Thomas Reid.

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

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prehended, conceived, imagined, relained f
weighed, ruminated.*

It does not appear that the notions ol
the ancient philosophers, with regard to the
nature of the soul, were much more re-
fined than those of the vulgar, or that they
were formed in any other way. We shall
distinguish the philosophy that regards our
subject into the old and the new. The old
reached down to Des Cartes, who gave it a
fatal blow, of which it has been gradually
expiring ever since, and is now almost ex-
tinct. Des Cartes is the father of the new
philosophy that relates to this subject ; but
it hath been gradually improving since his
time, upon the principles laid down by him.
The old philosophy seems to have been
purely analogical ; the new is more derived
from reflection, but still with a very con-
siderable mixture of the old analogical no-

Because the objects of sense consist of
matter and form, the ancient philosophers
conceived everything to belong to one of
these, or to be made up of both. Some,
therefore, thought that the soul is a parti-
cular kind of subtile matter, separable from
our gross bodies ; others thought that it is
only a particular form of the body, and in-
separable from it. t For there seem to have

• The examples that might be given of these,
would, I find, exceed the limits of a foot-note— H.

t It would, however, he a very erroneous assump-
tion to hold, that those who viewed the soul as a form
inseparable from the body, denied the existence, and
the independent existence, of any mental principle
after the dissolution of ihe material oiganism. Thus,
Anstotledefines thesoul, the Form or Entelechjoran



been some among the ancients, as well as
among the moderns 3 who conceived that a
certain structure or organization of the
body, is all that is necessary to render
it sensible and intelligent.* The different
powers of the mind ware, accordingly, by
the last sect of philosophers, conceived to
belong to different. parts of the body — as the
heart, the brain, the liver, the stomach, the

They who thought that the soul is a sub-
tile matter, separable from the body, dis-
puted to which of the four elements it be-
longs— whether to earth,- water, air, or fire.
Of the three last, each had its particular
advocates.^ But some were of opinion,
that it partakes of all the elements ; that it
must have something in its composition
similar to everything we perceive ; and
that we perceive earth by the earthly part ;
water, by the watery part; and fire, by
the fiery part of the soul.§ Some philoso-
phers, not satisfied with determining of
what kind of matter the soul is made, in-
quired likewise into its figure, which they
determined to be spherical, that it might
be the more fit for motion. || The most
spiritual and sublime notion concerning the
nature of the soul, to be met with among
the ancient philosophers, I conceive to be
that of the Platonists, who held that it is
made of that celestial and incorruptible
matter of which the fixed stars were made,
and, therefore, has a natural tendency to
rejoin its proper element.^" I am at a loss

organized body j and yet he, hypothetically at least,
admits that N5s, or Intelligencp, is- adventitious to this
animated organ ism „ and, therefore, possibly, and even
probably,, separable from it, and immortal. The term
sim/ in this 'instance is not adequate to the Intellec-
tual Ego.— H.
* Thus Parmenides: —
'ii? yotg ixara/ Z%ti x%£.<rts f&tki&iv xokvTkoiyx-

'EWv tTte^ovhi ftikioiv tpua-is otyB^uroin.
So likewise Dicaearchus, Galen, and others.— H.

t This- is altogether erroneous. Those philoso-
phers who assigned different -seats or organs for dif-
ferent parts or functions of the soul, did not therefore
admit the absolute dependence of the soul upon the
body. For instance, the Pythagoreans and the Pla-
tonists.— H.

J Aristotle observes that earth was the only ele-
ment which had found no advocate. This he means
only of earth by itself— for, in combination with one
or more of the others, it was by many philosophers
allowed to be at constituent of soul. Of these last,
water had its champion in Hippo j air, in Anaxi-
menes and Diogenes, with whom are sometimes
enumerated Anaximander, Anaxagoras, Archelaus,
^Snesidemus, Ac. ; fire, in Democritus and Leucip-
pus, perhaps in Hipparchus and Heraclitus.— H.

\ Empedocles; and Plato, as interpreted by Aris.
totle— H.

|| Democritus and Leucippus held the soul, as
an igneous principle, to consist of spherical atoms.
— H.

