Thomas Reid.

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

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duce an effect, supposes power not to pro-
duce it ; otherwise it is not power but neces-
sity, which is incompatible with power
taken in a strict sense- The exertion of that
power, is agency, or efficiency. That every
event must have a cause in this proper sense,
I take to be self-evident.

I should have noticed that I am not able
to form a conception how power, in the strict
sense, can be exerted without will ; nor can
there be will without some degree of under-
standing. Therefore, nothing can be an
efficient cause, in the proper sense, but an
intelligent being-

I believe we get the first conception of
power, in the proper sense, from the con-
sciousness of our own exertions ; and, as all
our power is exerted by will, we cannot form
a conception how power can be exerted with-
out will. Hence the only notion we can
form of Almighty power in the Deity, is that

*This refers to Dr Gregory's ingenious " Essay on the
Differencebetween theRelation of Motive and Action,
and that of Cause and Effect in Physics ; on physical
and mathematical principles." This treatise, which
was published in 1792, had been previously commu-
nicated to various philosophical friends, and in par-
ticular to every Necessitarian of the author's ac-
quaintance, with the assurance that, if any error
could be pointed out in the reasoning — which, as
mathematical, could be examined with the utmost
rigour — the objection should either be completely
answered, or the. essay itself suppressed. Only one
Necessitarian, however, allowed his objections to be
published ; and these, with Dr Gregory's answers, are
to be found in the appendix to the essay. Dr Heid
was among the first to whom Dr Gregory com-
municated this work ; and to Dr Reid, when pub-
lished, the '• Philosophical and Literary Essays'*
were inscribed.— H.



he can do whatever he wills. A power to do
what he does not will, is words without a

Matter cannot he the cause of anything ;
it can only be an instrument in the hands of
a real cause. Thus, when a body has a cer-
tain force given it by impulse, it may com-
municate that force to another body, and
that to a third, and so on. But, when we
traoe back this motion to its origin, it must
nave been given, not by matter, but by some
being which had in itself the power of be-
ginning motion — that is, by a proper efficient
cause of motion.

It cannot be said that there is a constant
conjunction between a proper cause and the
effect ; for, though the effect cannot be,
without power to produce it, yet that power
may be, without being exerted, and power
which is not exerted produces no effect.

You will see, by what is said above,
what I take to be the strict and proper
meaning of the word cause, and the related
words, power, agent, fyc. In this sense we
use it in reasoning concerning the being and
attributes of the Deity. In this sense we
ought to use it in the question about liberty
and necessity, and, I think, in all metaphy-
sical reasoning about causes and effects;
for when, in metaphysical reasoning, we de-
part from this sense, the word is so vague
that there can be no clear reasoning about

Suppose, now, that you take the word
cause in this strict sense ; its relation to its
effect is so self- evidently different from the
relation of a motive to an action, that I am
jealous of a mathematical demonstration of
a truth so self-evident. Nothing is more
difficult than to demonstrate what is self-
evident. A cause is a being which has a
real existence ; a motive has no real exist-
ence, and, therefore, can have no active
power. It is a thing conceived, and not a
thing that exists ; and, therefore, can neither
he active nor even passive. To say that a
motive really acts, is as absurd as to say
that a motive drinks my health, or that a
motive gives me a box on the ear.

In physics, the word cause has another
meaning, which, though I think it an im-
proper one, yet is distinct, and, therefore,
may be reasoned upon. When a phenome-
non is produced according to a certain law
of nature, we call the law of nature the cause
of that phenomenon ; and to the laws of
nature we accordingly ascribe power, agency,
efficiency. The whole business of physics
is to discover, by observation and experi-
ment, the laws of nature, and to apply them
to the solution of the phenomena : this we
call discovering the causes of things. But
this, however common, is an improper sense
of the word cause.

A law of nature can no more be an agent

than can a motive. It is a thing conceived,
and not a thing that exists ; and, therefore,
can neither act, nor be acted upon. A law
of nature is a purpose or resolution of the
author of nature, to act according to a cer-
tain rule — either immediately by himself or
by instruments that are under his direction.
There must be a real agent to produce the
phenomenon according to the law. A
malefactor is not hanged by the law, hut
according to the law, by the executioner.

