Thomas Reid.

The works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters online

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as is well knowu, Bacon had a proud con-
tempt of Metaphysic, and names it only to
deride it, or to shew that in retaining the
word, he rejects the thing. Accordingly,
in his classification of the sciences, he
reduces Metaphysic to the mere science
of the immutable and universal forms of
nature, that is to say, to a transcendental
physics; while subsequently, in his Novum
Organum, there is no mention of it at all.
Reid, who inherited from Bacon his
method, inherited likewise from him his
contempt of Metaphysic; and, with Reid,
the whole Scottish school.

' Once more I repeat, the reaction of
the experimental philosophy, so much and
so long oppressed by speculation, is excus-
able in Reid as in Bacon, because on their
part it was natural and almost necessary ;
but in the present day, when this philoso-
phy has everywhere triumphed over the
obstacles which the spirit of system, the
prejudices and the authority of the past,
had accumulated in its path, — in the pre-
sent day, when this philosophy in its turn
oppresses Metaphysic, and would, if it
could, exclude it from the domain of
science, it may not be unimportant briefly
to shew, that Metaphysic also has its
titles, and its legitimate place in the cycle
of human knowledge.

' In the first place, it is a very ancient
science ; under definitions the most di-
verse, it has always appeared as the
science of principles. Until the eighteenth
century, it has never for a moment quit-
ted the philosophic stage, and on that
stage has never ceased to occupy the most
distinguished part. The reason of this
preeminence was very simple ; for to
Metaphysic was confided the task of re-
solving the most extensive, arduous, and
important problems : Metaphysic alone
spoke of God and his attributes, of tho
universe considered in its totality and ito



MEMORANDA. FOR PREFACE.



laws, of the human soul and of its destiny;
Metaphysic alone shewed to each faculty
the end in view for its activity, to the im-
agination the ideal of the beautiful, to the
will the ideal of the good, to the intelli-
gence the ideal of the true. Since the
erapirism of the last century, dominant
in France and England, has relegated
Metaphysic to the region of chimseras,
science rarely agitates those mighty pro-
blems, and if perchance it moots them, it
does so with a timidity and weakness
which make us regret that powerful im-
pulse of the metaphysical genius which
alone is competent to handle and resolve
these formidable questions. Why then
has it been repudiated by science? Is it
only proper to generate magnificent ro-
mances ? Is it that Metaphysic is without
a basis ?

' To judge of it by the objections of its
adversaries and by the unreflective en-
thusiasm of its partisans, to judge of it
especially by the strange forms in which
imagination has been pleased to clothe it,
it would seem that Metaphysic is a philo-
sophy mysterious and almost superhuman,
which descends from another world, and
which has nothing in common with the
positive and natural methods of science.
There is nothing more false. Metaphysic,
like the other sciences, has its roots in the
nature of the mind. If the sciences of
fact repose in observation, if the abstract
sciences are founded upon reasoning, Me-
taphysic has for its basis the conceptions
of reason, as well pure as in combination
with the data of experience. I say the
conceptions of reason, which I distinguish,
and which every observer of the acts of
intelligence may distinguish, from the fan-
tastic or arbitrary creations of imagination.
When on occasion of an existence finite,
contingent, relative, individual, attested
by experience, I conceive the infinite, the
necessary, the absolute, the universal ;
when rising from the phenomena which
the universe presents to my observation,
I contemplate the great laws of this uni-
verse, those laws which constitute the
harmony of its movements, the order and
the beauty of its plan ; when retiring
within the limits of my proper nature, I
connect the phenomena, so various and
so mutable, in which it is manifested, to
a principle, simple, identical, and immut-
able in essence, — I neither imagine, nor
dream, nor fabricate ; I conceive. My
conception is an act of my mind, necessary
and legitimate as the very simplest percep-
tion. No intelligent being has a right
to contest tho authority of any faculty
whatever of intelligence, and it is lament-



able to see the highest and divinest of its
functions treated with contempt.'

