed out that the section called "Of the Association of Ideas" in Locke's Essay was an afterthought. It was a brief discussion added to the fourth edition in 1700 (Book II Sec. xxxiii), to account for aberrant, irrational, and customary connections between ideas. While granting this, one's attention should not be diverted from the fact that although Locke's preoccupation with epistemology led him to give a cursory treatment to the psychological aspects of his views, his discussion of the association of ideas was consistent with and consequent upon the whole complex of ideas which led to the establishment of the empiricist tradition in science and philosophy.

There were two further conceptual prerequisites for the systematic exploitation of Locke's paradigm for interpreting experience. Edmund Law prefaced his translation of Archbishop King's Essay on the Origin of Evil (1731) with a "Preliminary Dissertation concerning the Fundamental Principle of Virtue or Morality." The anonymous author, Rev. John Gay, employed Locke's conception in opposition to the innatist theory of the origin of moral sentiments and disinterested affections advocated by Francis Hutcheson. Gay applied the association of ideas to the domains of ethics and psychology and argued that the moral sense and all the passions were acquired in experience. Men seek pleasure avoid pain, he argued, and the habitual union of these experiences with the principle of association produces our moral and emotional dispositions.

As some men have imagin’d Inmate Ideas, because forgetting how they came by them; so others have set up almost as many distinct Instincts as there are acquired Principles of acting (2nd ed. [1732], p. liii).

Gay's dissertation was the first coherent expression of the main tenets of utilitarian ethical theory and the associationist school of psychology.

The second element which contributed to the systematic associationist view appeared in queries which Isaac Newton raised at the end of the Principia Mathematica and appended to his Optics. These provided a physical basis for the association of ideas (which, it should be recalled, was itself based on a physical analogy). He suggested that the vibrations of corpuscles of light might cause vibrations in the retina of the eye and the brain and produce the sensation of sight. He also noticed the persistence of sensations, e.g., of a glowing coal being whirled in a circle, after the object had moved. Locke had explicitly eschewed speculations on the somatic basis of associations. Newton's queries suggested that the vibrations of physical corpuscles might account for the phenomena of sensation, is propagation in the nervous system, and its persistence, i.e., memory.

In his Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations (1749). David Hartley relates that he had read of Gay’s attempts to deduce all our intellectual pleasures and pains from association and that this had led him to consider the power of association. From this he went on to investigate both its consequences with respect to morality and religion and its physical cause. He developed a systematic psycho-physiology, explicitly drawn from the ideas of Newton, Locke, and Gay, which was based on the association of ideas in the mind and on corpuscular vibrations in the nervous system.

The Doctrine of Vibrations may appear at first Sight to have no Connection with that of Association; however, if these. Doctrines be found in fact to contain the Laws of the Bodily and Mental Powers respectively, they must be related to each other, since the Body and Mind are. One may expect, that Vibrations should infer Association as their Effect, and Association point to Vibrations as its cause (I, 6).

What follows is a tour de force in which Hartley argues, case by case, that physical vibrations in the brain, spinal cord, and nerves are the basis of all sensations, all ideas, and all motions of men and animals and that all learning is the consequence of repetitive juxtapositions of corpuscular vibrations and mental associations in space and time, producing habits according to the pleasure-pain principle. This principle, like that of association, has a long history, but in the new context of corpuscular physics and empiricist epistemology it took on a new significance. The persistence of the pleasure-pain principle in biology, psychology, and the social sciences has allowed these disciplines to employ the physical analogies of the association of ideas without abandoning qualitative concepts based on the subjective world of experience.

Although Hartley was orthodox in his belief that nature and man were the products of Design and saw the concept of utility in the context of Natural Theology, his highly specific exposition of the principle of association in a general psychophysiological learning theory played an important role in the secularization of the concepts of adaptation and utility by providing a mechanism for them. This was part of a wider movement in philosophy and science whereby final causes were replaced by material and efficient ones. Although Hartley's learning theory was confined to individual experience, and the "expectations" discussed in his second volume were concerned with the afterlife, others extended his theory and used it as a general warrant for explaining changing utilities and adaptations by means of the pleasurable and painful results or consequences of actions. The extension of time scale beyond the life-span of an individual made this general paradigm available as a potential mechanism for ideas of progress and evolution. Similarly, although Hartley denied, in a geneal scholium. that his theory had reductionist implications, he did accept its determinist consequences:

The Consequences I mean is that of the Mechanism or Necessity of human Actions, in Opposition to what is generally termed Free-will.....By the Mechanism of human Actions I mean, that each Action results from the previous Circumstances of Body and Mind, in the same manner, and with the same Certainty, as other Effects do from their mechanical Causes;.......(ibid.,500).