I suspect you use the word cause in this
sense for a law of nature, according to which
a phenomenon is produced. If so, it should
appear distinctly that you do so.

But is it not self-evident, that the rela-
tion between a law of nature and the event
which is produced according to it, is very
different from the relation between a motive
and the action to which it is a motive ? Is
there any need of demonstration for this ?
or does it admit of demonstration ?

There is, indeed, a supposition upon which
the two relations would he very similar.
The supposition is, that, by a law of nature,
the influence of motives upon actions is as
invariable as is the effect of impulse upon
matter ; but to suppose this is to suppose
fatality and not to prove it.

It is a question of fact, whether the in-
fluence of motives be fixed bylaws of nature,
so that they shall always have the same
effect in the same circumstances. Upon
this, indeed, the question about liberty and
necessity hangs. But I have never seen
any proof that there are such laws of nature,
far less any proof that the strongest motive
always prevails. However much our late
fatalists have boasted of this principle as of
a law of nature, without ever telling us what
they mean by the strongest motive, I am
persuaded that, whenever they shall be
pleased to give us any measure of the
strength of motives distinct from their pre-
valence, it will appear, from experience,
that the strongest motive does not always
prevail. If no other test or measure of the
strength of motives can be found but their
prevailing, then this boasted principle will
be only an identical proposition, and signify
only that the strongest motive is the strong-
est motive, and the motive that prevails is
the motive that prevails — which proves

May it not be objected to your reasoning,
that you apply the three laws of motion to
motives ; but motives may be subject to
other laws of nature, no less invariable than
the laws of motion, though not the same.
Different parts of nature have different
laws, it may be said; and to apply the laws
of one part to another part, particularly to
apply the laws of inert matter to the phe-
nomena of mind, may lead into great falla-
cies. I think, indeed, that your reasoning



proves, that, between the influence of mo-
tives upon a mind and the influence of
impulse upon a body, there is but a very
slight analogy, which fails in many in-

I have wearied you and myself with a
long detail, I fear, little to the purpose ; but
it was in my head, and so came out. I am
just setting out on a jaunt to Paisley, with
my wife, son-in-law, and daughter, to come
home at night.

Yours most affectionately,
Tfio. Reid.



Deak Sir, — I believe 1 have never an-
swered the letter you favoured me with of
Aug. 9, by Capt. Gallie. First, I obeyed
your commands in attending Mrs Siddons
twice, in " Douglas," and in " Venice Pre-
served. " I believe I should have had much
more pleasure if, on account of deafness, I
had not lost much of what she said, and had
been better acquainted with the plays. But
I believe she is really an admirable actress,
and deserves the admiration you express of

You say, you fear we shall never agree
with respect to the notion of cause and
effect. I am at a loss to know wherein we
differ. I think we agree in this, that a
cause, in the proper and strict sense, (which,
I think, we may call the metaphysical sense,)
signifies a being or mind that has power
and will to produce the effect. But there
is another meaning of the word cause, which
is so well authorized by custom, that we
cannot always avoid using it, and I think
we may call it the physical sense ; as when
we say that heat is the cause that turns
water into vapour, and cold the cause that
freezes it into ice. A cause, in this sense,
means only something which, by the laws
of nature, the effect always follows. I
think natural philosophers, when they pre-
tend to shew the causes of natural phenom-
ena, always use the word in this last sense ;
and the vulgar in common discourse very
often do the same.

The reason why I take no notice of neuter
verbs is, that I conceive they are used to
express an event, without any signification
of its having a cause or not. But I shall
be very glad to see your speculations upon
this subject when they are ready.

I had a, letter from Dr Price lately,
thanking me for a copy of the Essays I
ordered to be presented to him, which he
has read, and calls it a work of the first
value ; commends me particularly for treat-

ing his friend Dr Priestly so gently, who,
he says, had been unhappily led to use me

As you are so kind as to ask about my
distemper, I think it is almost quite gone,
so as to give me no uneasiness. I abstain
from fruit and malt liquor, and take a little
port wine, morning, noon, and night, not
above two bottles in a week when alone.
The more I walk, or ride, or even talk or
read audibly, I am the better.

When your time is fixed for coming here,
I shall be glad to know it. — I am, dear Sir,
Most affectionately yours,
Tho. Reid.

