chapter  2
8 Pages


Both Descartes and the empiricists have profoundly affected modern thinking about learning. Modern cognitivism owes an enormous debt to Descartes, while associationist accounts of learning issue from the theorising of Berkeley and Hume. Both behaviourism and much modern thinking about memory remain steeped in the thinking of both Descartes and the empiricists. Both Descartes and the empiricists start from the solitary individual as the source of knowledge. Descartes’ individualism is qualified by his reliance on God to provide veridical perception but that knowledge is itself underwritten by the solitary examination of ideas. The individual starting point for learning is also shared by the empiricists; they do not however hold, like Descartes, that some ideas are planted in the mind before birth. This view has had a very strong influence on some modern theories of learning. It is, however, important not to confuse the historical views of Descartes with the doctrines associated with ‘Cartesian dualism’ which, in some important respects, resemble empiricism more than views that Descartes himself held.1