Thomas Reid.

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

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Crombie calls it a necessary connection ;
but this no man sees in physical causes ;
and, if every event must have a physical
cause, then every event must have been
repeated in conjunction with its cause from
eternity, for it could have no constant con-
junction when first produced.

The most shocking consequences of the
system of necessity are avowed by this au-
thor without shame. Moral evil is nothing
but as it tends to produce natural evil. A
man truely enlightened, ought to have no
remorse for the blackest crimes. I think
he might have added that the villain has
reason to glory in his crimes, as he suffers
for them without his fault, and for the com-
mon good. Among the arts of this author,
the following are often put in practice : —
1. To supply the defect of argument by
abuse. 2. What he thinks a consequence
of the system of Liberty he imputes to his
adversaries as their opinion, though they
deny it. 3. What is urged as a conse-
quence of Necessity, he considers as imputing
an opinion to those who hold Necessity, and
thinks it answer that they hold no such
opinion. 4. What is said to invalidate an
argument for Necessity, he considers as an

• This is no removal of the difficulty. Is the man
determined to volition, and to a certain kind of voli-
tion, or is he not? If the former, neccssitation is
not avoided; if the latter, the admitted absurdity
emerges. The schemes of Libenyand of Nece.-sityare
contradictory ot each other: they consequently ex-
elude any intermediate theory; and one or other
must be true. Yet the possibility of neither can be
conceived ; for each equally involves what is incom-
prehensible, if not what is absurd. Hut ot this again,

argument against Necessity ; and thinks it
sufficient to shew that it does not answer a
purpose for which it never was intended, aa
if what is a sufficient answer to an argument
for Necessity must be a conclusive argument
against Necessity. I believe, however, he
may claim the merit of adding the word
Libertarian to the English language, as
Priestley added that of Necessarian. —

Tho. Reid.*


[The following Letter to Dr Gregory is
quoted by Mr Stewart in his Cc Disserta-
tion on the Progress of Metaphysical and
Moral ScienceS* The dale is not given ;
and the original is not now extant among
the letters of Reid in the hands of Dr
Gregory's family. — H. ]

The merit of what you are pleased to call
my philosophy, lies, I think, chiefly, in hav-
ing called in question the common theory
of ideas, or images of things in the mind,
being the only objects of thought ; a theory
founded on natural prejudices, and so uni-
versally received as to be interwoven with
the structure of the language. Yet, were I
to give you a detail of what led me to call
in question this theory, after I had long held
it as self-evident and unquestionable, you
would think, as I do, that there was much
of chance in the matter. The discovery
was the birth of time, not of genius ; and
Berkeley and Hume did more to bring it to
light than the man that hit upon it. I
think there is hardly anything that can be
called mine in the philosophy of the mind,
which does not follow with ease from the
detection of this prejudice. I must, there-
fore, beg of you most earnestly to make no
contrast in my favour to the disparagement
of my predecessors in the same pursuits. I
can truly say of them, and shall always
avow, what you are pleased to say of me,
that, but for the assistance I have received
from their writings, I never could have
wrote or thought what I have done.

* Besides the preceding papers on the question of
Liberty and Necessity, there are extant, Remarks
at considerable length by Reid, on three sets of Objec.
tions made by a distinguished natural philosopher to
Dr Gregory's Essay, in the years 17S6, 1789, and
1790. These Kemarks, though of much interest,
have been omitted : for they could not adequately be
understood apart from the relative Objections; and
these it was deemed improper to publish posthu-
mously, after their author had expressly refused to
allow them to be printed during his life. — There are
also omitted, as of minor importance, two other
papers on the same question ; the one containing,
<* Remarks on the Objections to Dr Gregory's h ssay,"
which were printed in the appendix to that Essay ;
theoth'r," Remarks"on apamphlet entitled " Illus-
trations of Liberty and Necessity, in Answer to D»
Gregory," published in 1795.— H.



The following letter was addressed, by Dr Reid, to the Rev. Archibald Alison,
(LL.B., Prebendary of Sarum, &c.,) on receiving a copy of his " Essays on the Nature
and Principles of Taste" — a work of great ingenuity and elegance, and the first systematic
attempt to explain the emotions of sublimity and beauty on the principles of association-
It was originally published in 1790. It is, perhaps, needless to remind the reader that
Mr Alison was brother-in-law of Dr Gregory. — H.


