Thomas Reid.

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

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effect leads men to believe a necessary con-
nection between them, but that the con-
stant conjunction between motive and action
has no such effect, appears to me very weak
and unphilosophical ; and this account of
the phenomenon of men's putting a differ-
ence between the relation of motive and
action, and the relation of cause and effect,
does not appear to me to deserve the epithet
you give it, of very ingenious.

The last part of the quotation, beginning
with — " Let any one define a cause without
comprehending," &lc* I think has a distinct

* The whole sentence is as follows : — It is from
Hume's " Inquiry concerning the Human Under,
standing," sect. viii. part 1 . prope Jinem. " Let any
one define a cause, without comprehending, asapart of
the definition, a necessary connection with its effect ;
and let himishew distinctly the origin of the idea, ex
pressed by the definition, and I shall readily give up
Die. whole controversy." — Dr Reid, in his remarks
on this passage, would be right, did Hume mean
by necessary connection, a really necessary con.
nection, and not merely a feeling of necessity in
us, and that not a priori, but apo ieriori— not the

meaning ; but that meaning is so imperti-
nent to his purpose, and so contrary to his
principles, that I cannot help thinking that
he meant to say the very contrary of what
he says ; and that the word without has slipt
into the sentence by an oversight of the
author or printer. For, does not he him-
self define a cause without comprehending,
as a part of the definition, a necessary con-
nection between the cause and the effect ?
Does he not maintain that we have no idea
of necessary connection ? He certainly
meant to say, that he would give up the
whole controversy, if any one could shew
that we have such an idea, and not to say
that he would give up the controversy, if
any one could give a definition of cause
without comprehending that idea. Were
I to comment upon this passage in the
Bentleian style, I would say dele without,
rneo periculo. After all, how he should
think that the bulk of mankind have, without
reason, joyned the idea of necessary con-
nection to that of constant conjunction, in
the relation of cause and effect, when man-
kind have no such idea, I cannot account

Of the Notion of Instrument.

66, &c. — I am not pleased with the three
different meanings you put upon the word
volition, nor do I think it ambiguous. Will
is indeed an ambiguous word, being some-
times put for the faculty of willing ; some-
times for the act of that faculty, besides
other meanings. But volition always sig-
nifies the act of willing, and nothing else.
Willingness, I think, is opposed to unwil-
lingness or aversion. A man is willing to
do what he has no aversion to do, or what
he has some desire to do, though perhaps
he has not the opportunity ; and I think
this is never called volition.

Choice or preference, in the proper sense,
is an act of the understanding ; but some-
times it is improperly put for volition, or
the determination of the will in things where
there is no judgment or preference ; thus,
a man who owes me a shilling, lays down
three or four equally good, and bids me take
which I choose. I take one without any
judgment or belief that there is any ground
of preference — this is merely an act of will
that is a volition.

An effort greater or less, I think, always
accompanies volition, but is not called vo-
lition. There may be a determination of
will to do something to-morrow or next
week. This, though it be properly an act

offspring acknowledge, but of blind habit. It is here
the part of ihe sceptic, not to disprove the subjective
phaenomenon of necessity, but to shew that it is ille-
gitimate and objectively barren.— H.



of will, is not called volition, because it has
a proper name of its own — we call it a reso-
lution or purpose ; and here the effort is
suspended till the purpose is to be ex-

I apprehend that, in dreaming, the effort
accompanies volition, as well as when we
are awake ; but in most persons the effort
in dreaming produces little or no motion
in the body, as is the case in palsy. When
a hound dreams, we see a feeble attempt to
move his limbs and to bark, as if he had the
palsy. And a man dreaming that he cries
desperately for help, is often heard to make
a feeble attempt to cry.


16, &c I humbly think that my power

to ride or to walk, and the king's power to
call or to dissolve a parliament, are different
kinds, or rather different meanings of the
word power. In the former meaning, every-
thing depending upon my will is in my
power, and consequently my will itself ; for,
if I had not power to will, I could have no
power to do what depends upon my will.
In the second meaning, power signifies a
right by the law or by the constitution,
according to that maxim of law, Nihil pos-
sum quod jure non possum.

