Thomas Reid.

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

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author, and a very ingenious one too ; but
now we learn that it is only a set of ideas
which came together and arranged them-
selves by certain associations andattractions.

After all, this curious system appears not
to be fitted to the present state of human
nature. How far it may suit some choice
spirits, who are refined from the dregs of
common sense, I cannot say. It is acknow-
ledged, I think, that even these can enter
into this system only in their most specula-
tive hours, when they soar so high in pur-
suit of those self-existent ideas as to lose
sight of all other things. But when they
condescend to mingle again with the human
race, and to converse with a friend, a com-
panion, or a fellow-citizen, the ideal system
vanishes ; common sense, like an irresist-
ible torrent, carries them along ; and, in
spite of all their reasoning and philosophy,
they believe their own existence, and the
existence of other things.

Indeed, it is happy they do so ; for, if
they should carry their closet belief into
the world, the rest of mankind would con-
sider them as diseased, and send them to
an infirmary. Therefore, as Plato required
certain previous qualifications of those who
entered his school, I think it would be pru-
dent for the doctors of this ideal philosophy
to do the same, and to refuse admittance to
every man who is so weak as to imagine
that he ought to have the same belief in
solitude and in company, or that his prin-
ciples ought to have any influence upon his
practice ; for this philosophy is like a hob-
by-horse, which a man in bad health may
ride in his closet, without hurting his repu-
tation ; but, if he should take him abroad
with him to church, or to the exchange, or
to the play-house, his heir would imme-
diately call a jury, and seize his estate.

Section VII.


Leaving this philosophy, therefore, to
those who have occasion for it, and can
use it discreetly as a chamber exercise, we
may still inquire how the rest of mankind,
and even the adepts themselves, except in
some solitary moments, have got so strong
and irresistible a belief, that thought must
have a subject, and be the act of some
thinking being ; how every man believes
himself to be something distinct from his
ideas and impressions — something which

continues the same identical self when all
his ideas and impressions are changed. It
is impossible to trace the origin of this
opinion in history ; for all languages
have it interwoven in their original con-
struction. All nations have always believed
it. The constitution of all laws and
governments, as well as the common trans-
actions of life, suppose it.

It is no less impossible for any man to
recollect when he himself came by this
notion ; for, as far back as we can remem-
ber, we were already in possession of it,
and as fully persuaded of our own existence,
and the existence of other things, as that
one and one make two. It seems, there-
fore, that this opinion preceded ail reason-
ing, and experience, and instruction ; and
this is the more probable, because we could
not get it by any of these means. It ap-
pears, then, to be an undeniable fact, that,
from thought or sensation, all mankind,
constantly and invariably, from the first
dawning of reflection, do infer a power or
faculty of thinking, and a permanent being
or mind to which that faculty belongs ; and
that we as invariably ascribe all the various
kinds of sensation and thought we are con-
scious of, to one individual mind or self.

But by what rules of logic we make these
inferences, it is impossible to shew ; nay,
it is impossible to shew how our sensations
and thoughts can give us the very notion
and conception either of a mind or of a
faculty. The faculty of smelling is some-
thing very different from the actual sensa-
tion of smelling ; for the faculty may
remain when we have no sensation. And
the mind is no less different from the
faculty ; for it continues the same indivi-
dual being when that faculty is lost. Yet'
this sensation suggests to us both a faculty
and a mind ; and not only suggests the
notion of them, but creates a belief of their
existence ; although it is impossible to dis-i
cover, by reason, any tie or connection
between one and the other.

What shall we say, then ? Either those
inferences which we draw from our sensa-
tions — namely, the existence of a mind,
and of powers or faculties belonging to it —
are prejudices of philosophy or education,
mere fictions of the mind, which a wise
man should throw off as he does the belief
of fairies ; or they are judgments of nature —
judgments not got by comparing ideas, and
perceiving agreements and disagreements,
but immediately inspired by our constitu-

If this last is the case, as I apprehend it
is, it will be impossible to shake off those
opinions, and we must yield to them at
last, though we struggle hard to get rid of
them. And if we could, by a determined
obstinacy, shake off the principles of our



nature, this ia not to act the philosopher,
but the fool or the madman. It is incum-
bent upon those who think that these are
not natural principles, to shew, in the first
place, how we can otherwise get the notion
of a mind and its faculties; and then to
shew how we come to deceive ourselves
into the opinion that sensation cannot be
without a sentient being.

