Thomas Reid.

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

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infinite series of presumptions outweigh one
solid argument in favour of the first judg-
ment, supposing them all to be unfavour-
able to it.

Secondly, I have shewn, that the estima-
tion of our first judgment may strengthen
it ; and the same thing may be said of all the
subsequent estimations. It would, there-
fore, be as reasonable to conclude, that the
first judgment will be brought to infallible
certainty when this series of estimations is
wholly in its favour, as that its evidence
will be brought to nothing by such a series
supposed to be wholly unfavourable to it.
But, in reality, one serious and cool re-
examination of the evidence by which our
first judgment is supported, has, and in
reason ought tohavemore force tostrengthen
or weaken it, than an infinite series of such
estimations as our author requires.

Thirdly, I know no reason nor rule in
logic, that requires that such a series of
estimations should follow every particular
judgment. [708]

A wise man, who has practised reasoning,
knows that he is fallible, and carries this
conviction along with him in every judg-
ment he forms. He knows likewise that
he is more liable to err in some cases than
in others. He has a scale in his mind, by
which he estimates his liableness to err, and
by this he regulates the degree of his assent
in his first judgment upon any point. ■

The author's reasoning supposes, that a
man, when he forms his first judgment,
conceives himself to be infallible ; that by a
second and subsequent judgment, he dis-
covers that he is not infallible ; and that by
a third judgment, subsequent to the second,
he estimates his liableness to err in such a
case as the present.

If the man proceed in this order, I grant,
that his second judgment will, with good
reason, bring down the first from supposed
infallibility to fallibility ; and that his third
judgment will, in some degree, either
strengthen or weaken the first, as it is cor-
rected by the second.

But every man of understanding proceeds
in a contrary order. When about to judge
in any particular point, he knows already
that he is not infallible. He knows what
are the cases in which he is most or least
liable to err. The conviction of these things
is always present to his mind, and influences
the degree of his assent in his first judg-
ment, as far as to him appears reasonable.

If he should afterwards find reason to
suspect his first judgment, and desires to
have all the satisfaction his faculties can
give, reason will direct him not to form
such a series of estimations upon estima-
tions, as this author requires, but to examine
the evidence of his first judgment carefully
and coolly ; and this review may very reason-
ably, according to its result, eitherstrengtben
or weaken, or totally overturn his first
judgment. [709]

This infinite series of estimations, there-
fore, is not the method that reason directs,
in order to form our judgment in any case.
It is introduced without necessity, without
any use but to puzzle the understanding,
and to make us think, that to judge, even
in the simplest and plainest cases, is a mat-
ter of insurmountable difficulty and endless
labour ; just as the ancient Sceptic, to make
a journey of two thousand paces appear
endless, divided it into an infinite number
of stages.

But we observed, that the estimation
which our author requires, may admit of
another meaning, which, indeed, is more
agreeable to the expression, but inconsist-
ent with what he advanced before.

By the possibility of error in the estima-
tion of the truth and fidelity of our faculties,
may be meant, that we may err by esteem-
ing our faculties true and faithful, while they
may. be false and fallacious, even when used
according to the rules of reason and logic.

If this be meant, I answer, first, That
the truth and fidelity of our faculty of judg-
ing is, and must be taken for granted in
every judgment and in every estimation.

If the sceptic can seriously doubt of the
truth and fidelity of his faculty of judging
when properly used, and suspend his judg-
ment upon that point till he finds proof, his
scepticism admits of no cure by reasoning,
and he must even continue in it until he
have new faculties given him, which shall
have authority to sit in judgment upon the
old. Nor is there any need of an endless
succession of doubts upon this subject ; for
the first puts au end to all judgment and



reasoning, and to the possibility of convic-
tion by that means. The sceptic has here
got possession of a stronghold, which is im-
pregnable to reasoning, and we must leave
him in possession of it till Nature, by other
means, makes him give it up. [710]

Secondly, I observe, that this ground of
scepticism, from the supposed infidelity of
our faculties, contradicts what the author
before advanced in this very argument — to
wit, that " the rules of the demonstrative
sciences are certain and infallible, and that
truth is the natural effect of reason, and
that error arises from the irruption of other

But, perhaps, he made these concessions
unwarily. He is, therefore, at liberty to
retract thein, and to rest his scepticism upon
this sole foundation, That no reasoning can
prove the truth and fidelity of our faculties-
Here he stands upon firm ground ; for it is
evident that every argument offered to
prove the truth and fidelity of our faculties,
takes for granted the thing in question, and
is, therefore, that kind of sophism which
logicians call pp.titio principii.