6.— Jouffrot.— CEuvres Completes de
Thomas Reid, Paris, 1836.

PrSface, pp. cc. cci.— ' S'il est un service
et un service eminent que les Ecossais aient
rendu b, la philosophic, e'est assurement
d'avoir etabli une fois pour toutes dans les
esprits, et de maniere a ce qu'elle ne puisse
plus en sortir, l'idee qu'il y a une science
d'observation, une science de faits, a la
maniere dont l'entendent les phyBiciens,
qui a 1'esprit humain pour objet et le sens
intime pour instrument, et dont le re - -
sultat doit 6tre la determination des lois
de 1'esprit, comme celui des sciences
physiques doit etre la determination dea
lois de la matiere. Les philosophes ecos-
sais ont-ils eu les premiers cette idee!
Non, sans doute, si par avoir une idee
on entend simplement en e'mettre d'au-
tres qui la contiennent ; a le prendre
ainsi plusieurs philosophes l'avaient eue
avant eux, et, pour ne citer que les
plus ce'lebres, on la trouve dans Locke et
dans Descartes. Mais si par inventer une
idee on entend non pas seulement en
concevoir le germe, mais la saisir en elle-
meme dans toute sa ve'rite' et son ^ten-
due, mais en voir la ported et les conse-
quences, mais y croire, mais la pratiquer,
mais la prtlcher, mais la mettre dans une
telle lumiere qu'elle pe"netre dans tous lea
esprits et qu'elle soit desormais acquise
d'une maniere definitive a l'intelligence
humaine, on peut dire avec v6rite' que,
l'idee dont il s'agit, les Ecossais l'ont eue
les premiers et qu'ils en sont les ve"ritables
inventeurs. '

P. cciv.-ccvi. — ' C'est la en effet le vrai
titre, le titre Eminent des philosophes dcos-
sais a l'estirae de la postdrite et le principal
service qu'ils aient rendu a la philosophie.
C'est un fait qu'avant eux, ni l'idee de
cette science ainsi nettement demelee, ni
l'idee de la m^thode vraie a y appliquer,
ni l'exemple d'une application rigoureuse
de cette indthode, n'existaient; e'en est
un autre que depuis eux tout cela existe
et que c'est a eux qu'on le doit. Qu'ils
soient trop restes dans les limites de cette
science, et, faute d'en etre assez sortis,
qu'ils n'en aient pas vu toute la portee, ni
l'ensemble des liens qui, en y rattachant
toutes les sciences philosophiques, en
forment le point de depart et la racine de
la moitid des connaissances humaincs, cela
est vrai, et nous l'avons montre; que les
vues historiques qui les ont conduits a
1 ide"e de cette science manquent souvent
d'etendue et de justesse, et que dans la
determination de la me"thode,des limites
et des conditions de la science acme, ils



MEMORANDA FOR PREFACE.



n'aient pas toujours ni bien vu, ni aasez
vu, c'cst ce qui est encore vTai et ce que
nous avons ogalement montrd; mais tou-
jours est-il que l'honneur do l'avoir crdee
est a eux, et que, quand l'histoire voudra
marquer l'epoque ou la science de l'esprit
humain a veritablement etc? concue telle
qu'elle doit l'etre, elle sera forcee d'indi-
quer celle ou les philosophea ecosaaiB ont
6crit.