It is the received doctrine of philosophers,
that our notions of relations can only be
got by comparing the related ideas : but,
in the present case, there seems to be
an instance to the contrary. It is not by
having first the notions of mind and sensa-
tion, and then comparing them together,
that we perceive the one to have the rela-
tion of a subject or substratum, and the
other that of an act or operation : on the
contrary, one of the related things — to wit,
sensation — suggests to us both the correlate
and the relation.

I beg leave to make use of the word sug-
gestion, because I know not one more pro-
per, to express a power of the mind, which
seems entirely to have escaped the notice
of philosophers, and to which we owe
many of our simple notions which are
neither impressions nor i deas, as well
as many original principles of belief.
I shall endeavour to illustrate, by an
example, what I understand by this word.
We all know, that a certain kind of sound
suggests immediately to the mind, a coach
passing in the street ; and not only pro-
duces the imagination, but the belief, that
a coach is passing. Yet there is here no
comparing of ideas, no perception of agree-
ments or disagreements, to produce this
belief : nor is there the least similitude be-
tween the sound we hear and the coach we
imagine and believe to be passing.*

* *' The word suggest'* (says Mr Stewart, in refer-
ence to the preceding passage) " is much used by
Berkeley, in this appropriate and technical sense,
not only in his 'Theory of Vision,' but in his * Prin-
ciples of Human Knowledge,' and in his 'Minute
Philosopher.' It expresses, indeed, the cardinal
principle on which his ''theory of Vision' hinges,
and is now so incorporated with some of our best
metaphysical speculations, that one cannot easily
conceive how the use of it was so long dispensed
with. Locke uses the word excite for the same
purpose; but it seems to imply an hypothesis con-
cerning the mechanism of the mind, and by no
means expresses the fact in question, with the same
force and precision.
" 1 1 is remarkable, that Dr Reid should have thought
it incumbent on him to apologise for introducing
into philosophy a word so familiar to every person
conversant with Berkeley's works. * 1 beg leave
to make use of the word suggestion, because,'


" So far Dr Reid's use of the word coincides ex-
actly with that of Berkeley; Dut the former will be
found to annex to it a meaning more extensive than
the latter, by employing it to comprehend, not only
those intima ions which are the result of experience
and habit ; hut another class of intimations, (quite
overlooked by Berkeley,) those which reult from
the original frame of the human mind."— Dfsserta-

It is true that this suggestion is liot
natural and original ; it is tlie result of ex-
perience and habit. But I think it appears,
from what hath been said, that there are
natural suggestions : particularly, that sens-
ation suggests the notion of present exist-
ence, and the belief that what we perceive
or feel does now exist ; that memory sug-
gests the notion of past existence, and the
belief that what we remember did exist in
time past ; and that our sensations and
thoughts do also suggest the notion of a
mind, and the belief of its existence, and of
its relation to our thoughts. By a like
natural principle it is, that a beginning of
existence, or any change in nature, sug-
gests to us the notion of a cause, and com-
pels our belief of its existence. And, in
like manner, as shall be shewn when we
come to the sense of touch, certain sensa-
tions of touch, by the constitution of our
nature, suggest to us extension, solidity,
and motion, which are nowise like to
sensations, aUhongh they have been hither-
to confounded with them.*

Hon on the History of Metaphysical and Ethical
Science. P. 167. Second edition

Mr Stewart might have adduced, perhaps, a higher
and, certainly, a more proxima'e authority, in fa-
vour, not merely of the term in general, but of
Reid's restricted employment of it, as an intimation
of what he and others have designated the Common
Sense of mankind. The following sentence of Ter.
tullian contains a singular anticipation, both of the
philosophy and of the philosophical phraseology ol
our author. Speaking of the universal beliet of
the soul's immortality : — " Natura pleraque sugger.
untur, quasi de publico sensu quo an imam Deus di-
tare dignatus est."— De Anima, c. 2.