All we would ask of this kind of sceptic
is, that he would be uniform and consistent,
and that his practice in lile do not belie his
profession of scepticism, with regard to the
fidelity of his faculties ; for the want of faith,
as well as faith itself, is best shewn by
works. If a sceptic avoid the fire as much
as those who believe it dangerous to go
into it, we can hardly avoid thinking his
scepticism to be feigned, and not real.

Our author, indeed, was aware, that
neither his scepticism nor that of any other
person, was able to endure this trial, and,
therefore, enters a caveat against it.
" Neither I," says he, " nor any other per-
son was ever sincerely and constantly of
that opinion. Nature, by an absolute and
uncontrollable necessity, has determined us
to judge, as well as to breathe and feel. My
intention, therefore," says he, " in display-
ing so carefully the arguments of that fan-
tastic sect, is only to make the reader sen-
sible of the truth of my hypothesis, that all
our reasonings concerningcausesand effects,
are derived from nothing but custom, and
that belief is more properly an act of the

sensitive than of the cogitative part of our
nature." [711]

We have before considered the first part
of this hypothesis, Whether our reasoning
about causes be derived only from custom ?

The other part of the author's hypothesis
here mentioned is darkly expressed, thougli
the expression seems to be studied, as it is
put in Italics. It cannot, surely, mean
that belief is not an act of thinking. It is
not, therefore, the power of thinking that
he calls the cogitative part of our nature.
Neither can it be the power of judging, for
all belief implies judgment ; and to believe
a proposition means the same thing as to
judge it to be true. It seems, therefore, to
be the power of reasoning that he calls the
cogitative part of our nature.

If this be the meaning, I agree to it in
part. The belief of first principles is not
an act of the reasoning power ; for all rea-
soning must be grounded upon them. We
judge them to be true, and believe them
without reasoning. But why this power of
judging of first principles should be called
the sensitive part of our nature, I do not

As our belief of first principles is an act
of pure judgment without reasoning ; so
our belief of the conclusions drawn by rea-
soning from first principles, may, I think, be
called an act of the reasoning faculty.

Upon the whole, I see only two conclu-
sions that can be fairly drawn from this
profound and intricate reasoning against
reason. The first is, That we are fallible
in all our judgments and in all our reason-
ings. The second, That the truth and
fidelity of our faculties can never be proved
by reasoning ; and, therefore, our belief of
it cannot be founded on reasoning. If the
last be what the author calls his hypothesis,
I subscribe to it, and think it not an hypo-
thesis, but a manifest truth ; though I con-
ceive it to be very improperly expressed, by
saying that belief is more properly an act
of the sensitive than of the cogitative part
of our nature. * [713]

* In the preceding strictures, the Sceptic *«again
too often assailed a. a Dogmatist. See above p. 4W
note *.— H.







That power of the mind liy which we
are capable of discerning and relishing the
beauties of Nature, and whatever is excel-
lent in the fine arts, is called taste.

The external sense of taste, by which we
distinguish and relish the various kinds of
food, has given occasion to a metaphorical
application of its name to this internal
power of the mind, by which we perceive
what is beautiful and what is deformed or
defective in the various objects that we

Like the taste of the palate, it relishes
some things, is disgusted with others ; with
regard to many, is indifferent or dubious ;
and is considerably influenced by habit, by
associations, and by opinion. These obvious
analogies between external and internal
taste, have led men, in all ages, and in
all or most polished languages,* to give the
name of the external sense to this power of
discerning what is beautiful with pleasure,
and what is ugly and faulty in its kind with
disgust. [714]

In treating of this as an intellectual
power of the mind, I intend only to make
some observations, first on its nature, and
then on its objects.