Dear Sib, — I received your very oblig-
ing letter of Jan. 10, with two copies of your
book, about the middle of last week. I ex-
pected a meeting of Faculty, to which I might
present the book, and return you the thanks
of the society along with my own ; but we
have had no meeting since I received it.
In the meantime, I have read it with avidity
and with much pleasure ; and cannot longer
forbear to return you my cordial thanks for
this mark of your regard, and for the hand-
some compliment you.make me in the book.

I think your principles are just, and that
you have sufficiently justified them by a
great variety of illustrations, of which many
appear new to me, and important in them-
selves, as well as pertinent to the purpose
for which they are adduced.

That your doctrine concerning the sub-
lime and beautiful in objects of sense coin-
cides, in a great degree, with that of the
Platonic school, and with Shaftesbury and
Akenside among the moderns, I think may
justly be said. They believed intellec-
tual beauties to be the highest order, com-
pared with which the terrestrial hardly de-
serve the name. They taught beauty and
good to be one and the same thing. But
both Plato and those two, his admirers,
handle the subject of beauty rather with
the enthusiasm of poets or lovers, than with
the cool temper of philosophers. And it is
difficult to determine what allowance is to
be made, in what they have said, for the
hyperbolical language of enthusiasm.

The other two you mention, Dr Hutche-

son and Mr Spence, though both admirers
of Plato, do not appear to me either to have
perceived this doctrine in him, or to have
discovered it themselves. The first places
beauty in uniformity and variety, which,
when they are perceived, immediately affect
that internal sense which he calls the sense
of beauty. The other makes colour, form,
expression, and grace to be the four ingre-
dients of beauty in the female part of our
species, without being aware that the beauty
of colour, form, and grace is nothing but
expression, as well as what he calls by that

On these grounds, I am proud to think
that I first, in clear and explicit terms, and
in the cool blood of a philosopher, main-
tained that all the beauty and sublimity of
objects of sense is derived from the expres-
sion they exhibit of things intellectual, which
alone have original beauty. But in this I
may deceive myself, and cannot claim to be
held an impartial judge.

Though I don't expect to live to see the
second part of your work, I have no hesi-
tation in advising you to prosecute it ; being
persuaded that criticism is reducible to prin-
ciples of philosophy, which may be more
fully unfolded than they have been, and
which will always be found friendly to the
best interests of mankind, as well as to
manly and rational entertainment.

Mrs Eeid desires to present her best re-
spects to Mrs Alison, to which I beg you
to add mine, and to believe me to be your
much obliged and faithful servant,

Tho. Reie.

Glasgow College,
3d Feb. 1790.


There has been given above, (p. 63,) a letter by Dr Reid, in 1784, recording a
remarkable conversation between Sir Isaac Newton and Professor James Gregory,
relative to Sir Isaac's descent from the family of Newton of Newton, in the county
of East Lothian. Some years thereafter, Mr Barron, a relation of Sir Isaac, seems
to have instituted inquiries in regard to the Scottish genealogy of the philosopher ; in con-



sequence of which, the late Professor Robison of Edinburgh, aware, probably, of the
letter to Dr Gregory, was induced to apply to Dr Reid for a more particular account
of the conversation in question. The following is Reid's answer, as published in Sir
David Brewster's " Life of Sir Isaac Newton." — H.

Dear Sir,— I am very glad to learn, by
yours of April 4, that a Mr Barron, a near
relation of Sir Isaac Newton, is anxious to
inquire into the descent of that great man,
as the family cannot trace it farther, with
any certainty, thanhisgrandfather. I there-
fore, as you desire, send you a precise ac-
count of all I know ; and am glad to have
this opportunity, before I die, of putting
this information in hands that will make the
proper use of it, if it shall be found of any