Some strictures on Reid's employment of the term
suggestion may be seen in the " Versuche" of Tetens,
I., p. 508, sqq.— H.

• This last statement is not historically correct.
But, waving this, there may be adduced, in illustra-
tion of ihe two last paragraphs, the following
remarkable passage from St Augustine:—" au.
Recte fortasse existimas. Sed responde obsecro,
utrum omne quod per visum cognoscimus, videa-
mus. ev. Ita credo, au. t 'redis etiam omne quod
videndo cognoscimus, per visum nos cognoscere ?
ev. Et hoc credo, au. Cur ergo plerumque fumum
solum videndo, ignem subter latere cognoscimus quern
non videmus ? ev. Verum dicis. Et jam non puto
nos videre quicquid per visum cognoscimus : possu.
mus enim, ut docuisti, aliud videndo aliud cognoscere
qudd visus non attigerit. au. Quid, illud quod per
visum sentimus, possumusne non videre ? ev. Nullo
modo. au. Aliud est ergo sentire, aliud cognoscere,
i v. Omnino ahud, nam sentimus fumum quern vide-
mus, et ex eo ignem quern non videmus, subesse cog-
noscimus. At'- Bene intelligis. Sed viriea oertecum
hoc accidit, corpus nostrum, id est oculos, nihil pati
ex igne, sed ex fumo quern solum vident. Etenim
videre sentire, et sentire pati esse, iam supra con-
sensimus. ev. Teneo, & assentior. au. Cum ergo
per passionem corporis non latet at quid an imam , non
continuosensus vocatur unus de quinque memoratis,
sed cum ipsa passio non latet: namque ille ignis non
visus, nee auditus, nee olfactus, nee gustatus, nee
tactus a nobis, non tamen latet animam fumo Vii-o
Et cum hoc non latere non vocetur sen\us, quia ex
igne corpus nihil est passum, vocatur tamen cognitio
ver senium, quia ex passione corporis quamvis alia,
id est ex alterius rei visione, conjectatum est atquc
compertum. iv. Intelligo, et optime video istud
congruere ac favere illi definitioni tus, quam ut
meam mini defendendam dedisti: nam ita memini
e-se abs te sensum definitum, cum animam non latet
quod patitur corpus. Itaque illud quodfuvius videtur,



Section VIII.


We have considered smell as signifying
a sensation, feeling, or impression upon the
mind ; and in this sense, it can only be in
a mind, or sentient being : but it is evident
that mankind give the name of .smell much
more frequently to something which they
conceive to be external, and to be a quality
of body : they understand something by it
which does not at all infer a mind; and
have not the least difficulty in conceiving
the air perfumed with aromatic odours in
the deserts of Arabia, or in some uninhab-
ited island, where the human foot never
trod. Every sensible day-labourer hath as
clear a notion of this, and as full a convic-
tion of the possibility of it, as he hath of
his own existence ; and can no more doubt
of the one than of the other.

Suppose that such a man meets with a
modern philosopher, and wants to be in-
formed what smell in plants is. The phi-
losopher tells him, that there is no smell in
plants, nor in anything but in the mind ;
that it is impossible there can be smell but
in a mind; and that all this hath been
demonstrated by modern philosohy. The
Vlain man will, no doubt, be apt to think
him merry : but, if he finds that he is
serious, his next conclusion will be that he
is mad; or that philosophy, like magic,
puts men into a new world, and gives them
different faculties from common men. And
thus philosophy and common sense are set
at variance. But who is to blame for it ?
In my opinion the philosopher is to blame.
For if he means by smell, what the rest of
mankind most commonly mean, he is cer-
tainly mad. But if he puts a different
meaning upon the word, without observing
it himself, or giving warning to others,
he abuses language and disgraces philo-
sophy, without doing any service to truth :
as if a man should exchange the meaning
of the words daughter and cow, and then
endeavour to prove to his plain neighbour,
that his cow is his daughter, and his
daughter his cow.

