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Active Versus Passive Mind Debate Essay

Étienne Bonnot de Condillac an 18th-century French philosopher contended that the senses are the foundation for all ideas and other functions carried out in the mind. Another prominent French philosopher, René Descartes supported the Rationalistic theory; an explanation of behavior based on logic that has nothing to do with the senses. Condillac’s Sensationalism premise and Descartes theory of Rationalism serve as fuel for the classic active versus passive mind debate.

The passive mind theory suggests that all learning occurs through the experience of sensations, in the absence of voluntary mind control processes, while the active mind theory claims the exact opposite; that individuals actively focus certain mental processes on the subject matter and the senses play no part in the process. Descartes also believed that sensory data was inclined to be false and was therefore useless, suggesting that mathematical deduction was the only path to the truth. Justin Skirry 2008

I believe that both theories have some validity. The problem arises for me with the use of the word all by Condillac, and the use of the word only by Descartes, which is what takes the theories from the moderate part of the continuum to the extreme. Sensory learning is of course a proven fact, but it is also a fact that active learning occurs as well. It is not unusual for a philosopher to be both a sensationalist and a rationalist at the same time.

I tend to trust my deductive powers of reasoning more than my senses, because many outside forces can alter the senses. Take emotion for instance, I am aware of the role unchecked emotions can play in faulty decision-making. I have learned not to make important decisions when I am in a highly emotional state.

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