In another law sense, we say — It is part
of the king's prerogative that he can do no
wrong. The meaning of this is not that he
has no legal right to do wrong, for this may
be said of the meanest of his subjects ; but
it means that he cannot be accused or tried
for any wrong before any criminal judica-
ture. It is his prerogative, that he cannot
be called to account for any wrong.

71, &c. — The doctrine deliveredfrom page
71 to 76, I suspect very much not to be
just. If it be true, it is surely important,
and would make many difficulties instantly
to vanish, which the bulk of philosophers
have laboured in vain to resolve, and the
wiser part have reckoned to be insolvable.
It is so new and so contrary to all that
philosophers have taught and believed since
the days of Aristotle, that it ought to be
proposed and supported with great modesty ;
but, indeed, I cannot yet assent to it.

I have, for instance, the power of moving
my hand ; all the activity I am conscious
of exerting, is volition and effort to move
the hand ; the motion must begin some-
where. Suppose it begins at the nerves,
and that its being continued till the hand
be moved, is all mechanism. ' The first
motion, however, cannot be mechanism.
It follows immediately upon my volition and

Nor do I know how my volition and
effort to move my hand, nroduoes a certain

motion in the nerves. I am conscious that
in this there is something which I do not
comprehend, though I believe He that made
me comprehends it perfectly. If I be struck
with a palsy, that volition and effort which
before moved my hand, is now unable to do
it. Is this owing to an inability to produce
the first motion ? or is it owing to some de-
rangement of the machine of the body ? I
know not. Nay, I am uncertain whether I
be truly and properly the agent in the first
motion ; for I can suppose, that, whenever
I will to move my hand, the Deity, or some
other agent, produces the first motion in my
body — which was the opinion of Male-
branche. This hypothesis agrees with all that
I am conscious of in the matter. I am like
a child turning the handle of a hand organ
— the turning of the handle answers to my
volition and effort. The music immediately
follows ; but how it follows, the child knows
not. Were two or three ingenious children
to speculate upon the subject, who had never
seen nor heard of such a machine before,
perhaps one who had seen strange effects of
mechanism, might conjecture that the
handle, by means of machinery, produced
the music : another, like Malebranche,
might conjecture that a musician, concealed
in the machine, always played when the
handle was turned.

We know as little how our intellectual
operations are performed as how we move
our own body. I remember many things
past ; but how I remember them I know
not. Some have attempted to account for
memory by a repository of ideas, or by traces
left in the brain of the ideas we had before.
Such accounts would appear ridiculous at
first sight, if we knew how the operation of
memory is performed. But, as we are
totally ignorant how we remember, such
weak hypotheses have been embraced by
sensible men.

In these, and in innumerable cases that
might be mentioned, it seems to me to be
one thing to know that such a thing is, and
another to know how it is.

Perhaps you may have been led into the
mistake, if it be a mistake, by what you
say about definition in the note, p. 76. An
operation, or any other thing that is per-
fectly simple, cannot be defined — this is
true. Nor can it be explained by words to
a man who had not the conception of it be-
fore ; for words can give us no new simple
conceptions, but such only as we had before,
and had annexed to such words.

Thus, if a man born blind asks me what
a scarlet colour is, the question, I think, is
not impertinent, or nugatory, or absurd; but
I can only answer him, that, though I know
perfectly what a scarlet colour is, it is im-
possible to give him a distinct conception of
it unless he saw. But, if he asks me how



my volition and effort moves ray hand, I
not onely cannot satisfy him, but am con-
scious that I am ignorant myself. We both
know that there is a constant conjunction
between the volition and the motion, when
I am in health, but how they are connected
I know not, but should think myself much
wiser than I am, if I did know, for any-
thing I know, some other being may move
my hand as often as I will to move it. The
volition, I am conscious, is my act ; but I
am not conscious that the motion is so. I
onely learn from experience that it always fol-
lows the volition, when I am in sound health.

