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In the philosophy of mind, associationism began as a theory about how ideas combine in the mind and refers to the idea that mental processes (eg learning and mental development) operate by the association of one state with its successor states. The idea is first recorded in Plato and Aristotle, especially with regard to the succession of memories. These ideas eventuallylead to learning being explained in terms of stimulus and response
Members of the principally British "Associationist School", including John Locke, David Hartley, David Hume, James Mill, and John Stuart Mill, asserted that the principle applied to all or most mental processes, proposing that all consciousness is the result of the combination, in accordance with the law of association, of certain simple and ultimate elements derived from sense experiences.
"Experimental psychology", as David Hume (1711-1776) called it, was concerned with studying the mind as a mirror of representations of nature, constantly trying to make sense of the world. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was among those criticising Hume’s focus on experiences, claiming that knowledge must be the result of either a God-given or an evolved rationality, but that the nature of the mind made direct observations impossible.
Despite his theories, the empirical methodology begun by the associationists kept its stronghold, and before the end of the nineteenth century experiments were conducted in areas such as memory and animal learning.
Later members of the school developed very specific principles specifying how associations worked and even a physiological mechanism bearing no resemblance to modern neurophysiology. For a much fuller explanation of the intellectual history of associationism and the "Associationist School", see Association of Ideas, an edited version of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica article of the same name.
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