I believe there is not much more wisdom
in many of those paradoxes of the ideal
philosophy, which to plain sensible men
appear to be palpable absurdities, but with
the adepts pass for profound discoveries. I

eensum vocamus ; passi sunt enim eum oculi videndo
qui sunt corporis partes et corpora ; ignem autem ex
quo nihil corpus est possum , quamvis cognitus fuerit,
scnsumnon vocamus. — Da Quantitate animae, c.
xxiv. S 4i.— H.

resolve, for my own part, always to pay a
great regard to the dictates of common
sense, and not to depart from them without
absolute necessity : and, therefore, I am
apt to think that there is really something
in the rose or lily, which is by the vulgar
called smell, and which continues to exist
when it is not smelled : and shall proceed
to inquire what this is ; how we come by
the notion of it ; and what relation this
quality or virtue of smell hath to the sens-
ation which we have been obliged to call
by the same name, for want of another.

Let us therefore suppose, as before, a
person beginning to exercise the sense of
smelling ; a little experience will discover
to him, that the nose is the organ of this
sense, and that the air, or something in the
air, is a medium of it. And finding, by
farther experience, that, when a rose is near,
he has a certain sensation, when it is
removed, the sensation is gone, he finds a
connection in nature betwixt the rose and
and this sensation. The rose is considered
as a cause, occasion, or antecedent of the
sensation ; the sensation as an effect or
consequence of the presence of the rose;
they are associated in the mind, and con-
stantly found conjoined in the imagination.

But here it deserves our notice, that,
although the sensation may seem more
closely related to the mind its subject, or
to the nose its organ, yet neither of these
connections operate so powerfully upon the
imagination as its connection with the rose
its concomitant. The reason of this seems
to be. that its connection with the mind is
more general, and noway distinguisheth it
from other smells, or even from tastes,
sounds, and other kinds of sensations. The
relation it hath to the organ is likewise
general, and doth not distinguish it from
other smells ; but the connection it hath
with the rose is special and constant ; by
which means they become almost insepar-
able in the imagination, in like manner as
thunder and lightning, freezing and cold.

Section IX.


In order to illustrate further how we
come to conceive a quality or virtue in the
rose which we call smell, and what this
smell is, it is proper to observe, that the
mind begins very early to thirst after prin-
ciples which may direct it in the exertion
of its powers. The smell of a rose is a
certain affection or feeling of the mind;
and, as it is not constant, but comes and



goes, we want to know when and where we
may expect it ; and are uneasy till we find
something which, being present, brings this
feeling along with it, and, being removed,
removes it. This, when found, we call the
cause of it ; not in a strict and philosophical
sense, as if the feeling were really effected
or produced by that cause, but in a popular
sense ; for the mind is satisfied if there is
a constant conjunction between them ; and
such causes are in reality nothing else but
laws of nature. Having found the smell
thus constantly conjoined with the rose, the
mind is at rest, without inquiring whether
this conjunction is owing to a real efficiency
or not ; that being a philosophical inquiry,
which does not concern human life. But
every discovery of such a constant conjunc-
tion is of real importance in life, and makes
a strong impression upon the mind.

So ardently do we desire to find everything
that happens within our observation thus
connected with something else as its cause or
occasion, that we are apt to fancy connec-
tions upon the slightest grounds ; and this
weakness is most remarkable in the ignor-
ant, who know least of the real connections
established in nature. A man meets with
an unlucky accident on a certain day of the
year, and, knowing no other cause of his
misfortune, he is apt to conceive something
unlucky in that day of the calendar ; and,
if he finds the same connection hold a second
time, is strongly confirmed in his supersti-
tion. I remember, many years ago, a white
ox was brought into this country, of so
enormous a size that people came many
miles to see him. There happened, some
months after, an uncommon fatality among
women in child-bearing. Two such uncom-
mon events, following one another, gave a
suspicion of their connection, and occasioned
a common opinion among the country-
people that the white ox was the cause of
this fatality.

However silly and ridiculous this opinion
was, it sprung from the same root in human
nature on which all natural philosophy
grows — namely, an eager desire to find out
connections in things, and a natural, ori-
ginal, and unaccountable propensity to be-
lieve that the connections which we have
observed in time past will continue in time
to come. Omens, portents, good and bad
luck, palmistry, astrology, all the numer-
ous arts of divination and of interpreting
dreams, false hypotheses and systems, and
true principles in the philosophy of nature,
are all built upon the same foundation in
the human constitution, and are distin-
guished only according as we conclude
rashly from too few instances, or cautiously
fi om a sufficient induction.

