Thomas Reid.

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

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and having, as he imagined, from his con-
sciousness, proved the existence of matter ;
upon the existence of matter, and of a cer-
tain quantity of motion originally impressed
upon it, he builds his system of the material
world, and attempts to account for all its

These principles, with regard to the ma-
terial system, have been found insufficient ;
and it has been made evident that, besides
matter and motion, we must admit gravita-
tion, cohesion, corpuscular attraction, mag-
netism, and other centripetal and centri-
fugal forces, by which the particles of
matter attract and repel each other. New-
ton, having discovered this, and demon-
strated that these principles cannot be
resolved into matter and motion, was led,
by analogy and the love of simplicity, to
conjecture, but with a modesty and caution
peculiar to him, that all the phenomena of
the material world depended upon attract-
ing and repelling forces in the particles of
matter. But we may now venture to say,
that this conjecture fell short of the mark.
For, even in the unorganized kingdom, the

* See "Essays on the Intellectual Powers, "0.656,
sqq 4to edition.— H.

t We must except, however, before Reid, among
others, the system of Spinoza, and, since Reid, those
of Fichte, Schellmg, Hegel, &c— H



powers by which salts, crystals, spars, and
many other bodies, concrete into regular
forms, can never be accounted for by at-
tracting and repelling forces in the particles
of matter. And in the vegetable and ani-
mal kingdoms, there are strong indications
of powers of a different nature from all the
powers of unorganized bodies. We see,
then, that, although, in the structure of the
material world, there is, without doubt, all the
beautiful simplicity consistent with the pur-
poses for which it was made, it is not so
simple as the great Des Cartes determined
it to be ; nay, it is not so simple as the
greater Newton modestly conjectured it to
be. Both were misled by analogy, and
the love of simplicity. One had been
much conversant about extension, figure,
and motion ; the other had enlarged his
views to attracting and repelling forces ;
and both formed their notions of the un-
known parts of nature, from those with
which they were acquainted, as the shepherd
Tityrus formed his notion of the city of
Home from his country village : —
" Urbem quam dicunt Romam, Meliboee, putavi
Stultus ego, huic nostra; similem, quo saepe solemus
Pastores ovium tcneros depellere foetus.
Sic canibus catulos similes, sic matribus hasdos
Noram : sic parvis componere magna solebam."

This is a just picture of the analogical way
of thinking.

But to come to the system of Des Cartes,
concerning the human understanding. It
was built, as we have observed, upon con-
sciousness as its sole foundation, and with
ideas* as its materials ; and all his fol-
lowers have built upon the same foundation
and with the same materials. They acknow-
ledge that Nature hath given us various
simple ideas. These are analogous to the
matter of Des Cartes's physical system.
They acknowledge, likewise, a natural
power, by which ideas are compounded, dis-
joined, associated, compared. This is
analogous to the original quantity of motion
in Des Cartes's physical system. From
these principles, they attempt to explain the
phsenomena of the human understanding,
just as in the physical system the phteuo-
mena of nature were to be explained by
matter and motion. It must, indeed, be
acknowledged, that there is great simpli-
city in this system, as well as in the other.
There is such a similitude between the two,
as may be expected between children of
the same father ; but, as the one has been
found to be the child of Des Cartes, and
not of Nature, there is ground to think
that the other is so likewise.

That the natural issue of this system is

* There is no valid ground for supposing that.
Des Cartes meant by ideas aught but modifications
of the mind itself. That the majority of the Cartes-
ians did not, is certain. The case is, however, differ,
ent with regard to Malebranche and Berkeley. But
of this again. — H,

scepticism with regard to everything ex-
cept the existence of our ideas, and of their
necessary relations, which appear upon com-
paring them, is evident j for ideas, being the
only objects of thought, and having no ex-
istence but when we are conscious of them,
it necessarily follows that there is no object
of our thought which can have a continued
and permanent existence. Body and spirit,
cause and effect, time and space, to which
we were wont to ascribe an existence inde-
pendent of our thought, are all turned out
of existence by this short dilemma. Either
these things are ideas of sensation or re-
flection, or they are not : if they are ideas
of sensation or reflection, they can have no
existence but when we are conscious of
them ; if they are not ideas of sensation or
reflection, they are words without any