Thus, by the mid-eighteenth century two of the main tenets of Cartesian dualism had been effectively challenged-the mind's indivisibility and the concept of free will.

In the same period two other writers had independently, but less systematically, developed sensationalist epistemologies and learning theories under the influence of Locke and Newton. E. B. de Condillac's Traité des sensations (1754) was as seminal on the Continent as Hartley's work was in Britain in the development of the sensationalist and physiological theories of human nature which achieved prominence in the French Enlightenment and in the speculative and experimental work of the Idéologues whose work, in turn, laid the conceptual foundations for the emergence of physiological psychology in France and Germany in the nineteenth century. It was also from this tradition that the Marquis de Condorcet drew the mechanism for his remarkably sanguine L’esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain (1795) and from which J. B. Lamarck drew one aspect of his theory of evolution, that is, the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

Similarly, David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature (1738) was concerned primarily with another topic, epistemology, but he based the principle of causality on the association of ideas ("constant conjunction"). He also grasped the generality of the principle of association:

Here is a kind of attraction, which in the mental world will be found to have as extraordinary effects as in the natural, and to show itself in as many and as various forms. Its effects are everywhere conspicuous; but, as to its causes, they are mostly unknown, and must he resolved into original qualities of human nature, which I pretend not to explain (Book I, Part 1, Sec. IV).

Hume undoubtedly played a crucial part in the development of the empiricist tradition and debates on the issues which he raised were continued in nineteenth-century and in later work in the philosophy of science. However, various extensions of Hartley's doctrine provided the most striking applications of the association of ideas in materialism, utilitarianism, the idea of progress, and evolutionary theories.

All of the principal utilitarian theorists (Joseph Priestley, William Paley, Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, and J. S. Mill) united the search for general (Newtonian) laws of human nature with the psychology of Hartley in the development of their psychological, educational, economic social and legislative theories. The "consequences" of the hedonist or pleasure-pain theory of human nature were progressively reinterpreted as the sanctions of utilitarian reformist theories. In the course of the nineteenth century it became apparent to many that particular policies cannot be deduced from universal principles of human nature, but in the meantime the associationist-utilitarian point of view became the basis of the editorial policies of the journals of the Philosophic Radicals and their partial allies among the Comtists: The Westminster Review, The Leader, The Fortnightly Review. This approach also found an extreme form in the "Gradgrind" approach to education in Britain and resulted in the system of "payment by results" to schoolteachers, whose earnings and facilities depended on the number of their pupils who passed exams.

Although most utilitarian followers of Hartley retained some vestige of mind-body dualism, one of them, Joseph Priestley, interpreted Hartley in a way which foreshadowed conclusions which were later drawn on other grounds. Priestley argued in his edition of Hartley (1775), in a way which was consistent with Priestley's Unitarianism, that Hartley's dualism was superfluous. As Dugald Stewart ruefully observed, Hartley and Condillac's speculations "stopped short of what is called Materialism,..... but touched its threshold. Thither, it must be owned, their philosophy pointed, and thither their followers proceeded" (Encyclopedia Britannica, 8th ed, [1860], 1, 379). Just as Condorcet had drawn on Continental associationism for his idea of inevitable social progress, in England William Godwin's Political Justice (1793) combined the theories of Hartley's first volume with a secular transposition of the hopes expressed in the second volume to argue for inevitable social progress, transcending the limits of the passions and the body. Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations, 1776) had earlier employed the principles of association and utility to account for the causes of economic equilibrium and wealth. His laissez-faire theory based its claims for a natural identity of interests among men on a mixture of theological and utilitarian assumptions. T. R. Malthus reacted strongly against the optimism of Godwin and Condorcet and drew on Smith's principles in his account of the causes of poverty. Unlike Smith, he could not believe that the principle of utility produced harmonious equilibrium, and unlike Godwin and Condorcet, he could not believe that it produced inevitable progress. Rather, he translated the sanctions of pleasure and pain into social terms, and combined them with the conflict between nature’s niggardliness and man’s sexual appetites to produce checks on prosperity and on population itself. Society was in equilibrium because of poverty, vice, misery, famine, war, and death. This equilibrium was a painful one, and what progress there was occurred by means of struggle, slightly tempered by "moral restraint" in the avoidance of premature marriage.