As it is experience only that discovers
these connections between natural causes

and their effects ; without inquiring further,
we attribute to the cause some vague and
indistinct notion of power or virtue to pro-
duce the effect. And, in many cases, the
purposes of life do not make it necessary to
give distinct names to the cause and the
effect. Whence it happens, that, being
closely connected in the imagination, al-
though very unlike to each other, one name
serves for both ; and, in common discourse,
is most frequently applied to that which, of
the two, is most the object of our attention.
This occasions an ambiguity in many words,
which, having the same causes in all lan-
guages, is common to all, and is apt to be
overlooked even by philosophers. Some
instances will serve both to illustrate and
confirm what we have said.

Magnetism signifies both the tendency of
the iron towards the magnet, and the power
of the magnet to produce that tendency ;
and, if it was asked, whether it is a quality
of the iron or of the magnet, one would per-
haps be puzzled at first ; but a little atten-
tion would discover, that we conceive a
power or virtue in the magnet as the cause,
and a motion in the iron as the effect ; and,
although these are things quite unlike, they
are so united in the imagination, that wc
give the common name of magnetism to
both. The same thing may be said of gru-
vitalion, which sometimes signifies the tend-
ency of bodies towards the earth, sometimes
the attractive power of the earth, which we
conceive as the cause of that tendency. We
may observe the same ambiguity in some of
Sir Isaac Newton's definitions ; and that
even in words of his own making. In three
of his definitions, he explains very distinctly
what he understands by the abm hue quan-
tity, what by the accelerative quantity, and
what by the motive quantity, of a centri-
petal force. In the first of these three
definitions, centripetal force is put for the
cause, which we conceive to be some power
or virtue in the centre or central body ; in
the two last, the same word is put for the
effect of this cause, in producing velocity,
or in producing motion towards that

Heat signifies a sensation, and et'lrf a
contrary one ; but heat likewise signifies a
quality or state of bodies, which hath no
contrary, but different degrees. When a
man feels the same water hot to one hand
and cold to the other, this gives him occa-
sion to distinguish between the feeling and
the heat of the body ; and, although he
knows that the sensations are contrary, he
does not imagine that the body can have
contrary qualities at the same time. And
when he finds a different tnste in the same
body in sickness and in health, he is easily
convinced, that the quality in the body
called taste is the same as before, although




the sensations he has from it are perhaps

The vulgar are commonly charged by
philosophers, with the absurdity of imagin-
ing the smell in the rose to be something
like to the sensation of smelling ; but I
think unjustly ; for they neither give the
same epithets to both, nor do they reason
in the same manner from them. What is
smell in the rose ? It is a quality or vir-
tue of the rose, or of something proceeding
from it, which we perceive by the sense of
smelling ; and this is all we know of the
matter. But what is smelling ? It is an
act of the mind, but is never imagined to
be a quality of the mind. Again, the sens-
ation of smelling is conceived to infer neces-
sarily a mind or sentient being ; but smell
in the rose infers no such thing. We say,
this body smells sweet, that stinks ; but we
do not say, this mind smells sweet and that
stinks. Therefore, smell in the rose, and
the sensation which it causes, are not con-
ceived, even by the vulgar, to be things of
the same kind, although they have the same

From what hath been said, we may learn
that the smell of a rose signifies two
things : First, a sensation, which can have
no existence but when it is perceived, and
can only be in a sentient being or mind ;
Secondly, it signifies some power, quality,
or virtue, in the rose, or in effluvia proceed-
ing from it, which hath a permanent exist-
ence, independent of the mind, and which,
by the constitution of nature, produces
the sensation in us. By the original con-
stitution of our nature, we are both led to
believe that there is a permanent cause of
the sensation, and prompted to seek after
it ; and experience determines us to place
it in the rose. The names of all smells,
tastes, sounds, as well as heat and cold,
have a like ambiguity in all languages ;
but it deserves our attention, that these
names are but rarely, in common language,

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 26 of 114)