If See the " Timams" of Plato. Plotinus, and
the lower Platonists in general, held the- human soul
to be an emanation from the Amma Mundi. Aristo-
tle seems to have favoured an opinion correspondent
to Plato's Even the sentient or animal soul, in-
separable as it is from body he maintained 10 be

to say, in which of these classes of philoso-
phers Aristotle ought to be placed.* He
defines the soul to be, The first tyrtxl^iia
of a natural body which has potential life.
I beg to be excused from translating the
Greek word, because I know not the mean-
ing of it.+$

The notions of the ancient philosophers
with regard to the operations of the mind,
particularly with regard to perception and
ideas, seem likewise to have been formed
by the same kind of analogy.

Plato, of the writers that are extant,
first introduced the word idea into philoso-
phy ; but his doctrine upon this subject
had somewhat peculiar. He agreed with
the rest of the ancient philosophers in this —
that all things consist of matter and 'form ;
and that the matter of which all things
were made, existed from eternity, without

higher than any sublunary element, and supposed it
to be " analogous to the element of the stars."— Be
Generattone Animalium, L. II., c. 2.— H.

# This is the former of the two definitions which
Aristotle gives of the human soul, in the second
book of his treatise, " Ute) tyzw" ^ n tne latter, he
defines it a posteriori from its phenomena — that by
which we live, feel or perceive, VwiU,'} move, and
understand ;— a definition which has been generally
adopted by philosophers, and, though more complete,
is in substance that of Reid himself. "By the mind
of a man," (says Reid,) " we understand that in him
which thinks, remembers, reasons, wills." — Essays
on the Intellectual Powers, Essay I., chap. i.

+ Though Cicero misapprehended, and Hermo-
laus Barharus raised the Devil to expound it, this
Aristotelic term is by no means of a very arduous in.
terpretation. It is not, however, here the place to
explain the contents of this celebrated definition.—

X ,f For her [the soul's] true form how can my spark
Which, dim by nature, art did never clear?

When the great wits, of whom all skill we learn,
Are Ignorant both what she is, and where.

" One thinks the soul is air ; another, fire ;

Another, blood, diffused about the heart ;
Another saith, the elements conspire,

And to her essence each doth lend a part.

*« Musicians think our souls are harmonies ;

Physicians hold that they complexions bej
Epicures make them swarms of atomies,

Which do by chance into our bodies flee.

*< Some think one gen'ral soul fills every brain,
As the bright sun sheds light in every star;

While others think the name of soul is vain,
And that we only well-mixt bodies are.

** In judgment of her substance as they vary,
So vary they in judgment of her seat;

For some her chair up to the brain do carry,
Some thrust it down into the stomach's heat.

«' Some place it in the root of life, the heart ;

Some in the liver fountain of the veins ;
Some say, she's all in all, and all in ev'ry part;

Some that she's not contain'd, but all contains,

*« Thus these great clerks but little wisdom shew,
While with- their doctrines they at hazard play;

Tossing their light opinions to and fro, .
To mock the lewd, as learn'd in this as they.

" For no craz'd brain could ever yet propound,

Touching the soul, so vain and fond a thought,
But some pmong these masters have been found,
Which, in their schools, the self-same thinghave

Sib John Davihs.— H.



form : but he likewise believed that there
are eternal forms of all possible things
which exist, without matter ; and to these
eternal and immaterial forms he gave the
name of ideas ; maintaining that they are
the only object of true knowledge. It is of
no great moment to us, whether he bor-
rowed these notions from Parmenides, or
whether they were the issue of his own
creative imagination. The latter Platonists
seem to have improved upon them, in con-
ceiving those ideas, or eternal forms of things,
to exist, not of themselves, but in the di-
vine mind,* and to be the models and pat-
terns according to which all things were
made: —

" Then Hv'd the Eternal One j then, deep retir'd
In his unfathom'd essence, view'd at large
The uncreated images of things."

To these Platonic notions, that of Male-
branche is very nearly allied. This author
seems, more than any other, to have been
aware of the difficulties attending the com-
mon hypothesis concerning ideas - )" — to wit,
That ideas of all objects of thought are in
the human mind ; and, therefore, in order
to avoid those difficulties, makes the ideas
which are the immediate objects of human
thought, to be the ideas of things in the
Divine mind, who, being intimately present
to every human mind, may discover his
ideas to it, as far as pleaseth him.