Neither Des Cartes nor Locke perceived
this consequence of their system concerning
ideas. Bishop Berkeley was the first who
discovered it. ' And what followed upon
this discovery ? Why, with regard to the
material world, and with regard to space
and time, he admits the consequence, That
these things are mere ideas, and have no
existence but in our minds ; but with regard
to the existence of spirits or minds, he does
not admit the consequence ; and, if he had
admitted it, he must have been an absolute
sceptic. But how does he evade this con-
sequence with regard to the existence of
spirits ? The expedient which the good
Bishop uses on this occasion is very re-
markable, and shews his great aversion to
scepticism. He maintains that we have
no ideas of spirits ; and that we can think,
and speak, and reason about them, and
about their attributes, without having any
ideas of them. If this is so, my Lord, what
should hinder us from thinking and reason-
ing about bodies, and their qualities, with-
out having ideas of them ? The Bishop
either did not think of this question, or did
not think fit to give any answer to it. How-
ever, we may observe, that, in order to avoid
scepticism, he fairly starts out of the Car-
tesian system, without giving any reason
why he did so in this instance, and in no
other. This, indeed, is the only instance of
a deviation from Cartesian principles which
I have met with in the successors of Des
Cartes ; and it seems to have been only a
sudden start, occasioned by the terror of
scepticism ; for, in all other things, Berke-
ley's system is founded upon Cartesian

Thus we see that Des Cartes and Locke
take the road that leads to scepticism, with-
out knowing the end of it ; but they stop

* This dilemma applies to the sensualism of Locke,
but not to the rationalism of Des Cartel— H.



Bhort for want of light to carry them farther.
Berkeley, frighted at the appearance of the
dreadful abyss, starts aside, and avoids it.
But the author of the " Treatise of Human
Nature," more daring and intrepid, without
turning aside to the right hand or to the
left, like Virgil's Alecto, shoots directly
into the gulf :

" Hie specus horrendum, et saevi spiracula Ditis
Monstrantur : ruptoque ingens Acheronte vorago
Pestiferas aperit fauces."

4. We may observe, That the account
given by the new system, of that furniture
of the human understanding which is the
gift of Nature, and not the acquisition of our
own reasoning faculty, is extremely lame
and imperfect.*

The natural furniture of the human un-
derstanding is of two kinds : First, The
notions or simple apprehensions which we
have of things ; and, secondly, The judg-
ments or the belief which we have concern-
ing them. As to our notions, the new sys-
tem reduces them to two classes — ideas of
sensation, and ideas of reflection : the first
are conceived to be copies of our sensations,
retained in the memory or imagination ;
the second, to be copies of the operations of
our minds whereof we are conscious, in like
manner retained in the memory or imagin-
ation : and we are taught that these two
comprehend all the materials about which
the human understanding is, or can be em-
ployed. As to our judgment of things, or
the belief which we have concerning them,
the new system allows no part of it to be the
gift of nature, but holds it to be the acquisi-
tion of reason, and to be got by comparing
our ideas, and perceiving their agreements
or disagreements. Now I take this account,
both of our notions, and of our judgments
or belief, to be extremely imperfect ; and I
shall briefly point out some of its capital

The division of our notions into ideas of
sensation,-)- and ideas of reflection, is con-
trary to all rules of logic ; because the
second member of the division includes the
first. For, can we form clear and just
notions of our sensations any other way
than by reflection ? Surely we cannot.
Sensation is an operation of the mind of
which we are conscious ; and we get the
notion of sensation by reflecting upon that
which we are conscious of. In like manner,
doubting and believing are operations of the
mind whereof we are conscious ; and we
get the notion of them by reflecting upon
what we are conscious of. The ideas of
sensation, therefore, are ideas of reflection,

• The following summary refers principally to
Locke. — H.

t It must be remembered that under Sensation
Locke and others included Perception proper and
Sensation proper. — H.

as much as the ideas of doubting, or be-
lieving, or any other ideas whatsoever.*