1 . In the external sense of taste, we are
led by reason and reflection to distinguish
between the agreeable sensation we feel, and
the quality in the object which occasions it.
Both have the same name, and on that ac-
count are apt to be confounded by the vulgar,
and even by philosophers. The sensation
I feel when I taste any sapid body is in my
mind; but there is a real quality in the
body which is the cause of this sensation.
These two things have the same name in
language, not from any similitude in their
nature, but because the one is the sign of
the other, and because there is little occa-
sion in common life to distinguish them.

This was fully explained in treating of the
secondary qualities of bodies. The reason
of taking notice of it now is, that the in-
ternal power of taste bears a great analogy
in this respect to the external.

When a beautiful object is before us, we

* 'lllis is hardly correct. — H.

may distinguish the agreeable emoticn it
produces in us, from the quality of the ob-
ject which causes that emotion. When I
hear an air in music that pleases me, I say,
it is fine, it is excellent. This excellence is
not in me ; it is in the music. But the
pleasure it gives is not in the music ; it is
in me. Perhaps I cannot say what it is in
the tune that pleases my ear, as I cannot
say what it is in a sapid body that pleases my
palate ; but there is a quality in the sapid
body which pleases my palate, and I call it
a delicious taste ; and there is a quality in
the tune that pleases my taste, and I call it
a fine or an excellent air.

This ought the rather to be observed,
because it is become a fashion among mo-
dern philosophers, to resolve all our percep-
tions into mere feelings or sensations in the
person that perceives, without anything
corresponding to those feelings in the ex-
ternal object. [715] According to those
philosophers, there is no heat in the fire,
no taste in a sapid body ; the taste and the
heat being only in the person that feels
them.* In like manner, there is no beauty
in any object whatsoever ; it is only a sens-
ation or feeling in the person that per-
ceives it.

The language and the common sense of
mankind contradict this theory. Even those
who hold it, find themselves obliged to use
a language that contradicts it. I had occa-
sion to shew, that there is no solid founda-
tion for it when applied to the secondary
qualities of body ; and the same arguments
shew equally, that it has no solid foundation
when applied to the beauty of objects, or to
any of those qualities that are perceived by
a good taste.

But, though some of the qualities that
please a good taste resemble the secondary
qualities of body, and therefore may be
called occult qualities, as we only feel their
effect, and have no more knowledge of the
cause, hut that it is something which is
adapted by nature to produce that effect —
this is not always the case.

Our judgment of beauty is in many cases
more enlightened. A work of art may
appear beautiful to the most ignorant, even
to a child. It pleases, but he knows not

* But see, above, p. 205, b, role *, and p. 310, b,
note +. — H.

[714, 715]




why. To one who understands it perfectly,
and perceives how every part is fitted with
exact judgment to its end, the beauty is not
mysterious ; it is perfectly comprehended ;
and he knows wherein it consists, as well
as how it affects him.

2. We may observe, that, though all the
tastes* we perceive by the palate are either
agreeable or disagreeable, or indifferent ;
yet, among, those that are agreeable, there
is great diversity, not in degree only, but in
kind. And, as we have not generical names
for all the different kinds of taste, we dis-
tinguish them by the bodies in which they
are found. [716]

In like manner, all the objects of our
internal taste are either beautiful, or dis-
agreeable, or indifferent ; yet of beauty 'there
is a great diversity, not only of degree, but
of kind. The beauty of a demonstration,
the beauty of a poem, the beauty of a palace,
the beauty of a piece of music, the beauty
of a fine woman, and many more that might
be named, are different kinds of beauty ;
nnd we have no names to distinguish them
but the names of the different objects to
which they belong.

As there is such diversity in the kinds of
beauty as well as in the degrees, we need
not think it strange that philosophers have
gone into different systems in analysing it,
and enumerating its simple ingredients.
They have made many just observations on
the subject ; but, from the love of simplicity,
have reduced it to fewer principles than the
nature of the thing will permit, having had
in^heir eye some particular kinds of beauty,
while they overlooked others.