The English parallel to Lamarck's theory of evolution by means of the inheritance of acquired characteristics is to be found in the Zoonomia (1794-96) of Erasmus Darwin (a close friend of Priestley, who shared with him and with Godwin and Condorcet a profound sympathy for the progressive, egalitarian aims of the French Revolution). Once again, Hartley's ideas, suitably secularized and generalized, provided the basis for a general theory of ordered, progressive change through cumulative experience:

The ingenious Dr. Hartley in his work on man, and some other philosophers, have been of the opinion, that our immortal part acquires during this life certain habits of action or of sentiment, which become for ever indissoluble, continuing after death in a future state of existence; and add, that if these habits are of the malevolent kind, they must render the possessor miserable even in heaven. I would apply this ingenious idea to the generation or production of the embryon, or new animal, which partakes so much of the form and propensities of the parent (Zoonomia, Sec. XXXIX),

Darwin argued that animals develop through experience in their lifetimes, and these structural changes are passed on to the next generation, eventually producing the evolution of new species. The second volume of Zoonomia was concerned with medicine and contained an elaborate attempt to classify all diseases on the basis of the pleasure-pain principle and the concepts of sensation, irritation, volition, and association.

Within a century the principles underlying the association of ideas had been extended well beyond their original domain as the source of objections to fixed, designed, innate ideas (Locke). They had provided a basis for all learning and, in biology, for replacement of the belief in fixed species of organisms by one of gradual evolution. The origins of ideas, of knowledge, and of biological species were seen as the result of ordered change through experience. By the last decades of the eighteenth century the paradigm of small, cumulative changes occurring over long periods of time was widely represented in Continental and English thought. Theoreticians in many apparently disparate disciplines were beginning to grasp the fact that very large-scale changes could be accounted for by this general mechanism.

In order to connect the foregoing account with related developments in nineteenth-century biology it is necessary to mention the emergence of uniformitarian geology. The interpretation of the history of the earth in terms of the uniform operation of natural causes over vast periods of time was a part of the wider movement based on belief in the uniformity of nature, of which associationism was a parallel manifestation. The time scale and natural mechanisms of uniformitarian geology, when combined with aspects of naturalistic theories of species change, produced theories of organic evolution.

The evolutionary theorist who drew most directly on the association of ideas was Herbert Spencer. His primary interest lay in finding a scientific basis for his belief in inevitable social progress. He felt that utilitarian social theory did not provide this, while psychology and biology might. He was profoundly influenced by Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology (1830-33) but exploited it for his own purposes. That is, he was convinced by Lyell's general belief in uniform natural processes as sufficient to account for the history of the earth, but he did not accept Lyell's refutation of Lamarck's evolutionary theory. Instead, he grasped one aspect of that theory and combined it with associationist psychology (under the influence of George Eliot, G. H. Lewes, and J. S. Mill) and argued in a way that is reminiscent of Erasmus Darwin, that the evolution of species, and even the origin of the forms of thought, could be accounted for by an extension of the association of ideas. In 1855 he expressed these views in his Principles of Psychology. The theory was simplicity itself:

The familiar doctrine of association here undergoes a great extension; for it is held that not only in the individual do ideas become connected when in experience the things producing them have repeatedly occurred together, but that such results of repeated occurrences accumulate in successions of individuals: the effects of associations are supposed to be transmitted as modifications of the nervous system (An Autobiography [1904], 1, 470).

Thus, Spencer combined the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics with the law of association, and he extended sensationalism from the tabula rasa of the individual to that of the race. Although Spencer's conception of the mechanism of evolution has since been rejected in favor of natural selection, his general impact on social theory has been enormous. His role in propagating the naturalist and evolutionist point of view was greater than that of the other evolutionists, and his influence in changing the context within which mental phenomena are viewed from epistemology to biology was decisive in psychology. By the end of his massive Synthetic Philosophy (1862-93) Spencer believed that he had provided the scientific guarantee for progress which classical utilitarianism lacked. It lay in a very generalized version of evolutionary theory which embraced all of nature and entailed psychological, sociological, and ethical theories-all based on a cosmic version of the association of ideas. It was a very romantic philosophy for all its scientific verbiage, and it is ironic that one of its most enduring influences in social theory was in the extreme laissez-faire views of the (misnamed) "Social Darwinists." Beginning with Walter Bagehot's Physics and Politics (1869) and taking its most extreme forms in the writings of W. G. Sumner and the behavior of the American "Robber Barons," the idea of progress by means of the survival of the (economically and socially) fittest was used as a justification for some of the grossest excesses of monopolistic capitalism and imperialism, and it is not without its current advocates. Spencer's writings had other influences on social theorists in China, Japan, Britain, France, and America, while more basic themes in his writings, e.g., his conception of the division of labor and his functionalist approach have had a pervasive influence in sociology and social theory.