Several years before I left Aberdeen,
(whichl didin 1764,)Mr Douglas of Fechel,
the father of Sylvester Douglas, now a bar-
rister at London, told me, that, having been
lately at Edinburgh, he was often in com-
pany of Mr Hepburn of Keith, a gentleman
with whom I had some acquaintance, by his
lodging a night at my house at NewMachar,
when he was in the rebel army in 1745.
That Mr Hepburn told him, that he had
heard Mr James Gregory, Professor of
Mathematics, Edinburgh, say, that, beiug
one day in familiar conversation with Sir
Isaac Newton at London, Sir Isaac said —
" Gregory, I believe you don't know that
I ama Scotchman." — " Pray, how is that ?"
said Gregory. Sir Isaac said, he was in-
formed that his grandfather (or great-grand-
father) was a gentleman of East (or West)
Lothian ; that he went to London with
King James I. at his accession to the crown
of England ; and that he attended the court,
in expectation, as many others did, until
he spent his fortune, by which means his
family was reduced to low circumstances.
At the time this was told me, Mr Gregory
was dead, otherwise I should have had his
own testimony ; for he was my mother's
brother. I likewise thought at that time,
that it had been certainly known that Sir
Isaac had been descended from an old
English family, as I think is said in his
eloye before the Academy of Sciences at
Paris; and therefore I never mentioned
what I had heard for many years, believing
that there must be some mistake in it.

Some years after I came to Glasgow,
I mentioned, (I believe for the first time,)
what I had heard to have been said by Mr
Hepburn, to Mr Cross, late sheriff of this
county, whom you will remember. Mr
Cross was moved by this account, and im-
mediately said — " I know Mr Hepburn very
well, and I know he was intimate with Mr
Gregory. I shall write him this same night,
to know whether he heard Mr Gregory say
bo or not. " After some reflection, lie added

— " I know that Mr Keith, the ambassador,
was also an intimate acquaintance of Mr
Gregory, and, as he is at present in Edin-
burgh, I shall likewise write to him this

The next time I waited on Mr Cross,
he told me that he had wrote both to Mr
Hepburn and Mr Keith, and had an
answer from both ; and that both of them
testified that they had several times heard
Mr James Gregory say, that Sir Isaac New-
ton told him what is above expressed, but
that neither they nor Mr Gregory, as far
as they knew, ever made any farther inquiry
into the matter. This appeared very strange
both to Mr Cross and me ; and he said he
would reproach them for their indifference,
and would make inquiry as soon as he was

He lived but a short time after this ; and,
in the last conversation I had with him
upon the subject, he said, that all he had
yet learned was, that there was a Sir John
Newton of Newton in one of the counties of
Lothian, (but I have forgot which,) some
of whose children were yet alive ; that they
reported that their father, Sir John, had a
letter from Sir Isaac Newton, desiring to
know the state of his family ; what children
he had, particularly what sons ; and in what
way they were. The old knight never re-
turned an answer to this letter, thinking,
probably, that Sir Isaac was some upstart,
who wanted to claim a relation to his wor-
shipful house. This omission the children
regretted, conceiving that Sir Isaac might
have had a view of doing something for then-

After this, I mentioned occasionally in
conversation what I knew, hoping that these
facts might lead to some more certain dis-
covery ; but I found more coldness about
the matter than I thought it deserved. I
wrote an account of it to Dr Gregory, your
colleague, that he might impart it to any
member of the Antiquarian Society who he
judged might have had the curiosity to trace
the matter farther.

In the year 1787, my colleague, Mr
Patrick Wilson, Professor of Astronomy,
having been in London, told me, on bis
return, that he had met accidentally with a
James Hutton, Esq. of Pimlico, Westmin-
ster, a near relation of Sir Isaac Newton,
to whom he mentioned what he had heard
from me with respect to Sir Isaac's descent,
and that I wished much to know something
decisive on the subject. Mr Hutton said,
if I pleased to write to him, lie would give



me all the information he could give. I
wrote him, accordingly, and had a very
polite answer, dated at Bath, 25th Decem-
ber 1787, which is now before me. He
says, " I shall be glad, when I return to
London, if I can find, in some old notes of
my mother, any thing that may fix the cer-
tainty of Sir Isaac's descent. If he spoke
so to Mr James Gregory, it is most cer-
tain he spoke truth. But Sir Isaac's
grandfather, not his great-grandfather,
must be the person who came from Scot-
land with King James I. If I find any
thing to the purpose, I will take care it
shall reach you."

