Thomas Reid.

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

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be allowed that, if we had never felt any
thing hard or soft, rough or smooth, figured
or moved, we should never have had a con-
ception of extension ;* so that, as there is
good ground to believe that the notion of
extension could not be prior to that of other
primary qualities, so it is certain that it
could not be posterior to the notion of any
of them, being necessarily implied in them

Extension, therefore, seems to be a qua- \
lity svgijested to us, by the very same sens-
ations which suggest the other qualities
above mentioned. When I grasp a ball in
my hand, I perceive it at once hard,
figured, and extended. The feeling is very
simple, and hath not the least resemblance
to any quality of body. Yet it suggests to
us three primary qualities perfectly dis-
tinct from one another, as well as from the
sensation which indicates them. When
I move my hand along the table, the feel-
ing is so simple that I find it difficult to
distinguish it into things of different na-
tures; yet, it immediatey suggests hardness,
smoothness, extension, and motion — tilings

* According to Reid,-Exte> sion (Spare) is a no-
tion a posteriori, the result of experience. Accord-
ing to Kant, it is a prion ; experience only affording
the occasions required hy the mind to exert the acts,
of which theintuiiinn ol spare is a condition. To<he
former it is thus a contingent i to the latter,a n-ces-
sary mental possession — H.

f In this paragraph, to say nothing of others in
the "Inquiry," Keid evidently excludes sight as a
sense, through which the notion of extension or space,
enters into the mind. In Ins later work, the " Es-
says on ihe Intellectual Powers,'" he, however, ex-
pressly allows that tunctlon tostght inet touch, and
to those senses alone See Esbay II., Chan, 19, p.
*b'2, liarto idi ion — H.



of very different natures, and all of them
as distinctly understood as the feeling which
suggests them.

We are commonly told by philosophers,
that we get the idea of extension by feeling
along the extremities of a body, as if there
was no manner of difficulty in the matter.
1 have sought, with great pains, I confess,
to find out how this idea can be got by feel-
ing ; but I have sought in vain. Yet it is
one of the clearest and most distinct notions
we have ; nor is there any tiling whatsoever
about which the human understanding can
carry on so many long and demonstrative
trains of reasoning.*

The notion of extension is so familiar
to us from infancy, and so constantly ob-
truded by everything we see and feel, that
we are apt to think it obvious how it comes
into the mind , but upon a narrower ex-
amination we shall find it utterly inexpli-
cable. It is true we have feelings of touch,
which every moment present extension
to the mind ; but how they come to do
so, is the question ; for those feelings do
no more resemble extension, than they re-
semble justice or courage — nor can the
existence of extended things be inferred
from those feelings by any rules of reason-
ing ; so that the feelings we have by touch,
can neither explain how we get the notion,
nor how we come by the belief of extended

What hath imposed upon philosophers
i i this matter is, that the feelings of touch,
which suggest primary qualities, have no
names, nor are they ever reflected upon.
They pass through the mind instantane-
ously, and serve only to introduce the no-
tion and belief of external things, which,
by our constitution, are connected with
them. They are natural signs, and the
mind immediately passes to the thing sig-
nified, without making the least reflection
upon the sign, or observing that there was
a-ny such thing. Hence it hath always been
taken for granted, that .the ideas of exten-
sion, figure, and motion, are ideas of sensa-
tion, which enter into the mind by the sense
of touch, in the same manner as the sensa-
tions of sound and smell do by the ear and
nose.'f The sensations of touch are so con-

nected, by our constitution, with the notions
of extension, figure, and motion, that phi-
losophers have mistaken the one for the

* All ihe attempts that have* subsequently to
Kci ', been made, to analyse t lie notion of Space into
the experience oi sense, have, failed, equally as. those
before. Iihn. — H.