Activity. — Sect. 1.

P. 24, &c The distinction, between the

two kinds of active verbs here marked, ap-
pears no less clearly when they are used in
the passive voice. To be known, to be be-
lieved, &c, imply nothing done to the things
known or believed. But to be wounded, to
be healed, implies something done to the
wounded or healed. A scholastick philoso-
pher would say that to be wounded, belongs
to the category of passion ; but to be knoun.
belongs to none of the categories— being only
an external denomination. Indeed, however
grammarians might confound those two
kinds of active verbs, the scholastick philo-
sophers very properly distinguished the acts
expressed by them. They called the acts
expressed by the first kind immanent acts,
and those expressed by the second kind,
transitive acts. Immanent acts of mind are
such as produce no change in the object.
Such are all acts of understanding, and even
sume that may be called voluntary— such as
attention, deliberation, purpose.

Activity — Sect. 2.

P. 43. — If my memory does not deceive
me, Charlevoix, in his history of Canada,
says, that, in the Huron language, or in some
language of that country, there is but one
word for both the sexes of the human species,
which word has two genders, not a mascu-
line and feminine — for there is no such dis-
tinction of genders in the language— but a
a noble and an ignoble gender : the ignoble
gender signifies not a woman, though we
improperly translate it so. It signifies a
coward, or a good-for-nothing creature of
either sex. A woman of distinguished
talents that create respect, is always of the
noble gender. I know not whether it be
owing to something of this kind in the
Gaelic language, that a Highlander, who
has got onely a little broken English, modestly

takes the feminine gender to himself, and,
in place of saying / did so, says, her own st/J
did so. ..... .

As to the mathematical reasoning on
motive, Section 2, to prove that the relation
of motive and agent is very different from
that of a physical cause to its effect, I think
it just and conclusive ; and that it is a good
argument ad hominem, against the scheme
of Necessity held by Hume, Priestley, and
other modern advocates for Necessity, who
plainly make these two relations the same.
Mr Hume holds it for a maxim no less ap-
plicable to intelligent beings and their ac-
tions, than to. physical causes and their
effects, that the cause is to be measured by
the effect. And from this maxim he infers,
or makes an Epicurean to infer, that we
have reason to ascribe to the Deity just as
much of wisdom, power, and goodness, as
appears in the constitution of things, and
no more.

The reasoning in the papers on activity, to
shew that the relation between an agent and
his action is, in the structure of language, dis-
tinguished from the relation between a cause
and its effect, is, I think, perfectly just when
cause is taken in a certain sense ; but I am
not so clear that the word cause is never,
except metaphorically or figuratively, taken
in any other sense. You will see my senti-
ments about that word in two chapters of my
" Essay on the Liberty of Moral Agents,"
now in your hands. If I had seen your
papers before I wrote those two chapters,
perhaps I would have been more explicit.
However, they will save you and me the
trouble of repeating here what is there said.

I think, after all, the difference between
you and me is merely about the use of a
word ; and that it amounts to this — whether
the word cause, and the corresponding words
in other languages, has, or has not, from the
beginning, been used to express, without a
figure, a being that produces the effect by
his will and power.

I see not how mankind could ever have
acquired the conception of a cause, or of
any relation, beyond a mere conjunction in
time and place between it and its effect, if
they were not conscious of active exertions
in themselves, by which effects are pro-
duced. This seems to me to be the origin
of the idea or conception of production.

In the grammar rule, causa, modus et
instrumentum, &c, the word cause is taken
in a limited sense, which is explained by
the words conjoyned with it. Nor do I see
that any part of the rule would be lost if
the word causa had been altogether left out.
Is not everything which you would call a
cause a mean or an instrument ? May not
everything to which the rule applies he
called a mean or an instrument ? But surely
many things are called causes that are




neither means nor instruments, and to which
the rule does not apply.

You know that Aristotle, who surely
understood Greek, makes four kinds of
causes — the efficient, the matter, the form,
and the end- I thiiik the- grammar rule
applies to none of these ; for they are not
in Latin expressed by an oblative without
a preposition.