Glasgow, 23rf Sept. 1785.



[March 1786.]

Dear Sir, — I hope your essay, along
with this, will come to your hand by the
carrier, and within the time you mention.
It would have been sent sooner if I had not
had a discourse to deliver before our Lite-
rary Society last Friday.

You give me most agreeable intelligence — •
first, of Mrs Stewart's being so far recovered
of a dangerous illness, and then of my
friend William's promotion, who, I hope,
will wear the robe with decency and dignity.

Your essay I have read several times
with attention, and I think the reasoning
perfectly conclusive to prove that the rela-
tion between motives and actions is totally
of a different kind from that which physical
causes bear to their effects.

I agree with you that the hypothesis you
combat in this essay is more unreasonable
than that of constant conjunction. Not
because it is more reasonable to conceive a
constant conjunction between motives and
actions than an occasional one ; but be-
cause the first agrees better than the last
with the hypothesis of motives being physi-
cal causes of actions. Between a physical
cause and its effect, the conjunction must
be constant, unless in the case of a miracle,
or suspension of the laws of nature. What
D. Hume says of causes, in general, is very
just when applied to physical causes, that a
constant conjunction with the effect is essen-
tial to such causes, and implied in the very
conception of them.

The style of this essay is more simple
than that of the last, and, I think, on that
account, more proper for a philosophical

I am proud of the approbation you ex-
press of the essays :* I have made some

* On the Active Powers. — H.




corrections and additions, but such as I
hope will not make it necessary to write it
over again. But I wish, if I find health
and leisure, in summer, to add some essays
to go before that on liberty, in order to give
some farther elucidation to the principles
of morals, both theoretical and practical. I
expect your remarks and D. Stewart's upon
what is in hand. It will be no inconveni-
ence to wait for them two or three, or even
four months — I am, dear Sir,

Yours most affectionately,
Tho. Reid.


Dear Sir,— In answer to your queries,"

• The following may serve to explain the allusions
in these letters, and, in general, the connection of
Reid with the family of Gregory :—

The Reverend John Gregory of Drumoak, in the
county of Aberdeen, was the common ancestor of
two lines, both greatly distinguished for mathema-
tical and general ability. His wife was a daughter
of David Anderson of Finzaugh, couain-german of
the celebrated analyst, Alexander Anderson, the
friend and follower of Vieta. By her, he had two
sons, David and James, progenitors of the several


The elder son, David Gregory of Kinairdy, in the
county of Aberdeen, was bred a merchant, and lived
che greater part of a long life in Holland He had
the singular fortune of seeing three sons Professors of
Mathem vticsat the same time in three British uni-

Of these sons, the eldest, David, (born 1666, difd
1710.) though inferior to hiB uncle James'in inventive
genius, was one of the most illustrious geometers and
geometrical authors of his time. .In 1683, elected
Professor of Mathematics in the University of Edin-
burgh, he w;is, in 1691, by the influence of Newton,
nominated Savilian Professor of Astronomy in Ox-
ford. His son, David, who died 1767, was student,
canon, and dean of Christ Church, and Regius Pro-
testor of Modern History in the sameuniversity.

The second of these sons, James, succeeded his
brother David as Professor of Mathematics in Edin-
burgh, and retired in favour of the celebrated Mac-
laurin, in 1725.

The thirdson, Ckarle$,-wa.s Professor of Mathema-
tics in St Andrews from 1707 to 1739, when he-resigned
in favour of his son, David, who held the Chair until
his death in 1761.

Dr Reid's mother was a daughter of David Gre-
gory of Kinairdy, and sister of the three Mathema-
tical Professors.

ir. LINE.

James, the younger 6on of the Rev. John Gregory,
was born in 1638, and died at the early age of thirty-
seven. He was Professor of Mathematics at St And-
rew's and Edinburgh j inventor of the Reflecting or
Gregorian Telescope; author of several remarkable
treatises on optics and geometry; and, altogether,
one of the most original mathematicians of his age.