t It has not *' always been taken for granted, that the
ii leas of Extension, Figure, and Motion, .are ideas of
sensation." Even a distinguished predecessor of Reid,
in his Chair At Glasgow, denied this doctrine of the
**nsual school, to which he generally adhered. I would
not be supposed to suspect Eteid of the slightest disin-
genuousness, but he has certainly here and elsewhere
been anticipated by Hulcheaon, in some of the most
important principles, no less than in some of the
weaker positions ot his philosophy. t-quote, without
retrenchment, the following note from Hutcheson's
"-Ls-fiijou tie rnxstHiiti," though only part ox it is

strictly relative to the assertion in the text :— " It .*
not easy to divide distinctly our several sensa ions
inio cla-ses The division ol our External Senses into
the five common classes, seems very imperfect. Some
sensations, received without any previous idea, can
either tic reduced to none of them— such as the sens-
ations of Hunger, Thirst. Weariness, Sickness; or
if we reduce th.m to the sense of Feeling, they are
perceptions as different irom the other ideas of Touch
—such as Cold, Heat, Hardness, .Softness— as the ideas
ot taste or smell. Others have hinted at an external
sense, different from all of the>e." [This allusion has
puzzled our Scotti-h psychologists, Hu tenesmi evi-
dently refer* to the sixth sense, ur sense of venereal tit.
illation, proposed by the elder Scaliger, and approved
of by Bacon, Buffon, Vnltaire, <\e.j ** The following
general account may possibly be useful. (I )— That
certain motions raised in our bodies are, by a general
law, constituted the < ccasv n of perceptions in the
ti'intt. (2°) These perceptions never come' entirely
alone, but have some other perception joined with
them. Thus every sensation is accompanied with
the idea of Duration, and pet duration it not a.sens-
tb>e idea, since it also accompanies ideas of inter-
mil consciousness or reflection : so the idea of
Humber may accompany any sensible ideas, and yet
may also accompany any other ideas, as well asextcr.
nal sensations. Brutes, when several object-, arc
before them, have probably all the proper ideas of
sight which we have, without the idea of number.
(3°) r-ome idea-> are found at co?nnanyh/g the most
different sensations, which yet aro not to be perceived
s parately from s-ome.sensible quality. Such are Ex-
le.i.sion, Figure, Motion, and Best, which aeci inpmi)
the ideas ot Sight or Colours, and yet m.-iy be per.
ceived without them, asm the idea- ot I ouch, at lea t
it we move our organs along the parts ot ti.e btxly
touched. Extension, Figure, Motion, or Kest, s<uin
therefore to be more properly called ideas nccutn-
pajiymg the sensations of Sight awl Touch, than the
sensation* of either of these senses; aim e ihey
ran be received sometimes without the ide:is of
Colour, and sometimes without ot Touching,
though never without the one or the other 'ihe
peicept ons which arepurely sensible, received each
by its proper sense, are 'tastes, Smell-, lohmis,
Sound, l old, Heat, i\e. 'Vhcuniveisal concomitant
ideas which may attend any idea whatsoever, are
Duration and Number. The ideas which' accompany
the most different sensations, are Extension, Figure,
Motion, and Kest. These all arise without aj.y pre-
vious ideas assembled or compared— the concomitant
ideas are reputed images of something ex ernal " —
j-ect 1 , Art. 1. The reader may likewise consult the
same author's "Synopsis Metaphysicae," Part 11.,
cap. i., i, 3. See below, p. 829, b, note.

But here I may observe, in the fust place, that the
statement made in the preceding quotation, (and still
more articulately in the *' Synnpsi*,") that Duratio-i
or Time is the inseparable com-omiiant both ol sense
and reflection, bad been also made by Aristotle and
many other philosophers; and it is indeed curious
how long philosophers were' on the verge of enun-
ciating the great doctrine first proclaimed by Kant
— that Time is a fundamental condition, form, or
category of thought. In the second place, 1 may no-
nce that Hutcheson is not entitled to the prai.*e
accorded him by Stewart and RoyerCollard for his-ori-
ginality in " thefine and important observation that
Extension, Figure, Motion, and Rest, are rather
ideas accompanying the -perceptions ot touch nnd
vimoii, than perceptions ot these senses, properly t-o
called." In tnis, he seems only to have, with others,
repeated Aristotle, who, in his treatise on the
Soul. rBook II.,, Text 64, and Book III. (.h.
I, Text 13ft,) calls Motion and Rest, \iuinitude, {Fx-
tension,) Figure, and Number, (Hutcheson's very
list,) the common concomitants (ocxo\ov6hvt& xa.i
xoivee.) of sight and touch, and expressly denies
them to he impressions of sense — the sense having
no passive affection from these qualities. To these
five common concomitants, some of the schoolmen
added also, (but out of Aris'otle.) Place, Distance,
Position, and Continuity. — II.