This is all I know of the matter; and
for the facts above mentioned, I pledge
my veracity. I am much obliged to you,

dear Sii ,for the kind expressions of your
affection and esteem, which, I assure you,
are mutual on my part; and I sincerely
sympathise with you on your afflicting
state of health, which makes you consider
yourself as out of the world, and despair
of seeing me any more.

I have been long out of the world by
deafness and extreme old age. I hope,
however, if we should not meet again in
this world, that we shall meet and renew
our acquaintance in another. In the
meantime, I am, with great esteem, dear
Sir, yours affectionately,

Tho. Re in

Glasgow College,
12tt April 1792.


The following is in answer to the letter of Hume, given by Mr Stewart in his Ac-
count of Reid, (supra, p. 7, sq.) It is recently published, from the Hume papers,
by Mr Burton, in his very able life of the philosopher ; and, though out of chrono-
logical order, (by the reprinting of a leaf,) it is here inserted H.


King's College, [Aberdeen,]
ISth March 1763.

Sir, — On Monday last, Mr John Far-
quhar brought me your letter of February
25th, enclosed in one from Dr Blair. I
thought myself very happy in having
the means of obtaining at second hand,
through the friendship of Dr Blair, your
opinion of my performance : and you have
been pleased to communicate it directly
in so polite and friendly a manner, as
merits great acknowledgments on my
part. Your keeping a watchful eye over
my style, with a view to be of use to
me, is an instance of candour and gene-
rosity to an antagonist, which would affect
me very sensibly, although I had no per-
sonal concern in it, and I shall always be
proud to show so amiable an example.
Your judgment of the style, indeed, gives
me great consolation, as I was very diffi-
dent of myself in regard to English, and
have been indebted to Drs Campbell and
Gerard for many corrections of that

In attempting to throw some new light

* Kant makes a similar acknowledgment. " By
Hume," he says, " I was first Btartled out of my
dogmatic slumber." Thus Hume (as elsewhere
stated) is author, in a sort, of all our subsequent
philosophy. For out of Reid and Kant, mediately
or immediately, all our subsequent philosophy is

upon those abstruse subjects, I wish to
preserve the due mean betwixt confidence
and despair. But whether I have any
success in this attempt or not, I shall
always avow myself your disciple in me-
taphysics. I have learned more from
your writings in this kind, than from all
others put together. Your system appears
to me not only coherent in all its parts,
but likewise justly deduced from princi -
pies commonly received among philoso-
phers ; principles which I never thought
of calling in question, until the conclu-
sions you draw from them in the Treatise
of Human Nature made me suspect them.
If these principles are solid, your system
must stand ; and whether they are or not,
can better be judged after you have
brought to light the whole system that
grows out of them, than when the greater
part of it was wrapped up in clouds and
darkness. I agree with you, therefore,
that if this system shall ever be de-
molished, you have a just claim to a great
share of the praise, both because you have
made it a distinct and determined mark
to be aimed at, and have furnished pro-
per artillery for the purpose.*

evolved; and the doctrines of Kant and Reid are
both avowedly recoils from the annihilating scep-
ticism of Hume — both attempts to find for philo-
sophy deeper foundations than those which he
had so thoroughly subverted — H.



When you have seen the whole of my
performance, I shall take it as a very
great favour to have your opinion upon
it, from which I make no doubt of re-
ceiving light, whether I receive correc-
tion or no. Your friendly adversaries
Drs Campbell and Gerard, as well as Dr
Gregory, return their compliments to you
respectfully. A little philosophical so-
ciety here, of which all the three are
members, is much indebted to you for its
entertainment. Your company would,

although we are all good Christians, ba
more acceptable than that of St Athana-
sius ; and since we cannot have you upon
the bench, you are brought oftener than
any other man to the bar, accused and
defended with great zeal, but without
bitterness. If you write no more in
morals, politics, or metaphysics, I am
afraid we shall be at a loss for subjects.
I am, respectfully, Sir, your most obliged,
humble servant,

Thomas Reid.