' Une seconde idee qui reste gravee
dans l'esprit quand on a lu les philosophes
ecossais, et dont on peut dire, comme de
la prgce'dente, qu'ils l'ont mise au monde,
quoique plusieurs philosophes, et Locke
en dernier lieu, l'eussent indiqufe, c'est
que la connaissance de l'esprit humain et
de ses lois est la condition de solution de
la plupart des questions dont la philo-
sophie s'occupe, de maniere que pour 16-
soudre ces questions il faut avant tout
acquerir cette connaissance, et qu'elles ne
peuvent etre resolues que par hypothese
tant qu'on ne la possede pas. Nous avons
montre" que cette idee n'e'tait que le germe
d'une idee plus grande que les Ecossais
n'ont saisie qu'a moitie', a savoir que toutes
les sciences philosophiques dependent de
la psychologie, parce que toutes les ques-
tions qu'elles agitent viennent se resoudre
dans la connaissance des phenomenes api-
rituels, et que c'est la le caractere com-
mun qui unit toutes ces sciences entre
elles, qui en constitue l'unite, et les dis-
tingue des sciences physiques. Nous
avons ajoute que si les Ecossais a'etaient
Aleves jusqu'a cette idee, a la gloire d'a-
voir fondd la science de l'esprit humain
ils auraient ajoute' celle d'avoir fixe' l'idee
;de la philosophie et d'avoir organise' cette
moitil de la connaissance humaine. Mais
si cette conception est restee imparfaite
idans leur esprit, il n'en eBt pas moins vrai
qu'elle s'y est suffisamment developpee
>pour imprimer a la philosophie ecossaise
;une direction originale et qui est selon
:nous celle-la mime que la philosophie doit
;suivre. Subordonner toute recherche phi-
ilosopljique a la psychologie, sur ce fonde-
jment que toute question philosophique a
isa solution dans quelques lois de la nature
ispirituelle, comme toute question physique
fa la sienne dans quelques lois de la na-
ture physique, voila en reality ce que les



Ecossais ont fait, ot lc principe qui plane
sur toute leur philosophie, qui l'anime,
qui la dirige, et dont on resto peiidtro'
quand on l'a fitudiee. La methode phi-
losophique des Ecossais n'est autre chose
qu'une consequence de ce principe; et
non-seulement ils ont prouve" la veritC de
ce principe pour un grand nombre de
questions philosophiques et pour les plus
importantes, mais ils l'ont constamment
pratiqu^. '

Pp. ccvii., ccviii. — ' Avant et depuia les
Ecossais aucun autre systerne n'offre cette
construction de la science ; elle leur appar-
tient en propre. et c'est la le second service
qu'ils ont rendu a la philosophie. Ils ont
f onde' la science de l'esprit humain, c'est lo
premier; apres en avoir fixe' l'idee, ils ont
fait de cette science le point de depart de la
philosophie et sont venus chercher dans ses
donnees la solution scieotifique de toute
question, e'eat la le second.

' Une troisieme idee qui n'est moins
importante ni moins propre aux Ecossais
que lea pre'ee'dentes, c'est l'aasimilation
complete des recherches philoaophiques
et des recherches physiquea, fondee sur
ce principe que les unes et les autres ont
egalement pour objet la connaissance d'une
partie des osuvres de Dieu, et qu'il n'y
a pas deux manieres de connaitre les
ceuvres de Dieu, mais une aeule, qui a'ap-
plique a la solution des questions philo-
sophiques comme a celle des questions
physiquea.'

P. ccxiii. — ' En prouvant cette aimili-
tude, ils disaipent la superstitieuae ob-
scurity qui entoure les recherches philoao-
phiques; ils les ramenentaux aim plea con-
ditions, a la simple nature, & la simple
methode de toutea lea recherchea scientifi-
ques ; ils montrent l'erreur constante des
philosophes qui ont meconnu cette verite* ;
ils expliquent par cette erreur la destinee
mlaheureusedecesrechercheajilsrassurent
ainsi lea esprits que cette destinee eloig-
nait de s'en occuper, et les rappellent a la •
philosophie en la mettant dans une voie
nouvelle et cependant eprouvee, dans la
grande voie qu'indiquent les loia de l'en-
tendement, qu'ont auivie toutea lea sci-
ences, et par laquelle l'esprit humain est
arrive a toutes les verites qui font sa puis-
sance et sa gloire.'