But, to pass over the inaccuracy of this
division, it is extremely incomplete. For,
since sensation is an operation of the mind,
as well as all the other things of which we
form our notions by reflection, when it is
asserted that all our notions are either
ideas of sensation or ideas of reflection, the
plain English of this is, That mankind
neither do nor can think of anything but
of the operations of their own minds. No-
thing can be more contrary to truth, or
more contrary to the experience of man-
kind. I know that Locke, while he main-
tained this doctrine, believed the notions
which we have of body and of its qualities,
and the notions which we have of motion
and of space, to be ideas of sensation. But
why did he believe this ? Because he
believed those notions to be nothing else
but images of our sensations. If, there-
fore, the notions of body and its qualities,
of motion and space, be not images of our
sensations, will it not follow that those
notions are not ideas of sensation ? Most
certainly. •)-

* I do not see how this criticism on Locke's divi-
sion can be defended, or even excused. It is perfectly
evident that Reid here confounds the proper ideas of
sensation — that is, the ideas of the qualities of matter,
about which sensation (perception) is conversant—
with the idea of sensation itself— that is, the idea of
this faculty as an attribute of mind, and which is the
object of a reflex consciousness. Nor would it be
competent to maintain that Locke, allowing no im-
mediate knowledge of aught but of mind and its
contents, consequently reduces all our faculties to
self-consciousness, and thus abolishes the distinction
of sensation (perception) and reflection, as separate
faculties, the one conversant with the qualities of
the external world, the other with the qualities of
the internal. For, in the first place, it would still
be logically competent, on the hypothesis that all
our knowledge is exclusively of self, to divide the
ideas we possessed, into classes, according as these
were given as representations of the non-ego by the
ego, or as phenomena of the ego itself. In th ? se-
cond place, Reid's criticism does not admit of this
excuse. But, in the third, if the defence were valid
in itself, and here available, the philosophy of Reid
himself would be obnoxiou ; to a similar criticism. For
he makes perception (consequently the object known
in perception) an object of consciousness ; but con-
sciousness, in his view, is only of the phtenomesa of
mind itself— all consciousness is to him self-con-
sciousness. Thus, his perception, as contained under
his consciousness, is only cognisant of thee^o. With
all this, however, Reid distinguishes perception and
consciousness as special and co-ordinate faculties;
perception being conversant about the qualities of
matter, as suggested — that is, as represented in the
percipien t subject — consciousness as conversant about
perception and the other attributes of mind itself.
—With the preceding-observations, the reader may
compare Priestley's "■« Examination," p 38, and
Stewart's " Philosophical Essays," Note N.— H.

t I may here notice«»>what I shall hereafter more
fully advert to— that Reid's criticism of Locke, here
and elsewhere, proceeds upon the implication that
the English philosopher attached the same restricted
meaning to the term Sensation that he did himself.
But this is not the case. Locke employed Sensation
to denote both the idei and the sentiment of the
Cartesians— both the perception and the sensation
of Reid. To confound this distinction was, indeed,
wrong j but this is a separate and special ground of
censure, and, in a general criticism of Locke's doc.



There is no doctrine in the new system
which more directly leads to scepticism
than this. And the author of the " Trea-
tise of Human Nature" knew very well
how to use it for that purpose ; for, if you
maintain that there is any such existence
as body or spirit, time or place, cause or
effect, he immediately catches you between
the horns of this dilemma ; your notions of
these existences are either ideas of sensa-
tion, or ideas of reflection : if of sensation,
from what sensation are they copied ? if of
reflection, from what operation of the mind
are they copied ?

It is indeed to be wished mat those who
have written much about sensation, and
about the other operations of the mind, had
likewise thought and reflected much, and
with great care, upon those operations ; but
is it not very strange that they will not
allow it to be possible for mankind to think
of anything else ?