The following should have been inserted in the correspondence with Karnes.
Karnes's objection to Dr Adam Smith's theory of Sympathy as the sole foundation of
our moral judgments, which appeared in the third edition of the " Essays on
Morality," were, previously to publication, communicated to Dr Reid, who thus
expresses his opinion on the subject : — ■

" I have always thought Dr S 's system of sympathy wrong. It is indeed only

a refinement of the selfish system ; and I think your arguments against it are solid.
But you have smitten with a friendly hand, which does not break the head ; and
your compliment to the author I highly approve of. "—From Letter of 30th October

In this judgment of Smith, Reid and Kant are at one. The latter condemns the
Ethic of Sympathy as a Eudsemonism, or rather Hedonism H.

In Hutton's Mathematical Dictionary, 1795, in the article, David Gregorv>
there are given, " Some farther particulars of the families of Gregory and Ander-
son, communicated by Dr Thomas Reid," &c, probably written in the year of
publication, or the preceding. As these notices contain nothing of any moment which
does not appear in the foregoing correspondence, it has been deemed unnecessary
to reprint them. — H.






ByTHOMAS reid, d.d,


" The inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding."— Job.

03- This Inquiry was first published in 1764, when Dr Reid was Professor of Philo-
sophy, in King's College, Aberdeen. Three subsequent editions were printed daring the
author's lifetime — in 1765, 1769, and 1785. The text of the present impression is
taken from the last authentic edition — the fourth, or that of 1785, which professes to be
" corrected;" collated, however, with the first, and any variations of importance
noticed. — H.





My Lord, — Though I apprehend that
there are things new and of some import-
ance, in the following Inquiry, it is not
without timidity that I have consented to
the publication of it. The subject has been
canvassed by men of very great penetration
and genius : for who does not acknowledge
Des Cartes, Malebranche, Locke, Berkeley,
and Hume, to be such ? A view of the
human understanding, so different from that
which they have exhibited, will, no doubt,
be condemned by many, without examin-
ation, as proceeding from temerity and

But I hope the candid and discerning Few,
who are capable of attending to the opera-
tions of their own minds, will weigh delibe-
rately what is here advanced, before they
pass sentence upon it. To such I appeal,
as the only competent judges. If they dis-
approve, I am probably in the wrong, and
shall be ready to change my opinion upon
conviction. If they approve, the Many will
at last yield to their authority, as they always

However contrary my notions are to those
of the writers I have mentioned, their spe-
culations have been of great use to me, and
seem even to point out the road which I
have taken : and your Lordship knows, that
the merit of useful discoveries is sometimes
not more justly due to those that have hit
upon them, than to others that have ripened
them, and brought them to the birth.

I acknowledge, my Lord, that I never
thought of calling in question the principles
commonly received with regard to the hu-
man understanding, until the " Treatise of
Human Nature" was published in the year
1 739. The ingenious author of that treatise
upon the principles of Locke — who was no

* In the first edition, "James Lord Deskfoord"—
his fader being still alive.— H.

sceptic — hath built a system of scepticism,
which leaves no ground to believe any one
thing rather than its contrary. His reason-
ing appeared to me to be just ; there was,„
therefore, a necessity to call in question the*
principles upon which it was founded, or to
admit the conclusion. *

But can any ingenuous mind admit this
sceptical system without reluctance ? I
truly could not, my Lord ; for I am per-
suaded, that absolute scepticism is not more
destructive of the faith of a Christian than
of the science of a philosopher, and of the
prudence of a man of common understand-
ing. I am persuaded, that the unjust live
by faith-f as well as the just ,- that, if all
belief could be laid aside, piety, patriotism,
friendship, parental affection, and private
virtue, would appear as ridiculous as knight-
errantry ; and that the pursuits of pleasure,
of ambition, and of avarice, must be
grounded upon belief, as well as those that
are honourable or virtuous.

The dayJabourer toils at his work, in the
belief that he shall receive his wages at
night ; and, if he had not this belief, he
would not toil. We may venture to say,
that even the author of this sceptical
system wrote it in the belief that it

* "This doctrine of Ideas,"(says Dr*Reid,in a sub.
sequent work,) " I once believed so firmly, as to em-
brace the whole of Berkeley's system in consequence
of it ; till, finding other consequences to follow from
it, which gave me more uneasiness than the want of
a material world, it came into my mind, more than
forty years ago, to put the question, What evidence
have I for this doctrine, that all the olijects of my

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 22 of 114)