Thomas Reid.

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

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laws of nature, and the same connections
of things, for a long time : because, if he
did otherwise, we could learn nothing from
what is past, and all our experience would
be of no use to us. But, though this con-
sideration, when we come to the use of rea-
son, may confirm our belief of the contin-
uance of the present course of nature, it
is certain that it did not give rise to this
belief ; for children and idiots have this be-
lief as soon as they know that fire will burn
them. It must, therefore, be the effect of
^jnstinct, not of reason. -

The wise Author of our nature intended,
that a great and necessary part of our know-
ledge should be derived from experience,
before we are capable of reasoning, and he
hath provided means perfectly adequate to
this intention. For, First, He governs nature
by fixed laws, so that we find innumerable
connections of things which continue from
age to age. Without this stability of the
course of nature, there could be no experi-
ence ; or, it would be a false guide, and lead
us into error and mischief. If there were
not a principle of veracity in the human
mind, men's words would not be signs of
their thoughts : and if there were no regu-
larity in the course of nature, no one thing
could be a natural sign of another. Se-
condly, He hath implanted in human minds
an original principle by which we believe,
and expect the continuance of the course of
nature, and the continuance of those connec-

* Compare Stewart's " Elements," vol. I., chap.
iv , tj 5, p. 205. sixth edition j " Philosophical Essays,"
p. 74, eqq., fourth edition; Royer Collard, in Jouf-
froy's "oeuvresde Rcid," t. IV., p. 279, sqn. ; with
Priestley's " Examination," p. 86, sqq. I merely
refer to works relative to lieid's doctrine. — H.

tions which we have observed kt time past
It is by this general principle of our nature,
that, when two things have been found con-
nected in time past, the appearance of the
'SQne produces the belief of the other.

I think the ingenious author of the "Trea-
tise of Human Nature" first observed, That
our belief of the continuance of the laws of
nature cannot be founded either upon know-
ledge or probability : but, far from conceiv-
ing it to be an original principle of the
mind, he endeavours to account for it from
his favourite hypothesis, That belief is no-
thing but a certain degree of vivacity in
the idea of the thing believed. I made a
remark upon this curious hypothesis in the
second chapter, and shall now make an-

The belief which we have in perception,
is a belief of the present existence of the
object; that which we have in memory, is
a belief of its past existence ; the belief of
which we are now speaking is a belief of its
future existence ; and in imagination there
is no belief at all. Now, I would gladly
know of this author, how one degree of
vivacity fixes the existence of the object to
the present moment ; another carries it
back to time past ; a third, taking a con'
trary direction, carries it into futurity ; and
a fourth carries it out of existence alto-
gether. Suppose, for instance, that I see
the sun rising out of the sea : I remember
to have seen him rise yesterday ; I believe
he will rise to-morrow near the same place ;
I can likewise imagine him rising in that
place, without any belief at all. Now, ac-
cording to this sceptical hypothesis, this
perception, this memory, this foreknow-
ledge, and this imagination, are all the same
idea, diversified only by different degrees of
vivacity. The perception of the sun rising
is the most lively idea ; the memory of his
rising yesterday is the same idea a little
more faint ; the belief of his rising to-mor-
row is the same idea yet fainter ; and the
imagination of his rising is still the same
idea, but faintest of all. One is apt to
think, that this idea might gradually pass
through all possible degrees of vivacity with-
out stirring out of its place. But, if we
think so, we deceive ourselves ; for no sooner
does it begin to grow languid than it moves
backward into time past. Supposing this
to be granted, we expect, at least, that, as
it moves backward by the decay of its
vivacity, the more that vivacity decays it
will go back the farther, until it remove
quite out of sight. But here we are de-
ceived again ; for there is a certain pe-
riod of this declining vivacity, when, as
if it had met an elastic obstacle in its mo-
tion backward, it suddenly rebounds from
the past to the future, without taking the
present in its way. And now, having got



into the regions of futurity, we are apt to
think that it has room enough to spend all
its remaining vigour : but still we are de-
ceived ; for, by another sprightly bound, it
mounts up into the airy region of imagina-
tion. So that ideas, in the gradual declen-
sion of their vivacity, seem to imitate the
inflection of verbs in grammar. They be-
gin with the present, and proceed in order
to the preterite, the future, and the inde-
finite. This article of the sceptical creed is
indeed so full of mystery, on whatever side
we view it, that they who hold that creed
are very injuriously charged with incre-
dulity ; for, to me, it appears to require as
much faith as that of St Athanasius.