Charles Darwin had studied Lamarck's theory of evolution when he was a medical student, but neither this nor his grandfather's theory had shaken his belief in the fixity of species by the time he became a professional naturalist in 1830. The evolutionary theory developed by Darwin and by A. R. Wallace drew less explicitly on the associationist tradition, but it should be mentioned that the theory of natural selection which they arrived at independently was profoundly influenced by the writings of Malthus, which in turn, depended in part on the most general versions of the utilitarian paradigm. In Darwin and Wallace's mechanism for evolutionary change, the sanctions of survival and extinction in the struggle for existence were explicit generalizations of the Malthusian theory of population. Similarly, Darwin's peers and supporters found his theory appealing partly because of its conformity with their empiricist, phenomenalist view of nature and human nature.

The union of the theory of evolution with studies in comparative psychology which Darwin and Spencer inspired led, by way of the work of G. J. Romanes (to whom Darwin gave his notes on psychology), C. L. Morgan (Romanes' pupil and editor), E. L. Thorndike, J. Loeb, William McDougall, and others, to the dominant traditions in modern experimental psychology. However, the establishment of these depended on the increasing independence of classical associationism from the epistemological preoccupations of the empiricist tradition and on the integration of association with the study of the physiology of the nervous system. Locke, Hume, Priestley, Thomas Brown, and James Mill had chosen not to investigate the physiological basis of associations, but concomitant developments in neurophysiology had involved the interpretation of the functions of progressively higher parts of the central nervous system in terms of reflexes, and this approach had close conceptual affinities with the discovery that the anterior and posterior spinal nerves roots and higher structures were differentiated and served the functions of motion and sensation.

These theories were developed in the physiological and medical literature of France, Britain and Germany. The parallel between sensory-motor physiology (Bell, Magendie, Mueller, Carpenter) and reflex theory. (Prochaska, Whytt, Hall, Laycock) on the one hand and the associationist tradition in psychology on the other had been noticed by many writers since Hartley and E. Darwin, but the systematic integration was not undertaken until the 1850’s in the work of Alexander Bain, which was lavishly praised by J. S. Mill as the highest point reached by the empiricist tradition. Bain stressed the role of movement in learning, and his work led to an increasing interest in behavior which complemented the emphasis on sensation in the British and French traditions. His work was the culmination of classical associationism and was very influential in the development of a new sensory-motor psychophysiology which concerned itself with associated sensations and motions in the nervous system paralleled by ideas of sensation and motion in the mind. This approach was soon reinterpreted in the context of the evolutionary theories of Spencer and Darwin and provided a great stimulus to research in comparative psychology, neurology, neurophysiology, and psychiatry. In particular, the theories of Bain, Spencer, Laycock, and Lewes, through their influence on J. H. Jackson and David Ferrier, led to important advances in clinical neurology and in the experimental localization of functions in the brain. Their work provided the basis for the modern interpretation of the functions of the nervous system in learning and in other forms of adaptive behavior.

The most important contributors to this experimental work were C. S. Sherrington in England and I. P. Pavlov in Russia. They were concerned with the nature of fixed and modifiable (i.e., learned or conditioned) reflexes. By the end of the nineteenth century the neurone theory had provided what seemed a perfect parallelism between brain cells and their connections on the one hand and ideas and their associations on the other. The physiology of conditioned reflexes and the psychology of learning were increasingly seen as one topic of research.

In the same period, important aspects of the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud also developed from a neurological tradition. The language of Freud’s metapsychology employed analogies such as mental "energies," "forces", and "Structures" which were taken from German physicalist physiology while he employed the concept of the reflex in his model for the mental apparatus. His associationist theories of mental function and his biological concepts were derived from English and German associationists and from the theories of suggestion of French and German hypnotists which were also associationist in structure. Finally, his postulate of psychological parallelism was avowedly drawn from the writings of Spencer and Jackson. Although there were important features of Freud’s theories which were not part of the matrix of associationist neuropsychology and although he directed his attention to new topics in psychological and social theory, the basic assumptions of his approach remained constant throughout his writings and were elaborated in his early and rather orthodox associationist works.