There are moral beauties as well as na-
tural ; beauties in the objects of sense, and
in intellectual objects ; in the works of men,
and in the works of God ; in things inani-
mate, in brute animals, and in rational
beings ; in the constitution of the body of
man, and in the constitution of his mind.
There is no real excellence which has not
its beauty to a discerning eye, when placed
in a proper point of view ; and it is as diffi-
cult to enumerate the ingredients of beauty
as the ingredients of real excellence.

3. The taste of the palate may be accounted
most just and perfect, when we relish the
things that are fit for the nourishment of
the body, and are disgusted with things of
a contrary nature. The manifest intention
of nature in giving us this sense, is, that
we may discern what it is fit for us to eat
and to drink, and what it is not. Brute
animals are directed in the choice of their
food merely by their taste. [717] Led by
this guide, they choose the food that nature
intended for them, and seldom make mis-
takes, unless they be pinched by hunger, or
deceived by artificial compositions. In in-
fants likewise the taste is commonly sound
r 716-7I8j

and uncorrupted, and of the simple produc-
tions of nature they relish the things that
are most wholesome.

In like manner, our internal taste ought
to be accounted most just and perfect, when
we are pleased with things that are most
excellent in their kind, and displeased with
the contrary. The intention of nature is
no less evident in this internal taste than
in the external. Every excellence has a
real beauty and charm that makes it an
agreeable object to those who have the
faculty of discerning its beauty ; and this
faculty is what we call a good taste.

A man who, by any disorder in his mental
powers, or by bad habits, has contracted a
relish for what has no real excellence, or
what is deformed and defective, has a de-
praved taste, like one who finds a more
agreeable relish in ashes or cinders than in
the most wholesome food. As we must ac-
knowledge the taste of the palate to be de-
praved in this case, there is the same reason
to think the taste of the mind depraved in
the other.

There is therefore a just and rational
taste, and there is a depraved and corrupted
taste. For it is too evident, that, by bad
education, bad habits, and wrong associa-
tions, men may acquire a relish for nasti-
ness, for rudeness, and ill-breeding, and for
many other deformities. To say that such
a taste is not vitiated, is no less absurd than
to say, that the sickly girl who delights in
eating charcoal and tobacco-pipes, has as
just and natural a taste as when she is in
perfect health.

4. The force of custom, of fancy, and of
casual associations, is very great both upon
the external and internal taste. An Eski-
maux can regale himself with a draught of
whale-oil, and a Canadian can feast upon a
dog. A Kamschatkadale lives upon putrid
fish, and is sometimes reduced to eat thy
bark of trees. The taste of rum, or of green
tea, is at first as nauseous as that of ipeca-
cuan, to some persons, who may be brought
by use to relish what they once found so
disagreeable. [718]

When we see such varieties in the taste
of the palate produced by custom and as-
sociations, and some, perhaps, by constitu-
tion, we may be the less surprised that the
same causes should produce like varieties
in the taste of beauty ; that the African
should esteem thick lips and a flat nose ;
that other nations should draw out their
ears, till they hang over their shoulders;
that in one nation ladies should paint their
faces, and in another should make them
shine with grease.

5. Those who conceive that there is no
standard in nature by which taste may be
regulated, and that the common proverb,
" That there ought to be no dispute about



taste," is to be taken iu the utmost latitude,
go upon slender and insufficient ground.
The same arguments might be used with
equal force against any standard of truth.

Whole nations by the force of prejudice
are brought to believe the grossest absurdi-
ties ; and why should it be thought that the
taste is less capable of being perverted than
the judgment ? It must indeed be acknow-
ledged, that men differ more in the faculty
of taste than in what we commonly call
judgment ; and therefore it may be expected
that they should be more liable to have their
taste corrupted in matters of beauty and
deformity, than their judgment in matters
of truth and error.