However, we agree with the author of
the " Treatise of Human Nature," in this,
That our belief of the continuance of nature's
laws is not derived from reason. It is
an instinctive prescience of the operations
of nature, very like to that prescience of
human actions which makes us rely upon
the testimony of our fellow-creatures ; and
as, without the latter, we should be incapa-
ble of receiving information from men by
language, so, without the former, we should
be incapable of receiving the information of
nature by means of experience.

All our knowledge of nature beyond our
original perceptions, is got by experience,
and consists in the interpretation of natural
signs. The constancy of nature's laws
connects the sign with the thing signified ;
and, by the natural principle just now ex-
plained, we rely upon the continuance of
the connections which experience hath dis-
covered ; and thus the appearance of the
sign is followed by the belief of the thing

Upon this principle of our constitution,
not only acquired perception, but all induc-
tive reasoning, and all our reasoning from
analogy, is grounded ; and, therefore, for
want of another name, we shall beg leave
to call it the inductive principle. It is from
the force of this principle that we imme-
diately assent to that axiom upon which all
our knowledge of nature is built, That
effects of the same kind must have the
same cause ; for effects and causes, in the
operations of nature, mean nothing but
signs and the things signified by them. We
perceive no proper causality or efficiency in
any natural cause ; but only a connection
established by the course of nature between
it and what is called its effect. Anteced-
ently to all reasoning, we have, by our con-
stitution, an anticipation that there is »
fixed and steady course of nature : and we
have an eager desire to discover this course
of nature. We attend to every conjunction
of things which presents itself, and expect
the continuance of that conjunction. And,
when such a conjunction has been often

observed, we conceive the things to be
naturally connected, and the appearance of
one, without any reasoning or reflection,
carries along with it the belief of the other.

If any reader should imagine that th«
inductive principle may be resolved into
what philosophers usually call the associ-
ation of ideas, let him observe, that, by
this principle, natural signs are not asso-
ciated with the idea only, but with the be-
lief of the things signified. Now, this can
with no propriety be called an association
of ideas, unless ideas and belief be one and
the same thing. A child has found the
prick of a pin conjoined with pain ; hence
he believes, and knows, that these things
are naturally connected ; he knows that the
one will always follow the other. If any
man will call this only an association of ideas,
I dispute not about words, but I think he
speaks very improperly. For, if we express
it in plain English, it is a prescience that
things which he hath found conjoined in
time past, will be conjoined in time to
come. And this prescience is not the effect
of reasoning, but of an original principle of
human nature, which I have called the
inductive principle*

This principle, like that of credulity, is
unlimited in infancy, and gradually re-
strained and regulated as we grow up. It
leads us often into mistakes ; but is of in-
finite advantage upon the whole. By it, the
child once burnt shuns the fire ; by it, he
likewise runs away from the surgeon by
whom he was inoculated. It is better that
he should do the last, than that he should
not do the first.

But the mistakes we are led into by these
two natural principles, are of a different
kind. Men sometimes lead us into mis-
takes, when we perfectly understand their
language, by speaking Ues. But Nature
never misleads us in this way : her lan-
guage is always true ; and it is only by
misinterpreting it that we fall into error.
There must be many accidental conjunc-
tions of things, as well as natural connec-
tions ; and the former are apt to be mis-
taken for the latter. Thus, in the instance
above mentioned, the child connected the
pain of inoculation with the surgeon ;
whereas it was really connected with the
incision only. Philosophers, and men of
science, are not exempted from such mis-
takes ; indeed, all false reasoning in philo-
sophy is owing to them ; it is drawn from
experience and analogy, as well as just rea-
soning, otherwise it could have no verisimili-
tude ; but the one is an unskilful and rash,