His son, Jf?nes t Professor of Medicine in King's
College, Aberdeen, was father of a more celebrated

John, who was Lorn 1724, and died 1773. He was
successively Professor of Philosophy and of Medicine
in King's College, Aberdeen, and of the Practice of
Physic in the University of Edinburgh ; author of
the " Comparative View of the State and Faculties of
Man and Animals," of the •' Lectures on the Duties
and Qualifications of a Physician," of" Elements of
the Practice nf Physic," and of ( * A Father's Legacy
to his Daughters" His eldest son (Dr Reid's cor.
rcsp' nrient)—

Jamps, was born 1753, and died 1821. He was
Professor of the 'theory, afterwards of the Prnctice,

I know not precisely either the year of ray
grandfather's death or his age. But all
that I have heard agrees very well with the
account you mention. He served appren-
tice to a merchant in Rotterdam or Camp-
vere, and, I believe, continued there till the
murder of his elder brother. After he came
home, he prosecuted the murderer, (son
and heir to Viscount Frendritt, as I have
heard, though I find not the title among the
extinct or forfeited Peers,) who, being a
Roman Catholic, was protected by all the
interest of the Duke of York ; but was at
last condemned, but pardoned by the crown,
and sOon after killed in a naval engage-
ment. - Your g-grandfather was so much
younger than Kinairdy, as to be educated by
him. Kinairdy had no more sons professors
than the three you mention, who were all
professors before he died. David and James
were of the first marriage, and Charles of
the second. The two first were settled
before the Revolution — David as Professor
of Mathematics at Edinburgh, and, I sup-
pose, immediately succeeded his uncle, and
James as a Professor of Philosophy at St
Andrews. I think I have a printed thesis of
James, published at St Andrews before the
Revolution, which is a compend of Newton-
ian philosophy, with some strictures against
the scholastic philosophy. With regard to
the ten categories in particular, he says
there neither are nor can be more than two
categories, viz. Data and Q,u£esita.f I be-
lieve he was the first professor of philosophy
that taught the doctrines of Newton in a
Scotch university; for the Cartesian was

of Medicine, in the University of Edinburgh ; and
author of «* Conspectus Medicine Theoretics"," of
ft Philosophical and Literary Essays," and of various
other works, distinguished by a talent which promises
still to be hereditary.

• The murder here alluded to was committed on
Alexander Gregory of Netherdeel, eldest son and
heirofthe Rev. John Gregory, minister of Drumoak ;
and the person indicted for the crime, was James
(Crichton) Viscount Frendraught. The Books of
Adjournal (records of the Scottish Criminal Court)
detail the circumstances of the case. In 1664-, Alex-
ander Gregory, who held, in security, a part of
the estate of Frendraught, was decoyed by Francis
Crichton, the Viscount's uncle, to accompany him
to the house of Bognie, where that nobleman then
lodged. On the way he was assaulted by Crichton
and his servant; and, after he had surrendered his
arms, was wounded by them with swords and pistols,
and -then carried a prisoner to Bognie. Here he was
watched during the night, among others, by the Vis-
count, whose servants, nextday, early in a cold morn-
ing, threw him across a horse, his wounds undressed
and bleeding, and brought him to a lane cottage,
where he was left till found by his friends, who con-
veyed him to Aberdeen, where, after languishing for
a few days, he died. Mr Francis and his servant did
not compear. The relevancy of the libel against Lord
Frendraught was impugned, on the ground that the
crimes libelled being only statutory, and the pannel a
minor, they ought not to-pass to an assize. But, though
the libel was found relevant, the proof seems to have
been defective ; the jury, at least, found a verdict of ac
quittal. — lam indebted for this information to Dun-
can Gregory and James Maidment, Esquires.— H.

t This illustrates a statement in " The Analysis
of Aristotle's Logic," ch. ii. sec. 2.— H.