Classical associationist was also influential in the development of the experimental introspective studies of H. Ebbinghaus and W. Wundt in Germany and of E. B. Titchener in America, leading to the establishment of a "structural" school of psychology. This approach gained its identity in the course of a debate with a "functionalist" school which was developing in America under the influence of British classical and evolutionary associationists. The main figures in this school were William James, John Dewey, George H. Mead, and James R. Angell and their work gave rise to much of twentieth-centuryAmerican theory.

Aspects of American functional psychology were combined with the related theory of conditioned reflexes and research on localization of functions in the brain to produce recent experimental work in brain and behaviour and in that of learning theory. Most of these researches and theorists have retained an implicit or explicit form of mind-body dualism-psychophysical parallelism-but one line of development, behaviourism, has attempted a reductionist analysis. Since Hartley and Priestley many have seen that the grounds for traditional dualism have been progressively eroded by the acceptance of mental determinism and the use of physical analogies in associationist psychology. Comparative psychology and evolutionism, coupled with the findings of physiological psychology, led J.B. Watson, the American founder of behaviorism, to argue that both the methodology and the ontology of psychology should be concerned with objective phenomena. Thus, he made the step from "We cannot do science about minds" to "There are no minds." Positivist philosophy and operationism in physics made this move very philosophically appealing, and the step from physical and chemical analogies to mind-body identity theory has become fashionable in recent philosophical psychology.

In the period from 1916 to the present the concepts of sensation, motion, and association have been reinterpreted in allegedly objective language as "stimulus", "response," and "conditioning." Although a great deal of experimental work has been done and a greater amount of ink has been spilled in attempt to spell out the laws of learning in these terms, the point to be made here is that S-R, statistical, operant, cybernetic and related learning theories remain along with brain washing and teaching machines, just as much manifestations of the tradition of association of ideas as do the free associations of the psychoanalytic patient. Historians and practitioners of recent psychology have repeatedly observed that in spite of changes in terminology and fashion and the bitter quarrels in experimental psychology, psychiatry, and social theory, associationism is the only theory of human nature which has been available to the human and related sciences.

Having emphasized the pervasive influence of the association of ideas since the mid-eighteenth century, it is necessary to stress that the strengths of this approach were balanced by disadvantages which were frequently pointed out. The most persistent objection has been a straightforward rejection of the alleged all-sufficiency of the determinism of associationism on the part of those who wish to maintain that man has free will. Others have objected on some combination of aesthetic and moral grounds that life and nature are more than accretions of sensations. For example, S. T. Coleridge and J. S. Mill rejected aspects of Hartley's theory because they felt that his psychology failed to give sufficient scope to the role of imagination in life, while romantic poets extended this criticism to oppose the whole mechanistic view of nature. Similarly, George Eliot’s novels can be seen as complementing the psychological and social theories of her utilitarian and positivist circle in a way which allowed for the portrayal of the nuances of human nature.

In its emphasis on the interactions of the simplest elements and processes, the associationist tradition has provided no basis for classification of larger elements analogous to the physicist’s table of fundamental particles or the chemists’ periodic table of elements. It has therefore failed to show how the phenomena of human experience can be synthesized from simple, psychophysiological elements. It provides no basis for the unity of psychological and social life. Even its most ardent exponents have found it necessary to supplement the theory with classifications of faculties or functions which are not derived from the theory itself. Recourse has also been made to vague principles which hypostatize the problem and call it a solution, e.g. "integrative functions," "functional unity," "ego," "Gestalt," Theorists of instinct, emotion, and personality in psychology have made repeated appeals to these and other additional explanatory principles, while social theorists find that the analytic bias of associationism provides no basis for evaluating competing social theories and ideologies. The results, when these issues are raised, has tended to be an approach to psychology and psychotherapy, and to social and political philosophy, which elevates "adjustment" or "adaptation" to the status of a relatively unquestioned goal.

It should not be surprising that associationism and its many derivative theories, e.g., utilitarianism, functionalism, and psychoanalysis, are of little help in the interpretation and evaluation (as opposed to the analysis) of the purposive behavior of men and other organisms. One must recall that it is based on an analogy with a physical paradigm which was explicitly elaborated in the seventeenth century in order to banish anthropomorphism, teleology, and purposive explanation from science. For reasons which are intrinsic to the nature of human existence, associationism has not precluded the effort to extrapolate meaning and purpose from the collisions and accretions of atoms in the void. However, it provides no determinate mechanism for performing the operation and thus no stable criteria of propriety or impropriety in the effort: the goals of men differ.


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