* This objection to the solution, on the ground of
association, is unsound. It is generally admitted thai
the term " Association of Jdeas" is inadequate ; the
law of association extending not only to Ideas, but
to all our mental modifications. — H



the other a just and legitimate interpreta-
tion of natural signs. If a child, or a man
of common understanding, were put to
interpret a book of science, written in his
mother-tongue, how many blunders and
mistakes would he be apt to fall into ? Yet
he knows as much of this language as is
necessary for his manner of life.

The language of Nature is the universal
study ; and the students are of different
classes. Brutes, idiots, and children em-
ploy themselves in this study, and owe to it
all their acquired perceptions. Men of com-
mon understanding make a greater pro-
gress, and learn, by a small degree of
reflection, many things of which children
are ignorant.

Philosophers fill up the highest form in
this school, and are critics in the language
of nature. All these different classes have
one teacher — Experience, enlightened by
the inductive principle. Take away the
light of this inductive principle, and Ex-
perience is as blind as a mole : she may,
indeed, feel what is present, and what im-
mediately touches her ; but she sees nothing
that is either before or behind, upon the
right hand or upon the left, future or past.

The rules of inductive reasoning, or of a
just interpretation of Nature, as well as the
fallacies by which we are apt to misinter-
pret her language, have been, with wonder-
ful sagacity, delineated by the great genius
of Lord Bacon : so that his " Novum
Organum" may justly be called " A Gram-
mar of the Language of Nature." It adds
greatly to the merit of this work, and atones
for its defects, that, at the time it was
written, the world had not seen any tole-
rable model of inductive reasoning," from
which the rules of it might be copied. The
arts of poetry and eloquence were grown up
to perfection when Aristotle described them ;
but the art of interpreting Nature was
yet in embryo when Bacon delineated its
manly features and proportions. Aristotle
drew his rules from the best models of
those arts that have yet appeared ; but the
best models of inductive reasoning that
have yet appeared, which I take to be the
third book of the "Principia," and the
" Optics," of Newton, were drawn from
Bacon's rules. The purpose of all those
rules, is to teach us to distinguish seeming
or apparent connections of things, in the
course of nature, from such as are real.

They that are unskilful in inductive
reasoning, are more apt to fall into error
in their reasonings from the phenomena of
nature than in their acquired perceptions ;
because we often reason from a few in-
stances, and thereby are apt to mistake acci-
dental conjunctions of things for natural

• Yet Galileo whs anterior to Bacon, — H.

connections : but that habit of passing,
without reasoning, from the sign to the
thing signified, which constitutes acquired
perception, must be learned by many in-
stances or experiments ; and the number of
experiments serves to disjoin those things
which have been accidentally conjoined,
as well as to confirm our belief of natural

From the time that children begin to use
their hands, Nature directs them to handle
everything over and over, to look at it
while they handle it, and to put it in va-
rious positions, and at various distances
from the eye. We are apt to excuse this
as a childish diversion, because they must
be doing something, and have not reason
to entertain themselves in a more manly
way. But, if we think more justly, we
shall find, that they are engaged in the
most serious and important study ; and, if
they had all the reason of a philosopher,
they could not be more properly employed.
For it is this childish employment that
enables them to make the proper use of
their eyes. They are thereby every day
acquiring habits of perception, which are
of greater importance than anything we
can teach them. The original perception!
which Nature gave them are few, and in-
sufficient for the purposes of life ; and,
therefore, she made them capable of ac-
quiring many more perceptions by habit.
And, to complete her work, she hath given
them an unwearied assiduity in applying to
the exercises by which those perceptions are