ACCOUNT



THE LIFE AND WRITINGS



THOMAS RE ID, D.D., F.R.S.E.,



LATE PROFESSOR OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY IN THE UNIVERSITY OP liLASOOW.



DUGALD STEWART, Esq., F.R SS L & E,



PROFESSOR OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH.



f!EA!> AT DIFFERENT MEETINGS OF I'HE ROYAL SOCIETY OP EDINIiUKOH,



pruusiiKD in lcoa



ACCOUNT

OF

THE LIFE AND WRITINGS

OF

THOMAS REID D.D.



SECTION I.

PROM DR REID'S BIRTH TILL THE DATE OP
HIS LATEST PUBLICATION.

The life of which I am now to present to
the Boyal Society a short account, although
it fixes an era in the history of modern
philosophy, was uncommonly barren of
those incidents which furnish materials for
biography — strenuously devoted to truth,
to virtue, and to the best interests of man-
kind, but spent in the obscurity of a learned
retirement, remote from the pursuits of
ambition, and with little solicitude about
literary fame. After the agitation, however,
of the political convulsions which Europe
has witnessed for a course of years, the
simple record of such a life may derive an
interest even from its uniformity ; and,
when contrasted with the events of the
passing scene, may lead the thoughts to
some views of human nature on which it is
not ungrateful to repose.

Thomas Reid, CD., late Professor of
Moral Philosophy in the University of Glas-
gow, was born, on the 26th of April 1710,
it Strachan, in Kincardineshire, a country
parish, situated about twenty miles from
Aberdeen, on the north side of the Gram-
pian mountains.

His father, the Rev. Lewis Reid, was
minister of this parish for fifty years. He
tvas a clergyman, according to his son's
iccount of him, respected by all who knew
lim, for his piety, prudence, and benevo-
ence ; inheriting from his ancestors (most
>f whom, from the time of the Protestant
istablishment, had been ministers of the
Church of Scotland) that purity and sim-
plicity of manners which became his station ;



and a love of letters, which, without attract-
ing the notice of the world, amused his
leisure and dignified his retirement.

For some generations before his time, a
propensity to literature, and to the learned
professions — a propensity which, when it
has once become characteristical of a race,
is peculiarly apt to be propagated by the
influence of early associations and habits —
may be traced in several individuals among
his kindred. One of his ancestors, James
Reid, was the first minister of Banchory-
Ternan after the Reformation, and trans-
mitted to four sons a predilection for those
studious habits which formed his own hap-
piness. He was himself a younger son of
Mr Reid of Pitfoddels, a gentleman of a very
ancient and respectable family in the county
of Aberdeen.

James Reid was succeeded as minister of
Banchory by his son Robert. Another
son, Thomas, rose to considerable distinc-
tion, both as a philosopher and a poet ; and
seems to have wanted neither ability nor
inclination to turn his attainments to the
best advantage. After travelling over
Europe, and maintaining, as was the cus-
tom of his age, public disputations in seve-
ral universities, he collected into a volume
the theses and dissertations which had been
the subjects of his literary contests ; and
also published some Latin poems, which
may be found in the collection entitled,
" Delilite Po'dlamm Scolorum." On his
return to his native country, he fixed his
residence in London, where he was ap-
pointed secretary in the Greek and Latin
tongues to King James I. of England,"
and lived in habits of intimacy with some



* Whose fcnglish works he, along with the learned
Patrick Voui'g, translated into Latin,— H.

B 2



ACCOUNT OF THE Ml'E AND WHITINGS



of the most distinguished characters of that
period. Little more, I believe, is known
of Thomas Reid's history, excepting that
ho bequeathed to the Marischal College of
Aberdeen a curious collection of books and
manuscripts, with a fund for establishing a
salary to a librarian-
Alexander Reid, the third son, was physi-
cian to King Charles I., and published
several books on surgery and medicine.
The fortune he acquired in the course of
his practice was considerable, and enabled
him (besitte many legacies to his relations
and friends) to leave various lasting and
honourable memorials, both of his benevo-
lence and of his attachment to letters.

