Samuel Taylor Coleridge Questions and Answers

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Can you explain Hartley's theory of "associationism", a theory that was crucial in the formation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's thought?

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The work of David Hartley and his theories of association so influenced Samuel Taylor Coleridge that he named his son "David Hartley Coleridge." It is likely that part of the attraction of Hartley's work is that unlike the Humean notion of association of ideas, which for Hume formed part of the defence of atheism since it showed how the appearance of a regular natural order could be explained without recourse to God, Hartley's work synthesizes a scientific account of the development of ideas with arguments with a profoundly spiritual approach to human life and ethics. Essentially, Hartley argues that we come to knowledge through physiological characteristics of the brain which shape the ways in which we interpret or associate ideas. We develop thinking and speaking skills by practice in Hartely's system.

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