This is the education which Nature gives
to her children. And, since we have fallen
upon this subject, we may add, that another
part of Nature's education is, That, by the
course of things, children must often exert
all their muscular force, and employ all
their ingenuity, in order to gratify their
curiosity, and satisfy their little appetites.
What they desire is only to be obtained
at the expense of labour and patience, and
many disappointments. By the exercise
of body and mind necessary for satisfying
their desires, they acquire agility, strength,
and dexterity in their motions, as well as
health and vigour to their constitutions ;
they learn patience and perseverance;
they learn to bear pain without dejection,
and disappointment without despondence.
The education of Nature is most perfect in
savages, who have no other tutor ; and we
see that, in the quickness of all their senses,
in the agility of their motions, in the hardi-
ness of their constitutions, and in the
strength of their minds to bear hunger,
thirst, pain, and disappointment, they com-
monly far exceed the civilized. A most
ingenious writer, on this account, seems to
prefer the savage life to that of society.



But the education of Nature could never
of itself produce a Eousseau. It is the
intention of Nature that human educa-
tion should be joined to her institution, in
order to form the man. And she hath
fitted us for human education, by the natural
principles of imitation and credulity, which
discover themselves almost in infancy, as
well as by others which are of later growth.

When the education which we receive
from men, does not give scope to the educa-
tion of Nature, it is wrong directed ; it tends
to hurt our faculties of perception, and to
enervate both the body and mind. Nature
hath her way of rearing men, as she hath
of curing their diseases. The art of medi-
cine is to follow Nature, to imitate and to
assist her in the cure of diseases ; and the
art of education is to follow Nature, to
assist and to imitate her in her way of
rearing men. The ancient inhabitants of
the Baleares followed Nature in the man-
ner of teaching their children to be good
archers, when they hung their dinner aloft
by a thread, and left the younkers to bring
it down by their skill in archery.

The education of Nature, without any
more human care than is necessary to pre-
serve life, makes a perfect savage. Human
education, joined to that of Nature, may
make a good citizen, a skilful artisan, or a
well-bred man ; but reason and reflection
must superadd their tutory, in order to
produce a Rousseau, a Bacon, or a Newton.

Notwithstanding the innumerable errors
committed in human education, there is
hardly any education so bad as to be worse
than none. And I apprehend that, if even
Rousseau were to choose whether to educate
a son among the French, the Italians, the
Chinese, or among the Eskimaux, he would
not give the preference to the last.

When Reason is properly employed, she
will confirm the documents of Nature, which
are always true and wholesome ; she will
distinguish, in the documents of human
education, the good from the bad, rejecting
the last with modesty, and adhering to the
first with reverence.

Most men continue all their days to be
just what Nature and human education
made them. Their manners, their opinions,
their virtues, and their vices, are all got by
habit, imitation, and instruction ; and rea-
son has little or no share in forming them.




There are two ways in which men may

form their notions and opinions concerning
the mind, and concerning its powers and oper-
ations. The first is the only way that leads
to truth ; but it is narrow and rugged, and
few have entered upon it. The second is
broad and smooth, and hath been much
beaten, not only by the vulgar, but even by
philosophers; it is sufficient for common
life, and is well adapted to the purposes of the
poet and orator : but, in philosophical dis-
quisitions concerning the mind, it leads to
error and delusion.

We may call the first of these ways, the
way of reflection. When the operations of
the mind are exerted, we are conscious of
them ; and it is in our power to attend to
them, and to reflect upon them, until they
become familiar objects of thought. This
is the only way in which we can form just
and accurate notions of those operations.
But this attention and reflection is so diffi-
cult to man, surrounded on all hands by
external objects which constantly solicit his
attention, that it has been very little prac-
tised, even by philosophers. In the course
of this inquiry, we have had many occa-
sions to shew how little attention hath been
given to the most familiar operations of the

The second, and the most common way,
in which men form their opinions concern-
ing the mind and its operations, we may
call the way of analogy. There is nothing
in the course of nature so singular, but we
can find some resemblance, or at least some
analogy, between it and other things with
which we are acquainted. The mind na-
turally delights in hunting after such analo-
gies, and attends to them with pleasure.
From them, poetry and wit derive a great
part of their charms ; and eloquence, not a
little of its persuasive force.