A fourth son, whose name was Adam,
translated into English Buchanan's His-
tory of Scotland. Of this translation,
which was never published, there is a
manuscript copy in the possession of the
University of Glasgow.

A grandson of Robert, the eldest of these
sons, was the third minister of Banchory
after the Reformation, and was great-
grandfather of Thomas Reid, the subject of
this memoir."

The particulars hitherto mentioned, are
stated on the authority of some short
memorandums written by Dr Reid a few
weeks before his death. In consequence
of a suggestion of his friend, Dr Gregory,
he had reso'ved to amuse himself with col-
lecting such facts as his papers or memory
could supply, with respect to his life, and
the progress of his studies ; but, unfortun-
ately, before he had fairly entered on the
subject, his design was interrupted by hip
last illness. If he had lived to complete
it, 1 might have entertained hopes of pre-
senting to the public some details with
respect to the history of his opinions and
speculations on those important subjects to
which he dedicated his talents — the most
interesting of all articles in the biography
of a philosopher, and of which it is to be
lamented that so few authentic records are
to be found in the annals of letters. All
the information, however, which I have
derived from these notes, is exhausted in
the foregoing pages ; and I must content
myself, ia the continuation of my narrative,
with those indirect aids which tradition,
and the recollection of a few old acquaint-
ance, afford ; added to what I myself have
learned from Dr Reid's conversation, or col-
lected from a careful perusal of his writings.
His mother, Margaret Gregory, was a
daughter of David Gregory, Esq. of Kin-
nairdie, in Banffshire, elder brother of
James Gregory, the inventor of the reflect-
ing telescope, and the antagonist of Huy-
ghens. She was one of twenty-nine children ;



the most remarkable of whom was David
Gregory, Savilian Professor of Astronomy
at Oxford, and an intimate friend of Sir
Isaac Newton. Two of heryounger brothers
were at the same time Professors of Mathe-
matics— the one at St Andrew's, the other
at Edinburgh— and were the first persons
who taught the Newtonian philosophy in
our northern universities. The hereditary
worth and genius which have so long dis-
tinguished, and which still distinguish, tlic
descendants of this memorable family, are
well known to all who have turned their
attention to Scottish biography ; but it is
not known so generally, that, through tlie
female line, the same characteristical endow-
ments have been conspicuous in various
instances ; and that to the other monuments
which illustrate the race of the Gregories,
is to be added the Philosophy of Reid.

With respect to the earlier part of Dr
Reid's life, all that I have been able to
learn amounts to this : — That, after two
years spent at the parish school of Kincar-
dine, he was sent to Aberdeen, where lie
had the advantage of prosecuting his class-
ical studies under an able and diligent
teacher ; that, about the age of twelve or
thirteen, he was entered as a student in
Marischal College ; and that his master in
philosophy for three years wns Dr George
Turnbull, who afterwards attracted some
degree of notice as an author ; particularly
by a book entitled, " Principles of Moral
Philosophy ;'' and by a voluminous treatise
(long ago forgotten) on " Ancient Paint-
ing."* The sessions of the College were,
at that time, very short, and the educa-
tion (according to Dr Reid's own account]
slight and superficial.

It does not appear, from the information
which I have received, that he gave any
early indications of future eminence. Hb
industry, however, and modesty, were con-
spicuous from his childhood ; and it was
foretold of him, by the parish schoolmaster,
who initiated him in the first principles o.
learning, " That he would turn out to lie
a man of good and well-wearing parts ;" a
prediction which touched, not unhappily,
on that capacity of " patient thought"
which so peculiarly characterised his philo-
sophical genius.