(idler, and never have been able to discern
that they were not only distinct things, but
altogether unlike. However, if we will
reason distinctly upon this subject, we ought
to give names to those feelings of touch ;
we must accustom ourselves to attend to
them, and to reflect upon them, that we
may be able to disjoin them from, and to
compare them with, the qualities signified
or suggested by them.

The habit of doing this is not to be at-
tained without pains and practice ; and till
a man hath acquired this habit, it will be
impossible for him to think distinctly, or to
judge right, upon this subject.

Let a man press his hand against the
table —lie feels it hard. But what is the mean-
ing of this? — The meaning undoubtedly
is, that he hath a certain feeling of touch,
from which he concludes, without any rea-
soning, or comparing ideas, that there is
something external really existing, whose
parts stick so firmly together, that they can-
not be displaced without considerable force.

There is here a feeling, and a conclu-
sion drawn from it, or some way suggested
by it. In order to compare these, we
must view them separately, and then con-
sider by what tie they are connected, and
wherein they resemble one another. The
hardness of the table is the conclusion, the
feeling is the medium by which we are led
to that conclusion. Let a man attend dis-
tinctly to this medium, and to the conclu-
sion, and he will perceive them to be as
unlike as any two things in nature. The
one is a sensation of the mind, which can
have no existence but in a sentient being ;
nor can it exist one moment longer than it
is felt ; the other is in the table, and we
conclude, without any difficulty, that it was
in the table before it was felt, and continues
after the feeling is over. The one implies
no kind of extension, nor parts, nor cohe-
sion ; the other implies all these. Both,
indeed, admit of degrees, and the feeling,
beyond a certain degree, is a species of
pain ; but adamantine hardness does not
imply the least pain.

And as the feeling hath no similitude to
hardness, so neither can our reason per-
ceive the least tie or connection between
them ; nor will the logician ever be able to
shew a reason why we should conclude
hardness from this feeling, rather than soft-
ness, or any other quality whatsoever. But,
in reality, all mankind are led by their con-
stitution to conclude hardness from this

The sensation of heat, and the sensation
we have by pressing a hard body, are equally
feelings; nor can we, by reasoning, draw
any conclusion from the one but what may
be drawn from the other : but, by our con-
stitution, we conclude from the first an ob-

scure or occult quality, of which we have
only this relative conception, that it is
something adapted to raise in us the sensa-
tion of heat ; from the second, we conclude
a quality of which we have a clear and dis-
tinct conception — to wit, the hardncss«f the

Section VI.


To put this matter in another light, it
may be proper to try, whether from sensa-
tion alone we can collect any notion of ex-
tension, figure, motion, and space.* I take
it for granted, that a blind man hath the
same notions of extension, figure, and mo-
tion, as a man that sees ; that Dr Saunder-
son had the same notion of a cone, a cylin-
der, and a sphere, and of the motions and
distances of the heavenly bodies, as Sir Isaac
Newton, ■f

As sight, therefore, is not necessary for
our acquiring those notions, we shall leave
it out altogether in our inquiry into the
first origin of them ; and shall suppose a
blind man, by some strange distemper, to
have lost all the experience, and habits,
and notions he had got by touch ; not to
have the least conception of the existence,
figure, dimensions, or extension, either of
his own body, or of any other ; but to have
all his knowledge of external things to ac-
quire anew, by means of sensation, and the
power of reason, which we suppose to re-
main entire.

We shall, first, suppose his body fixed
immovably in one place, and that he can
only have the feelings of touch, by the
application of other bodies to it. Suppose
him first to be pricked with a pin— this
will, no doubt, give a smart sensation : he
feels pain ; but what can he infer from it ?
Nothing, surely, with regard to the existence
or figure of a pin. He can infer nothing
from this species of pain, which he may not
as well infer from the gout or sciatica
Common sense may lead him to think that
this pain has a cause ; but whether this
cause is body or spirit, extended or unex-
tended, figured or not figured, he cannot
possibly, from any principles he is supposed
to have, form the least conjecture. Hav-
ing had formerly no notion of body or of
extension, the prick of a pin can give him

Suppose, next, a body not pointed, but

• Why "are Extension and Spa 7- distinguished ai
co-ordinate, and thus oddly sundered P — H.