The account which this system gives of
our judgment and belief concerning things,
is as far from the truth as the account
it gives of our notions or simple appre-
hensions. It represents our senses as hav-
ing no other office but that of furnishing
the mind with notions or simple appre-
hensions of things ; and makes our judg-
ment and belief concerning those things to
be acquired by comparing our notions to-
gether, and perceiving their agreements or

We have shewn, on the contrary, that
every operation of the senses, in its very
nature, implies judgment or belief, as well
as simple apprehension. Thus, when I feel
the pain of the gout in my toe, I have not
only a notion of pain, but a belief of its
existence, and a belief of some disorder in
my toe which occasions it ; and this belief
is not produced by comparing ideas, and
perceiving their agreements and disagree-
ments ; it is included in the very nature of
the sensation. When I peiceive a tree
before me, my faculty of seeing gives me
not only a notion or simple apprehension of
the tree, but a belief of its existence, and
of its figure, distance, and magnitude ; and
this judgment or belief is not got by com-
paring ideas, it is included in the very na-
ture of the perception. We have taken
notice of several original principles of
belief in the course of this inquiry; and

trine, the fact ihat hedid so confound perception pro.
perand sensation proper, should always be taken into
account. But, waving this, what is gained by the
distinction in Keid's hands? Inhis doctrine, space,
motion, &c as perceived, are only conceptions, only
modifications of self, suggested, in some unknown
way, on occasion of the impression made on the sense :
consequently, in the one doctrine as in the other,
what is known is nothing beyond the affections of
the thinking subject.itsell j and this is the only basis
required by the idealist anil sceptic.for the foundation
of their systems — H.

when other faculties of the mind are exa-
mined, we shall find more, which have not
occurred in the examination of the five

Such original and natural judgments are,
therefore, a part of that furniture which
Nature hath given to the human under-
standing. They are the inspiration of the
Almighty, no less than our notions or simple
apprehensions. They serve to direct us in
the common affairs of life, where our rea-
soning faculty would leave us in the dark.
They are a part of our constitution ; and all
the discoveries of our reason are grounded
upon them. They make up what is called
the common sense of mankind ;* and, what
is manifestly contrary to any of those first
principles, is what we call absurd. The
strength of them is good sense, which is
often found in those who are not acute in
reasoning. A remarkable deviation from
them, arising from a disorder in the con-
stitution, is what we call lunacy ; as when
a man believes that he is made of glass.
When a man suffers himself to be reasoned
out of the principles of common sense, by
metaphysical arguments, we may call this
metaphysical lunacy ; which differs from
the other species of the distemper in this,
that it is not continued, but intermittent :
it is apt to seize the patient in solitary and
speculative moments ; but, when he enters
into society, Common Sense recovers her
authority. *f A clear explication and enu-
meration of the principles of common sense,
is one of the chief desiderata in logic. We
have only considered such of them as oc-
curred in the examination of the five

5. The last observation that I shall make
upon the new system, is, that, although it
professes to set out in the way of reflection,
and not of analogy, it hath retained some
of the old analogical notions concerning the

» See Note A — H.

t No one admits this more promptly than the
sceptic himself See Hume's " Treatise of Human
Nature," Book I., Part lv., $ 7, and " Enquiry
Concerning Human Understanding," $ 12, Part II.
" Nature," says he in the latter, " is always too strong
for principle ; and, though a Pyrrhoniari may throw
himself or others into a momentary amazement and
confusion by his profound reasonings, the first and
most trivial event in life will put to flight all his
doubts and scruples, and- leave him the same in every
point of action and speculation with the philosopher*
of every other sect, or with those who never con.
cerned themselves in any-philosophical researches.
When he awakes from his dream, he will be the first
to'join in the laugh against himself, and to confess
that all his objections are mere amusement, and car
have-no other tendency than to shew the whimsical
condition of mankind, who must act, and reason,
and believe, though they are not able, by their most
diligent enquiry, to satisfy themselves concerning the
foundation of the opeiations, or to remove the objec-
tions which may be raised against them "

*' I.a Nature confond les Pyrrhoniens,'* (says
Pascal,) " et la Raison confond les Dogmatistes."
How can philosophy be realized ? is thus the grand
question.— H.



operations of the mind ; particularly, that
things which do not now exist in the mind
itself, eon only be perceived, remembered,
or imagined, by means of ideas or images*
of them in the mind, which are the imme-
diate objects of perception, remembrance,
and imagination. This doctrine appears
evidently to be borrowed from the old sys-
tem ; which taught that external things
make impressions upon the mind, like the
impressions of a seal upon wax ; that it i=
by means of those impressions that we per-
ceive, remember, or imagine them ; ai.d
that those impressions must resemble the
things from which they are taken. When
we form our notions of the operations of the
mind by analogy, this way of conceiving
them seems to be very natural, and offers
itself to our thoughts ; for, as everything
which is felt must make some impression
upon the body, we are apt to think that
everything which is understood must make
some impression upon the mind.