The Platonists and Malebranche ex-
cepted,:): all other philosophers, as far as I
know, have conceived that there are ideas or
images of every object of thought in the
human mind, or, at least, in some part of
the brain, where the mind is supposed to
have its residence.

Aristotle had no good affection to the
word idea, and seldom or never uses it but

* Whether Plato viewed Ideas as existences in-
dependent of the divine mind, is a contested point ;
though, upon the whole, it appears more probable
that he did not. It is, however, admitted, on all
hands, to be his doctrine, that Ideas were the patterns
according towhich the Deity fashioned the phaenome-
nal or ectypal world. — H.

f It should be carefully observed that the term
Idea, previous to the time of Des Cartes, was used
exclusively, or all but exclusively, in its Platonic
signification. By Des Cartes, and other contem-
porary philosophers, it was first extended to denote
our representations in general. Many curious
blunders have arisen in consequence of an ignorance
of this. I may notice, by the way, that a confusion
of ideas in the Platonic with ideas in the Cartesian
sense has here led Reid into the error of assimilating
the hypothesis of Plato and the hypothesis of Male-
branche in regard to our vision in the divine mind.
The Platonic theory of Perception, in fact, bears a
closer analogy to the Cartesian and Leibnitzian doc-
trines than tothat of Malebranche. See notes on the
" Essays on the Intellectual Powers." Ess. II., ch.
iv. or vii., and Note ft. — H.

X The Platonists are no exception ; for they allowed
the human mind to have potentially within it the
forms or representations for all possible objects of per.
ception ; each representation being, by the spontaneity
of mind itself, elicited into consciousness on occasion
of its corresponding object coming within the sphere
of sense. But of Ihisagain.— H.

in refuting Plato's notions about ideas. He
thought that matter may exist without form ;
but that forms cannot exist without matter.
But, at the same time, he taught, That
there can be no sensation, no imagination,
nor intellection, without forms, phantasms,
or species in the mind ; and that things
sensible are perceived by sensible species,
and things intelligible by intelligible
species. * His followers taught, more ex-
plicitly, that those sensible and intelligible
species are sent forth by the objects, and
make their impressions upon the passive
intellect ; and that the active intellect per-
ceives them in the passive intellect. And
this seems to have been the common opinion
while the Peripatetic philosophy retained
its authority.

The Epicurean doctrine, as explained by
Lucretius, though widely different from the
Peripatetic in many things, is almost the
same in this. He affirms, that slender
films or ghosts {tenuia rerum simulacra) are
still going off from all things, and flying
about ; and that these, being extremely
subtile, easily penetrate our gross bodies,
and, striking upon the mind, cause thought
and imagination. -)-

After the Peripatetic system had reigned
above « thousand years in the schools of
Europe, almost without a rival, it sunk be-
fore that of Des Cartes ; the perspicuity
of whose writings and notions, contrasted
with the obscurity of Aristotle and his com-
mentators, created a strong prejudice in
favour of this new philosophy. The cha-
racteristic of Plato's genius was sublimity,
that of Aristotle's, subtilty ; but Des Cartes
far excelled both in perspicuity, and be-
queathed this spirit to his successors. The
system which is now generally received,
with regard to the mind and its operations,
derives not only its spirit from Des Cartes,
but its fundamental principles ; and, after all
the improvements made by Malebranche,
Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, may still be
called the Cartesian system : we shall, there-
fore, make some remarks upon its spirit
and tendency in general, and upon its doc-
trine concerning ideas in particular.

1. It may be observed, That the method
which Des Cartes pursued, naturally led
him to attend more to the operations of the
mind by accurate reflection, and to trust
less to analogical reasoning upon this sub-

• The doctrine of Aristotle on this subject, admits
of an interpretation far more philosophical than that
given to it by most of his followers. But of this
again.— H.

■+ Tn ? J"'te«""< ii*»X« thtm, &c of Demo,
cntus and Epicurus differed from the hiti, or species
of the later Peripatetics, in this— that the former
were confessedly substantive and corporeal, while
the latter, as mere accidents, shrewdly puzzled their
advocates, to say how they were separable from a
subject, and whether they were material, immaterial,
or somehow intermediate between body and spirit



ject, than any philosopher had done before
him. Intending to build a system upon a
new foundation, he began with a resolution
to admit nothing but what was abso-
lutely certain and evident. He supposed
that his senses, his memory, his reason,
and every other faculty to which we trust
in common life, might be fallacious ; and
resolved to disbelieve everything, until he
was compelled by irresistible evidence to
yield assent.