f 'Ihe observations of Pla-ncr, on a.person born
biind, would prove, however, that sight, not I wcA, is
the sense by which we principally obtain our know,
ledge of Figure, and our emphtcul Knowledge nl
Space. Saunderson, at any ra'e, was not born blind.
— H.



blunt, is applied to his body with a force
gradually increased until it bruises him.
What has he got by this, but another sens-
ation or train of sensations, from which
he is able to conclude as little as from the
former ? A scirrhous tumour in any in-
ward part of the body, by pressing upon
the adjacent parts, may give the same kind
of sensation as the pressure of an external
body, without conveying any notion but
that of pain, which, surely, hath no resem-
blance to extension.

Suppose, thirdly, that the body applied
to him touches a larger or a lesser part of
his body. Can this give him any notion
of its extension or dimensions ? To me it
seems impossible that it should, unless he
had some previous notion of the dimen-
sions and figure of his own body, to serve
him as a measure.* When my two hands
touch the extremities of a body, if I know
them to be a foot asunder, I easily col-
lect that the body is a foot long ; and, if I
know them to be five feet asunder, that it
is five feet long ; but, if I know not what
the distance of my hands is, I cannot know
the length of the object they grasp ; and,
if I have no previous notion of hands at
all, or of distance between them, I can
never get that notion by their being touched.

Suppose, again, that a body is drawn
along his hands or face, while they are at
rest. Can this give him any notion of
space or motion ? It no doubt gives a new
feeling ; but how it should convey a notion
of space or motion to one who had none
before, I cannot conceive. The blood moves
along the arteries and veins, and this motion,
when violent, is felt: but I imagine no man,
by this feeling, could get the conception of
space or motion, if he had it not before.
Such a motion may give a certain succes-
sion of feelings, as the colic may do ; but no
feelings, nor any combination of feelings,
can ever resemble space or motion.

Let us next suppose, that he makes some
instinctive effort to move his head or his
hand ; but that no motion follows, either
on account of external resistance, or of
palsy. Can this effort convey the notion
of space and motion to one who never had it
before ? Surely it cannot.

Last of all, let us suppose that he moves
a limb by instinct, without having had any
previous notion of space or motion. He
has here a new sensation, which accom-
panies the flexure of joints, and the swelling
of muscles. But how this sensation can
convey into his mind the idea of space and
motion, is still altogether mysterious and
unintelligible. The motions of the heart

* Nay, the recent observations of Weber establish
the curious fact, that the same extent will not appear
the same to the touch at different parts of the body.

and lungs are all performed by the con.
traction of muscles, yet give no conception
of space or motion. An embryo in the
womb has many such motions, and probably
the feelings that accompany them, without
any idea of space or motion.

Upon the whole, it appears that our
philosophers have imposed upon themselves
and upon us, in pretending to deduce from
sensation the first origin of our notions of
external existences, of space, motion, and
extension," and all the primary qualities of
body — that is, the qualities whereof we
have the most clear and distinct conception.
These qualities do not at all tally with any
system of the human faculties that hath
been advanced. They have no resemblance
to any sensation, or to any operation of our
minds ; and, therefore, they cannot be
ideas either of sensation or of reflection.
The very conception of them is irreconcil-
able to the principles of all our philosophic
systems of the understanding. The belief
of them is no less so.

Section VII.


It is beyond our power to say when, or •
in what order, we came by our notions of
these qualities. When we trace the opera-
tions of our minds as far back as memory
and reflection can carry us, we find them
already in possession of our imagination and
belief, and quite familiar to the mind : but
how they came first into its acquaintance,
or what has given them so strong a hold of
our belief, and what regard they deserve,
are, no doubt, very important questions in
the philosophy of human nature- ,

Shall we, with the Bishop of Cloyne,
serve them with a quo warranto, and have
them tried at the bar of philosophy, upon
the statute of the ideal system ? Indeed,
in this trial they seem to have come off
very pitifully ; for, although they had very
able counsel, learned in the law — viz., Des
Cartes, Malebranche, and Locke, who said
everything they could for their clients — the

* That the notion of Space is a necessary condition
of thought, and that, as such, it is impossible to de-
rive it from experience, has been cogently demon-
strated by Kant. But that we may not, through
sense, have empirically an immediate perception of
something extended, I have yet seen no valid reason
to doubt. The a priori Conception does not exclude
theo posteriori Perception ; and this latter cannot be
rejected without belying the evidence of consciousness,
which assures us that we are immediately cognizant,
not only of a Se(f but of a Not.Self, not only of mini
but of matter : and matter cannot be immediately
known — that ia, known as- existing— exceptas'snme-
thing extended. In this, however, I venture a step
beyond Reidand Stewart, no less than beyond Kan' ;
though I am convinced that the philosophy of the
two former tended to. 'his conclusion, which i«, in
lact, that of the common sense of mankind.— H.