From such analogical reasoning, this
opinion of the existence of ideas or images
of things in the mind, seems to have taken
its rise, and to have been so universally
received among philosophers. It was ob-
served already, that Berkeley, hi one in-
stance, apostatizes from this principle of
the new system, by affirming that we have
no ideas of spirits, aud that we can think of
them immediately, without ideas. But I
know not whether in this he has had any
followers. There is some difference, like-
wise, among modern philosophers with re-
gard to the ideas or images by which we
perceive, remember, or imagine sensible
things. For, though all agree in the exist-
ence of such images,-|- they differ about their
place ; some placing them in a particular
part of the brain, where the soul is thought to
have her residence, and others placing them
in the mind itself. Des Cartes held the first
of these opinions ; J to which Newton seems
likewise to have inclined ; for he proposes
this query in his " Optics :" — " Annon sen-
sorium animalium est locus cui substantia
sentiens adest, et in quem sensibiles rerum
species per nervos et cerebrum deferunt;ir,
ut ibi prsesentes a prsesente sentiri ptis-

• That is, Dy representative entities diffcrentfrom
the modes of the mind itself. This doctrine, 1 have
already.noticed, is attributed by Reidtoo universally
to philosoph rs; and is also a comparatively unim-
portant circumstance in relerence to the Idealist and
Sceptic. See Note c— H.

+ See last note. Berkeley dirt hold the hypothesis
of Ideas as understood by Reid. — H.

J An unqualified error, arising from not tinder-
standing the ambiguous language of Des C; rtes ;
who. calls, by the common name of Ideas, both the
organic motions in the brain, of which the mind, in
his doctrine, necessarily knows nothing, and' the re.
presentations in the ■mind itself, hyprrphysically de.
lermined on occasion of those motions, and of which
alone the mind iscognizant. But of this under the
*" Jwbays on the Intellectual Powers." — H.

sinfc ?" But Locke seems to place the ideas
of sensible things in the mind ;* and that
Berkeley, and the author of the " Treatise
of Human Nature," were of the same
opinion, is evident. The last makes a very
curious application of this doctrine, by en-
deavouring to prove from it, That the mind
either is no substance, or that it is an ex-
tended and divisible substance ; because the
ideas of extension cannot be in a subject
which is indivisible and unextended.

I confess I think his reasoning in this,
as in most cases, is clear and strong. For
whether the idea of extension be only
another name for extension itself, as Ber-
keley and this author assert ; or whether
the idea of extension be an image and resem-
blance of extension, as Locke conceived ;
I appeal to any man of common sense,
whether extension, or any image of exten-
sion, can be in an unextended and indi-
visible subject. *f- But while I agree with
him in his reasoning, I would make a differ-
ent application of it. He takes it for grant-
ed, that there are ideas of extension in the
mind ; and thence infers, that, if it is at all
a substance, it must be an extended and
divisible substance. On the contrary, I
take it for granted, upon the testimony of
common sense, that my mind is a substance
— that is, a permanent subject of thought ;
and my reason convinces me that it is an
unextended and indivisible substance ; and
hence I infer that there cannot be in it
anything that resembles extension. If this
reasoning had occurred to Berkeley, it
would probably have led him to acknow-
ledge that we may think and reason con-
cerning bodies, withouthaving ideas of them
in the mind, as well as concerning spirits.

I intended to have examined more par-
ticularly and fully this doctrine of the ex-
istence of ideas or images of things in the
mind ; and likewise another doctrine, which
is founded upon it — to wit, That judgment
or belief is nothing but a perception of the
agreement or disagreement of our ideas;
but, having already shewn, through the
course of this inquiry, that the operations
of the mind which we have examined, give

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 48 of 114)