Associationism, in its original form as in Hume (1738/1975), was put forward as a theory of mental processes. Associationists’ attempt to answer the question of how many mental processes there are by positing only a single mental process: the ability to associate ideas. [ 2]What is associationism According to Hume?
Hume’s associationism was, first and foremost, a theory connecting how perceptions (“Impressions”) determined trains of thought (successions of “Ideas”). Hume’s empiricism, as enshrined in the Copy Principle, [ 5] demanded that there were no Ideas in the mind that were not first given in experience.What would a pure associationist look for in a theory?
The pure associationist will want a theory that covers not just acquisition and cognitive structure, but also the transition between thoughts. Associative transitions are a particular type of thinking, akin to what William James called “The Stream of Thought” (James 1890).What is the challenge to associationism?
The challenge to associationism is to explain how an associative mechanism can give rise to the syntactic structures necessary to distinguish a complex thought like birds fly from the temporal succession of two simple thoughts birds and fly.