If we make due allowance for this, we
shall see that it is as easy to account for
the variety of tastes, though there he in
nature a standard of true beauty, and con-
sequently of good taste, as it is to account
for the variety and contrariety of opinions,
though there be in nature a standard of
of truth, and, consequently, of right judg-
ment. [719]

6. Nay, if we speak accurately and
strictly, we shall find that, in every opera-
tion of taste, there is judgment implied.

When a man pronounces a poem or a
palace to be beautiful, he affirms something
of that poem or that palace ; and every
affirmation or denial expresses judgment.
For we cannot better define judgment, than
by saying that it is an affirmation or denial
of one thing concerning another. I had
occasion to shew, when treating of judg-
ment, that it is implied in every perception
of our external senses. There is an imme-
diate conviction and belief of the existence
of the quality perceived, whether it be
colour, or sound, or figure ; and the same
thing holds in the perception of beauty or

If it be said that the perception of beauty
is merely a feeling in the mind that per-
ceives, without any belief of excellence in
the object, the necessary consequence of
this opinion is, that when I say Virgil's
" Georgics" is a beautiful poem, I mean not
to say anything of the poem, but only some-
thing concerning myself and my feelings.
Why should I use a language that expresses
the contrary of what I mean ?

My language, according to the necessary
rules of construction, can bear no other
meaning but this, that there is something
in the poem, and not in me, which I call
beauty. Even those who hold beauty to
be merely a feeling in the person that per-
ceives it, find themselves under a necessity
of expressing themselvesas if beauty were
s olely a quality of the object, and not of
the percipient.

No reason can be given why all man-
kind should express themselves thus, but that
they believe what they say. It is there-
fore contrary to the universal sense of
mankind, expressed by their language, that
beauty is not really in the object, but is
merely a feeling in the person who is said
to perceive it. Philosophers should be very
cautious in opposing the common sense
of mankind ; for, when they do, they rarely
miss going wrong. [720]

Our judgment of beauty is not indeed a
dry and unaffecting judgment, like that- of
a mathematical or metaphysical truth. By
the constitution of our nature, it is accom-
panied with an agreeble feeling or emotion,
for which we have no other name but the
sense of beauty. This sense of beauty, like
the perceptions of our other senses, implies
not only a feeling, but an opinion of some
quality in the object which occasions that

In objects that please the taste, we always
judge that there is some real excellence,
some superiority to those that do not
please. In some cases, that superior ex-
cellence is distinctly perceived, and can
be pointed out; in other cases, we have
only a general notion of some excellence
which we cannot describe. Beauties of the
former kind may be compared to the
primary qualities perceived by the external
senses ; those of the latter kind, to the

7. Beauty or deformity in an object, re-
sults from its nature or structure. To per-
ceive the beauty, therefore, we must per-
ceive the nature or structure from which it
results. In this the internal sense differs
from the external. Our external senses
may discover qualities which do not depend
upon any antecedent perception. Thus, I
can hear the sound of a bell, though I never
perceived anything else belonging to it.
But it is impossible to perceive the beauty
of an object without perceiving the object,
or, at least, conceiving it. On this account,
Dr Hutcheson called the senses of beauty
and harmony reflex or secondary senses ;
because the beauty cannot be perceived
unless the object be perceived by some other
power of the mind. Thus, the sense of
harmony and melody in sounds supposes
the external sense of hearing, and is a kind
of secondary to it. A man born deaf may
be a good judge of beauties of another kind,
but can have no notion of melody or har-
mony. The like may be said of beau-
ties in colouring and in figure, which can
never he perceived without the senses by
which colour and figure are perceived.







A philosophical analysis of the objects
of taste is like applying the anatomical knife
to a fine face. The design of the philoso-
pher, as well as of the anatomist, is not to
gratify taste, but to improve knowledge.
The reader ought to be aware of this, that
he may not entertain an expectation in
which he will be disappointed.

By the objects of taste, I mean those
qualities or attributes of things which are,
by Nature, adapted to please a good taste.
Mr Addison, and Dr Akenside after him,
have reduced them to three— to wit, novelty,
grandeur, and beauty. This division is

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 110 of 114)