That nothing can happen without a cause,
is a maxim found in Plato, in Cicero, and, I
believe, never brought into doubt till the
time of D. Hume. If this be not under-
stood of an efficient cause, it is not true of
any other kind of cause ; nor can any reason
be given why it should have been universally
received as an axiom. All other causes
suppose an efficient cause ; but it supposes
no other ; and, therefore, in every enumer-
ation of causes, it is made the first ; and
the word cause, without any addition, is put
to signify an efficient cause ; as in that of
Cicero, (which I quote only from memory,)
" Itaque non est causa quod cuique ante~
ctdit, sed quod cuique efficicnter anle-






Page 2. — " Philosophical Necessity." —
This, I think, is an epithet given to the
doctrine of Necessity by Dr Priestley only ;
and I do not see that he deserves to be fol-
lowed in it. The vulgar have, from the
beginning of the world, had the conception
of it as well as philosophers. Whether they
ground it upon the influence of the stars,
or the decrees of fate, or of the gods, or
upon the influence of motives, it is necessity
still. I have often found the illiterate vul-
gar have recourse to it to exculpate their
own faults, or those of their friends, when
no other excuse could be found. It lurks
in their minds as a last shift to alleviate the
pangs of guilt, or to soften their indignation
against those whom they love.-|- But it is not
admitted on other occasions. Dr Priestley
by this epithet no doubt wished it to pass
for a profound discovery of philosophy ; but

* On the " Essay " Somepages correspond to the
published work, others do not. The " Essay ' was,
therefore, probably printed but in proof. — H.
+ Thus Agamemnon :— 'Eyai 5' °ux uUtot tlm,
'AAA* Xtus xati Mo?g« Kx) rn^tKpotm 'h^lvvvs- — H.

I know no claim it has to be called philoso.

In other places, you use another of Dr
Priestley's words — the Necessarians. I see
no reason for adding this word to our lan-
guage, when Fatalists might do as well.
Sometimes I think you call them the Philo-
sophers indefinitely. I don't like this
neither. Fatalism was never so general
among philosophers, nor so peculiar to them,
as to justify it.

P. 27 In my " Essay on Liberty" I

have censured the defenders of Necessity for
grounding one of their chief arguments upon
this as a self-evident axiom, That the strong-
est motive always determines the agent, while
no one of them, as far as I know, has offered
to explain what is meant by the strongest
motive, or given any test by which we may
know which of two contrary motives is the
strongest ; without which the axiom is an
identical proposition, or has no meaning at
all. I have offered two tests of the strength
of motives — according as they operate upon
the will immediately, or upon the under-
standing — and endeavoured to shew that the
maxim is not true according to either.

P. 72. — The want of sincerity or bona
fides, in a large body of men, respected and
respectable, is a very tender place, and can-
not be touched with too much delicacy.
Though you were sure of being able to de-
monstrate it, I am afraid it may be taken as
an insult, which even demonstration cannot
justify. Your not making the conclusion
general, for want of a sufficiently extensive
information, will not satisfy, because it seems
to extend the conclusion as far as your
observation has extended, and because the
reasons on which you ground your con-
clusion seem to extend it to all fatalists
who can draw a conclusion from premises.
If David Hume, or any other person, has
charged those who profess to believe men to
be free agents with insincerity, I think he
did wrong, and that I should do wrong in
following the example.

But, setting apart the consideration of
bienseance, I doubt of the truth of your
conclusion. If human reason were perfect,
I think you would be better founded ; but
we are such imperfect creatures, that I fear
we are not exempted from the possibility of
swallowing contradictions. Could you not
prove with equal strength that all bad men
are infidels ? Yet I believe this not to be

In page 76, you speak of our having a
consciousness of independent activity. I
think this cannot be said with strict pro-
priety. It is only the operations of our
own mind that we are conscious of. Ac-
tivity is not an operation of mind ; it is a



power to act. We are conscious of our
volitions, but not of the cause of them.