Besides the pleasure we receive from
analogies, they are of very considerable use,
both to facilitate the conception of things,
when they are not easily apprehended with-
out such a handle, and to lead us to probable
conjectures about their nature and qualities,
when we want the means of more direct
and immediate knowledge. When I con-
sider that the planet Jupiter, in like manner
as the earth, rolls round his own axis, and
revolves round the sun, and that he is en-
lightened by several secondary planets, as
the earth is enlightened by the moon, I am
apt to conjecture, from analogy, that, as the
earth by these means is fitted to be the
habitation of various orders of animals, so
the planet Jupiter is, by the like means,
fitted for the same purpose : and, having no
argument more direct and conclusive to de-
termine me in this point, I yield, to this
analogical reasoning, a degree of assent
proportioned to its strength. When I
observe that the potato plant very much



resembles the solarium in its flower and
fructification, and am informed that the
last is poisonous, I am apt from analogy
to have some suspicion of the former : but,
in this case, I have access to more direct
and certain evidence ; and, therefore, ought
not to trust to analogy, which would lead
me into an error.

Arguments from analogy are always at
hand, and grow up spontaneously in a
fruitful imagination ; while arguments that
are more direct and more conclusive
often require painful attention and appli-
cation : and therefore mankind in gene-
ral have been very much disposed to trust
to the former. If one attentively examines
the systems of the ancient philosophers,
either concerning the material world, or
concerning the mind, he will find them to
be built solely upon the foundation of ana-
logy. Lord Baeon first delineated the
strict and severe method of induction ; since
his time, it has been applied with very happy
success in some parts of natural philosophy —
and hardly in anything else. But there is
no subject in which mankind are so much'
disposed to trust to the analogical way of
thinking and reasoning, as in what concerns
the mind and its operations ; because, to
form clear and distinct notions of those
operations in the direct and proper way,
and to reason about them, requires a habit
of attentive reflection, of which few are
capable, and which, even by those few,
cannot be attained without much pains and

Every man is apt to form his notions of
things difficult to be apprehended, or less
familiar, from their analogy to things which
are more familiar. Thus, if a man bred to
the seafaring life, and accustomed to think
and talk only of matters relating to naviga-
tion, enters into discourse upon any other
subject, it is well known that the language
and the notions proper to his own profes-
sion are infused into every subject, and all
things are measured by the rules of naviga-
tion ; and, if he should take it into his head
to philosophize concerning the faculties of
the mind, it cannot be doubted but he would
draw his notions from the fabric of his ship,
and would And in the mind, sails, masts,
rudder, and compass.*

Sensible objects, of one kind or other, do
no less occupy and engross the rest of man-
kind, than things relating to navigation the
seafaring man. For a considerable part of
life, we can think of nothing but the objects
of sense ; and, to attend to objects of an-
other nature, so as to form clear and dis-
tinct notions of them, is no easy matter,
even after we come to years of reflection.

• See " Essays on the Intellectual Powers," Ess.
VI., ch. viii., Nos. 2 and 6.— H.

The condition of mankind, therefore, affords
good reason to apprehend that their lan-
guage, and their common notions concern-
ing the mind and its operations, will be ana-
logical, and derived from the objects oi
sense ; and that these analogies will be apt
to impose upon philosophers, as well as
upon the vulgar, and to lead them to ma-
terialize the mind and its faculties : and
experience abundantly confirms the truth
of this.

How generally men of all nations, and in
all ages of the world, have conceived the
soul, or thinking principle in man, to be
some subtile matter, like breath or wind,
the names given to it almost in all languages
sufficiently testify. * We have words which
are proper, and not analogical, to express
the various ways in which we perceive ex-
ternal objects by the senses — such as feel-
ing, sight, taste ; but we are often obliged
to use these words analogically, to express
other powers of the mind which* are of a
very different nature. And the powers
which imply some degree of reflection, have
generally no names but such as are analo-
gical. The objects of thought are said to
be in the mind — to be apprehended, com*

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 46 of 114)