Bishop of Cloyne, believing them to be
aiders and abetters of heresy and schism,
prosecuted them with great vigour, fully
answered all that had been pleaded in their
defence, and silenced their ablest advocates,
who seem, for half a century past, to decline
the argument, and to trust to the favour of
the jury rather than to the strength of
their pleadings.

Thus, the wisdom of philosophy is set in
opposition to the common sense of mankind.
The first pretends to demonstrate, a priori,
that there can be no such thing as a mate-
rial world ; that sun, moon, stars, and earth,
vegetable and animal bodies, are, and can
be nothing else, but sensations in the mind,
or images of those sensations in the memory
and imagination ; that, like pain and joy,
they can have no existence when they are
not thought of. The last can conceive no
otherwise of this opinion, than as a kind of
metaphysical lunacy, and concludes that too
much learning is apt to make men mad ;
and that the man who seriously entertains
this belief, though in other respects he may be
a very good man, as a man may be who be-
lieves that he is made of glass ; yet, surely
he hath a soft place in his understanding,
and hath been hurt by much thinking.

This opposition betwixt philosophy and
common sense, is apt to have a very un-
happy influence upon the philosopher him-
self. He sees human nature in an odd,
unamiable, and mortifying light. He con-
siders himself, and the rest of his species,
as born under a necessity of believing ten
thousand absurdities and contradictions,
and endowed with such a pittance of reason
as is just sufficient to make this unhappy
discovery : and this is all the fruit of his
profound speculations. Such notions of
human nature tend to slacken every nerve of
the soul, to put every noble purpose and sen-
timent out of countenance, andspread a me-
lancholy gloom over the whole face of things.

If this is wisdom, let me be deluded with
the vulgar. I find something within me
that recoils against it, and inspires more
reverent sentiments of the human kind, and
of the universal administration. Common
Sense and Reason* have both one author ;
that Almighty Author in all whose other
works we observe a consistency, uniformity,
and beauty which charm and delight the
understanding : there must, therefore, be
some order and consistency in the human
faculties, as well as in other parts of his
workmanship. A man that thinks rever-
ently of his own kind, and esteems true
wisdom and philosophy, will not be fond,
nay, will be very suspicious, of such strange

* The reader will again notice this and the other
instances which follow, of the inaccuracy of Reid's
language in his earlier work, constituting, as differ-
ent, Reason and Common SeTUC. — H. 1

and paradoxical opinions. If they are false,
they disgrace philosophy ; and, if they are
true, they degrade the human species, and
make us justly ashamed of our frame.

To what purpose is it for philosophy to
decide against common sense in this or any
other matter ? The belief of a material
world is older, and of more authority, than
any principles of philosophy. It declines the
tribunal of reason," and laughs at all the
artillery of the logician. It retains its
sovereign authority in spite of all the edicts
of philosophy, and reason itself must stoop
to its orders. Even those philosophers who
have disowned the authority of our notions
of an external material world, confess that
they find themselves under a necessity of
submitting to their power.

Methinks, therefore, it were better to
make a virtue of necessity ; and, since we
cannot get rid of the vulgar notion and be-
lief of an external world, to reconcile our
reason to it as well as we can ; for, if Rea-
son* should stomach and fret ever so much
at this yoke, she cannot throw it off; if she
will not be the servant of Common Sense,
she must be her slave.

In order, therefore, to reconcile Reason
to Common Sense* in this matter, I beg
leave to offer to the consideration of philo-
sophers these two observations. First,
That, in all this debate about the existence
of a material world, it hath been taken for
granted on both sides, that this same
material world, if ally such there be, must
be the express image of our sensations ;

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 29 of 114)