I think, indeed, that we have an early
and a natural conviction that we have power
to will this or that ; that this conviction
precedes the exercise of reasoning ; that it
is implyed in all our deliberations, purposes,
promises, and voluntary actions: and I have
used this as an argument for liberty. But
I think this conviction is not properly called

I truly think that a fatalist who acted
agreeably to his belief, would sit still, like a
passenger in a ship, and suffer himself to be
carried on by the tide of fate ; and that,
when he deliberates, resolves, promises, or
chuses, he acts inconsistently with his be-
lief. But such inconsistencies, I fear, are
to be found in life ; and, if men be ever con-
vinced of them, it must be by soothing words
and soft arguments, which ludunt cir-
cum pnecordia ; for the force of prejudice,
joyned with that of provocation, will shut
the door against all conviction.

I humbly think, therefore, that it will be
prudent and becoming to express less con-
fidence in your mathematical reasonings,
though I really believe them to be just upon
the hypothesis you combat. Fatalists will
think that, when you put the issue of the
controversy solely upon the experiments,
you treat them like children. No fatalist
will contend with you upon that footing,
nor take it well to be challenged to do so ;
and I think you have a good plea with any
man who disputes the strength of your ma-
thematical reasoning, to prove that the
relation between motives and actions is
altogether of a different kind, and subject to
different laws from that between physical
causes and their effects.







Remarks on the Essay.

Page 23. — I am apt to think even the
vulgar have the notion of necessary con-
nection, and that they perceive it in arith-
metical and mathematical axioms, though
they do not speculate about it ; nor do they
perceive it between physical causes and
their effects. Does not every man of com-
mon sense perceive the ridiculousness of

' Ae published.— H.

that complaint to the gods, which one of
the heroes of the " Dunciad" makes—

" And am I now fourscore ?

Ah! why, ye gods, should two and two make four t"

But is it not remarkable that Mr Hume,
after taking so much pains to prove that we
have no idea of necessary connection, should
impute to the bulk of mankind the opinion
of a necessary connection between physical
causes and their effects ? Can they have
this opinion without an idea of necessary
connection ?

33 — The passage here quoted from Mr
Hume is, indeed, so extraordinary, that I
suspect an error in printing, and that the
word without has been put in against his
intention, though I find it in my copy of his
essays, as well as in your quotation. For
how could a man who denies that we have
any idea of necessary connection, defy any
one to define a cause without comprehending
necessary connection ? He might, consist-
ently with himself, have defied any one to
define a cause, comprehending in the defi-
nition necessary connection ; and at the
same time to shew distinctly the origin of
the idea expressed by the definition. How
could he pledge himself to give up the con-
troversy on the condition of getting such a
definition, when, as you observe, he had
given two such definitions himself? If
there be no error of the press, we must
say, Aliquando bonus dormitat Humius. *

34 and 35. — You observe justly and perti-
nently, that "the intelligible and consistent
use of a word shews that the speaker had
some thought, notion, or idea, correspond-
ing to it." Idea is here put for the mean-
ing of a word, which can neither be true nor
false, because it implies neither affirmation
nor negation. But in the same paragraph
it is supposed that this idea may be im-
proper, groundless, and to be given up.
This can onely be applied to idea, taken
in another sense — to wit, when it implies
some affirmation or negation. I know this
ambiguity may be found in Locke and Hume ;
but I think it ought to be avoided.

36. — " Or the philosophical doctrine of
ideas. " If, an hundred years after this, the
philosophical doctrine of ideas be as little
regarded as the Vortices of Des Cartes are
at this day, they may then be coupled in
the manner you here do. But at present,
though I am proud of your opinion, that
that doctrine must be given up, I think it
is expressed in a way too assuming with
regard to the publick.

40 I know of no philosopher who makes

the word cause extend solely to the giving
of existence.

44. Dr Reid agrees with the author of
the Essay, that the word cause ought to be

* See note at page 79.— H.



used in the most common sense.* But
one sense may be the most common in
one science, and another in others. He
thinks that, in theology and in metaphysicks,
the most common sense is that of agent or

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 20 of 114)