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associationism


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A psychological doctrine concerning the attraction between mental elements or ideas, first suggested in a chapter entitled ‘Of the Association of Ideas’ that the English empiricist philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) added in 1700 to a new edition of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, originally published in 1690, the doctrine later being elaborated by the Scottish philosopher James Mill (1773–1836) and his English son John Stuart Mill (1806–73). According to the Mills, mental experiences consist of elementary sensations when sense organs are stimulated, and ideas are thoughts and memories experienced in the absence of sensory stimulation. Ideas have a tendency to become associated with one another: complex ideas arise from the association of simple ideas, and once two ideas have become associated, it is then difficult to experience one without the other, as when the idea of redness, associated in most people's minds with warmth, tends to come to mind whenever we think of warmth. James Mill believed that the single contiguity law (elements become associated when they are close to one another in time or space) explained all mental associations and complex ideas. John Stuart Mill added the similarity law (similar ideas tend to become associated), and the frequency law (the more frequently ideas occur together, the more strongly they become associated), and also introduced what he called mental chemistry, according to which simple ideas combine to form complex ideas that are qualitatively different from their constituent elements. The Scottish mental philosopher Alexander Bain (1818–1903) was the first to suggest that behavioural actions can also form associations with ideas. See also grouping law. Compare connectionism (2).

Subjects: Psychology — Philosophy.


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