His residence at the University was pro-
longed beyond the usual term, in conse-
quence of his appointment to the office »
librarian, which had been endowed by one
of his ancestors about a century before
The situation was acceptable to him, as it
afforded an opportunity of indulging his
passion for study, and united the charrM
of a learned society with the quiet of ai
academical retreat.



Note n



OF THOMAS REID, D.D.



During this period, he formed an intimacy
with John Stewart, afterwards Professor of
Mathematics in Marischal College, and
author of " A Commentary on Newton's
Quadrature of Curves." His predilection
for mathematical pursuits was confirmed
and strengthened bythis connection. I have
often heard him mention it with much
pleasure, while he recollected the ardour
v. ith which they both prosecuted these fas-
cinating studies, and the lights which they
imparted mutually to each other, in their
first perusal of the " Principia," at a time
when a knowledge of the Newtonian dis-
coveries was only to be acquired in the
writings of their illustrious author.

In 1736, Dr Eeid resigned his office of
librarian, and accompanied Mr Stewart on
iin excursion to England. They visited
together London, Oxford, and Cambridge,
and were introduced to the acquaintance of
many persons of the first literary eminence.
His relation to Dr David Gregory procured
him a ready access to Martin Folkes, whose
house concentrated the most interesting
objects which the metropolis had to offer to
his curiosity. At Cambridge he saw Dr
Bentley, who delighted him with his learn-
ing, and amused him with his vanity ; and
enjoyed repeatedly the conversation of the
blind mathematician, Saunderson — a pheno-
menon in the history of the human mind to
which he has referred more than once in
his philosophical speculations.

With the learned and amiable man who
was his companion in this journey, he main-
tained an uninterrupted friendship till 1766,
when Mr Stewart died of a malignant fever.
His death was accompanied with circum-
stances deeply afflicting to Dr Eeid's sensi-
bility; the same disorder proving fatal to
his wife and daughter, both of whom were
buried with him in one grave.

In 1737, Dr Reid was presented, by the
King's College of Aberdeen, to the living of
New-Machar, in the same county ; but the
circumstances in which he entered on his
preferment were far from auspicious. The
'intemperate zeal of one of his predecessors,
and an aversion to the law of patronage, had
so inflamed the minds of his parishioners
against him, that, in the first discharge of
his clerical functions, he had not only to en-
counter the most violent opposition, but was
exposed to personal danger. His unwearied



attention, however, to the duties of his



pffice, the mildness and forbearance of his
temper, and the active spirit of his humanity,
Soon overcame all these prejudices ; and,
Siot many years afterwards, when he was
failed to a different situation, the same per-
sons who had suffered themselves to be so
ar misled as to take a share in the outrages
tgainst him, followed him, on his departure,
— '.villi their blessings and tears.



Dr Eeid's popularity at New-Machar (as
I am informed l>y the respectable clergy-
man* who now holds that living) increased
greatly after Mb marriage, in 1740, with
Elizabeth, daughter of his uncle, Dr George
Eeid, physician in London. The accom-
modating manners of this excellent woman,
and her good offices among the sick and
necessitous, are still remembered with gra-
titude, and so endeared the family to the
neighbourhood, that its removal was re-
garded as a general misfortune. The simple
and affecting language in which some old
men expressed themselves on this subject,
in conversing with the present minister,
deserves to be recorded : — " We fought
ayainU Dr Eeid when he came, and would
have fought for him when he went away."

In some notes relative to the earlier part
of his history, which have been kindly com-
municated to me by the Eev. Mr Davidson,
minister of Eayne, it is mentioned, as a
proof of his uncommon modesty and diffi-
dence, that, long after he became minister of
New-Machar, he was accustomed, from a
distrust in his own powers, to preach the
sermons of Dr TMlotson and of Dr Evans.
I have heard, also, through other channels,
that he had neglected the practice of com-
position to a more than ordinary degree in
the earlier part of his studies. The fact is



Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 3 of 114)