In this method of proceeding, what ap-
peared to him, first of all, certain and
evident, was, That he thought — that he
doubted — that he deliberated. In a word,
the operations of his own mind, of which
he was conscious, must be real, and no de-
lusion ; and, though all his other faculties
should deceive him, his consciousness could
not.* This, therefore, he looked upon as
the first of all truths. This was the first
firm ground upon which he set his foot,
after being tossed in the ocean of scepticism ;
and he resolved to build all knowledge up-
on it, without seeking after any more first

As every other truth, therefore, and par-
ticularly the existence of the objects of
sense, was to be deduced by a train of strict
argumentation from what he knew by con-
sciousness, he was naturally led to give
attention to the operations of which he was
conscious, without borrowing his notions of
them from external things.

It was not in the way of analogy, but
of attentive reflection, that he was led to
observe, That thought, volition, remem-
brance, and the other attributes of the
mind, are altogether unlike to extension,
to figure, and to all the attributes of body ;
that we have no reason, therefore, to con-
ceive thinking substances to have any re-
semblance to extended substances ; and
that, as the attributes of the thinking sub-
stance are things of which we are conscious,
we may have a more certain and immediate
knowledge of them by reflection, than we
can have of external objects by our senses.

These observations, as far as I know,
were first made by Des Cartes ; and they
are of more importance, and throw more
light upon the subject, than all that had
been said upon it before. They ought to
make us diffident and jealous of every
notion concerning the mind and its oper-
ations, which is drawn from sensible ob-
jects in the way of analogy, and to make
us^ rely only upon aacurate reflection, as
the source of all real knowledge upon this
2. I observe that, as the Peripatetic

* De9 Cartes did not commit Reid's error of mak-
ing consciousness a co-ordinate and special faculty.

system has a tendency to materialize the
mind and its operations, so the Cartesian
has a tendency to spiritualize body and its
qualities. One error, common to both
systems, leads to the first of these extremes
in the way of analogy, and to the last in
the way of reflection. The error I mean
is, That we can know nothing about body,
or its qualities, but as far as we have sens-
ations which resemble those qualities. Both
systems agreed in this : but, according to
their different methods of reasoning, they
drew very difterent conclusions from it ; the
Peripatetic drawing his notions of sensa-
tion from the qualities of body ; the Car-
tesian, on the contrary, drawing his notions
of the qualities of body from his sensa-

The Peripatetic, taking it for granted
that bodies and their qualities do really
exist, and are such as we commonly take
them to be, inferred from them the nature
of his sensations, and reasoned in this man-
ner : — Our sensations are the impressions
which sensible objects make upon the mind,
and may be compared to the impression of
a seal upon wax : the impression is the
image or form of the seal, without the mat-
ter of it ; in like manner, every sensation
is the image or form of some sensible qua-
lity of the object. This is the reasoning of
Aristotle : and it has an evident tendency
to materialize the mind and its sensations.

The Cartesian, on the contrary, thinks
that the existence of body, or of any of
its qualities, is not to be taken as a first
principle ; and that we ought to admit no-
thing concerning it, but what, by just rea-
soning, can be deduced from our sensations ;
and he knows that, by reflection, we can
form clear and distinct notions of our sensa-
tions, without borrowing our notions of
them by analogy from the objects of sense.
The Cartesians, therefore, beginning to give
attention to their sensations, first discovered
that the sensations corresponding to second-
ary qualities, cannot resemble any quality
of body. Hence, Des Cartes and Locke
inferred, that sound, taste, smell, colour,
heat, and cold, which the vulgar took to
be qualities of body, were not qualities of
body, but mere sensations of the mind.*

* Des Cartes and Locke made no such inference.
They only maintained (as Reid himself states) that
sound, taste. &c, as sensations in us, have no re.
semblance to any quality in bodies. If the names,
therefore, of sound, taste, &c, were to be employed
univoeally— i. e., to denote always things the same or
similar — in that case they argued that these terms, if
properly significant of_the sensations, could not be
properly applied to the relative qualities in external
things. This is distinctly stated both by Des Cartes
and Locke. But Des Cartes and the Cartesians ob.
serve that the terms in question are equivocally
used ; being commonly applied both to that in things
which occasions the sensation in us, and to that
sensation itself. Nay, the Cartesians, to avoid the
ambiguity, distinguish d the two relatives by diflto.