the orthodox system at that time, and con-
tinued to be so till 1715. I asked him once
how he came to give up his place at St
Andrew's on the change of government,
and afterwards to take the mathematical
chair at Edinburgh. " Faith, nephew," said
he, " I never minded politicks much ; but
my dearest companions in the college were
going out, and I did not like those that were
to keep their places ; and I thought it better
to go out in good company, than to stay be-
hind with ill." I believe Kinairdy's mathe-
matical and medical knowledge was the
effect of his own study and reading. He
was much employed as a physician, not
only by the poor, but by the nobility and
gentry ; but he took no fees ; and, I conceive,
his younger brother and his sons had their
mathematical education chiefly from him.
He had a barometer, and had a correspon-
dence with some foreigners, particularly with
Mariotte, on barometrical observations. As
a barometer had never been heard of in his
country before, he was once in danger of
being brought to some trouble by the Pres-
bytery on account of it. In Queen Ann's
war, Kinairdy employed himself upon an
invention for improving the effect of fire-
arms, of which he at last completed a model,
and sent it to his son David at Oxford, that
he might take the opinion of Sir Isaac New-
ton about it. I have heard my mother say
that he was so sanguine upon this project,
that he intended to make a campaign in
Flanders himself, and prepared for it. But
it is said that Sir I. Newton persuaded the
suppression of the invention as destructive
of the human species, and that it was never
brought to light. I knew a clockmaker in
Aberdeen who made all the parts by Kin-
airdy's direction ; but never saw them put
together, and could give no account of the
principles of it. Kinairdy carried his
family over to Holland, about the year
1715, as I believe, and, after some time,
returned to Aberdeen, and • died soon after,
flis widow was alive when I went first to
Aberdeen in April 1722 ; but old and bed-
rid. I never saw a more ladylike woman ;
I was now and then called in to her room,
when she sat up in her bed, and enter-
tained with sweetmeats and grave advices.
Her daughters, that assisted her often, as
well as one who lived with her, treated her
as if she had been of a superior rank ; and,
indeed, her appearance and manner com-
manded respect. I don't believe that she
could ever descend so far from her dignity
and magnanimity as to scold. And the
reverence paid her by all her descendants
to the last period of her life, seems incon-
sistent with that character. She and all
her children were zealous Presbyterians.
The first wife's children were rather Tories
and Ejpiscooalians. I believe she had much

ado to keep up her authority with them
while they were in the family. David and
James, when prosecuting their studies at
Edinburgh, used to pass their vacations at
Kinairdy ; and very often Dr Pitcairn, or
some other fellow-student came along with
them ; and, as the master of the family was
very much from home, it was not easy for a
stepmother to keep them to her rules. One
of her stepdaughters married a Mr Cuthbert,
of the family of Castlehill, a writer in Aber-
deen, and was the mother of David Cuth-
bert, who saved millions to the nation in
the war before last, by controling the
accounts of the commissaries in Germany.

Another daughter of the first marriage,
married a Mr Innes of Tilliefour. A
grandson of hers, Alexander Innes, was a
professor of philosophy in Marischal College,
Aberdeen. He had a great turn to natural
history and to medicine ; but died young.

My mother, Margaret Gregory, was the
oldest daughter of the second marriage.
Besides Charles, there was a George of the
second marriage, a merchant in Campvere,
and the father of David Gregory at Dun-
kirk, and of John Gregory at Campvere.
Your uncle, David Gregory, served an
apprenticeship to this George Gregory, and
married his widow after his death. Charles
told me that his brother George fell to the
study of mathematics in Holland, and wrote
him an account of his discoveries. But
Charles bid him mind his mercantile affairs ;
for these things had been discovered already
by authors he was unacquainted with. The
only daughter of the second marriage, besides
my mother, who left issue, was -Anne, the
youngest daughter, grandmother to James
Bartlet, banker in Edinburgh.

The story of the watch, to which, I sup-
pose, you allude, I have heard very often.
By the descendants of the first wife it was
imputed to the second wife ; but the de-
scendants of the second wife imputed it to
the first wife. The first time I was in
Dean Gregory's house at Oxford, he told
it very well to a large company of Oxonians.
He prefaced it by saying that his grand-
father had a termagant to his second wife ;
but turning to me and another Scotch gen-
tleman that was with me, he said, " I beg
your pardon, gentlemen, for I don't know
but one of you may be come of her." I
answered that I believed I had heard the
story 'he was about to tell, and heard it
imputed to the first wife, of whom he was
come ; but it was no matter which : I begged
he would proceed. To this he agreed, and
proceeded to the story of the watch.*

Another story, somewhat similar, is tola
of Kinairdy. On some occasion his wife,
I know not which wife, insisted very per-

* Which is now forgotten in the family. — .H.



emptorily that lie should correct two of his
sons, which, it seems, he was not accus-
tomed to do ; but the offence was such, that

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 17 of 114)