Afterwards, the ingenious Berkeley, con-
sidering more attentively the nature of sens-
ation in general, discovered and demon-
strated, that no sensation whatever could
possibly resemble any quality of an insen-
tient being, such as body is supposed to be ;
and hence he inferred, very justly, that
there is the same reason to hold extension,
figure, and all the primary qualities, to be
mere sensations, as there is to hold the
secondary qualities to be mere sensations.
Thus, by just reasoning upon the Cartesian
principles, matter was stripped of all its
qualities ; the new system, by a kind of me-
taphysical sublimation, converted all the qua-
lities of matter into sensations, and spiritu-
alized body, as the old had materialized

The way to avoid both these extremes, is
to admit the existence of what we see and
feel as a first principle, as well as the exist-
ence of things whereof we are conscious ;
and to take our notions of the qualities of
body, from the testimony of our senses,
with the Peripatetics ; and our notions of
our sensations, from the testimony of con-
sciousness, with the Cartesians.

3. I observe, That the modern scepticism
is the natural issue of the new system ; and
that, although it did not bring forth this
monster until the year 1739,* it may be
said to have carried it in its womb from
the beginning.

The old system admitted all the princi-
ples of common sense as first principles,
without requiring any proof of them ; and,
therefore, though its reasoning was com-
monly vague, analogical, and dark, yet it
was built upon a broad foundation, and had
no tendency to scepticism. We do not
find that any Peripatetic thought it incum-
bent upon him to prove the existence of a
material world ;-f- but every writer upon
the Cartesian system attempted this, until
Berkeley clearly demonstrated the futility
of their arguments ; and thence concluded

ent names. To take colour, for example: they
called colour, as a sensation in the mind, formal
colour ; colour, as a quality in bodies capable of
producing the sensation, primitive or radical colour.
They had likewise another distinction of less im.
portance — that of secondary or derivative colour •
meaning thereby that which the coloured bodies
impress upon the external medium. Thus, again,
pn?mtive or radical sound was the property of a body
to determine a certain agitation in the air or other
medium ; secondary or derivative sound, that agita-
tion in the medium itself; formal sound, the sensa.
tion occasioned by the impression made by the radical
sound mediately, and by the derivative immediately,
upon the organ of hearing. There is thus no dif-
ference between Reid and the Cartesians, except
that the doctrine which he censures is in fact more
precise and explicit than his own.— H.

* When Hume's " Treatise of Human Nature"
appeared.— H.

t This is not correct ; but the reason why Idealism
o a not prevail in the schools of the middle ages is
one, as it appears to me, merely theological. But on
ton curious Question I canno now touch,— H

that there was no such thing as a material
world ; and that the belief of it ought to be
rejected as a vulgar error.

The new system admits only one of the
principles of common sense as a first prin-
ciple ; and pretends, by strict argumenta-
tion, to deduce all the rest from it. That
our thoughts, our sensations, and every
thing of which we are conscious, hath a
real existence, is admitted in this system
as a first principle ; but everything else
must be made evident by the light of rea-
son. Reason must rear the whole fabric of
knowledge upon this single principle of

There is a disposition in human nature
to reduce things to as few principles as
possible ;* and this, without doubt, adds to
the beauty of a system, if the principles
are able to support what rests upon them.
The mathematicians glory, very justly, in
having raised so noble and magnificent a
system of science, upon the foundation -of
a few axioms and definitions. This love
of simplicity, and of reducing things to few
principles, hath produced many a false
system ; but there never was any system
in which it appears so remarkably as that
of Des Cartes, f His whole system con-
cerning matter and spirit is built upon
one axiom, expressed in one word, cogito.
Upon the foundation of conscious thought,
with ideas for his materials, he builds his
system of the human understanding, and
attempts to account for all its phenomena :

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 47 of 114)