Thomas Reid.

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

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no countenance to either of these doctrines,
and in many things contradict them, I have
thought it proper to drop this part of my
design. It may be executed with more
advantage, if it is at all necessary, after in-
quiring into some other powers of the human

• Locke's opinion on this point is as obscure and
doubtful as that of Des Cartes is clear and certain.
But Reid is probably right— H

+ I do not recollect seeing any argument raised in
favour of materialism, from the fact, that, s/wce or
extension is. a notion necessary to the mind ; and y**t
it might, with some of plausibility, be nmn.
tained.that extension is a necessary form or thought,
because the thinking principle isitsell exten. ed — H



Although we have examined only the five
senses, and the principles of the human
mind which are employed about them, or
such as have fallen in our way in the course
of this examination, we shall leave the
further prosecution of this inquiry to future
deliberation. The powers of memory, of
imagination, of taste, of reasoning, of moral
perception, the will, the passions, the affec-
tions, and all the active powers of the soul,
present a vast and boundless field of philo-
sophical disquisition, which the author of
this inquiry is far, from thinking himself
able to survey with accuracy. Many authors
of ingenuity, ancient and modern, have
made excursions into this vast territory,
and have communicated useful observations :
but there is reason to believe that those
who have pretended to give us a map of the
whole, have satisfied themselves with a very
inaccurate and incomplete survey. If Ga-
lileo had attempted a complete system of

natural philosophy, he had, probably, done
little service to mankind : but by confining
himself to what was within his comprehen-
sion, he laid the foundation of a system of
knowledge, which rises by degrees, and
does honour to the human understanding.
Newton, building upon this foundation, and,
in like manner, confining his inquiries to
the law of gravitation and the properties of
light, performed wonders. If he had at-
tempted a great deal more, he had done a
great deal less, and perhaps nothing at all.
Ambitious of following such great examples,
with unequal steps, alas ! and unequal
force, we have attempted an inquiry only
into one little corner of the human mind —
that corner which seems to be most exposed
to vulgar observation, and to be most easily
comprehended ; and yet, if we have deline-
ated it justly, it must be acknowledged that
the accounts heretofore given of it weie
very lame, and wide of the truth.





'* V\ hn hath put wisdom in the inward parts? '" — Job

f-> This impression of the " Essnys on the Intellectual Powers," is made from me
only authentic edition — that of 17*55, in 4to. For the convenience of reference the pages
of that edition are distinguished in the present ; and by these pages I shall always, in
the notes, prospectively, quote. They will be found marked both ill the text and on the
lower margin. — H.







Mv Dear Friends, — I know not to
whom I can address these Essays with
more propriety than to you ; not only on
account of a friendship begun in early life
on your part, though in old age on mine,
and in one of you I may say hereditary ;
nor yet on account of that correspondence
in our literary pursuits and amusements,
which has always given me so great plea-
sure ; but because, if these Essays have
any merit, you have a considerable share
in it, having not only encouraged me to hope
that [iv. ] they may be useful, but favoured
me with your observations on every part of
them, both before they were sent to the
press, and while they were under it.

I have availed myself of your observa-
tions, so as to correct many faults that
might otherwise have escaped me ; and I
have- a very grateful sense of your friend-
ship, in giving this aid to one who stood
much in need of it ; having no shame, but
much pleasure, in being instructed by those
who formerly were my pupils, as one of you

It would be ingratitude to a man whose
memory I most highly respect, not to men-
tion my obligations to the late Lord Karnes,
for the concern he was pleased to take in
this Work. Having seen a small part of
it, he urged me to carry it on ; took acount
of my progress from time to time ; revised
it more than once, as far as it was carried,
before his death ; and gave me his observa-
tions on it, both with respect to the matter
and the expression. On some points we

• See above, in

' Correspondence," p. 65, a.— II.

differed in opinion, and debated them
keenly, both in conversation and by many
letters, without any abatement of his affec-
tion, or of his zeal for the work's being
carried on and published : for he had too
much liberality of mind not to allow to [ v. ]
others the same liberty in judging which he
claimed to himself.

It is difficult to say whether that worthy
man was more eminent in active life or
in speculation. Very rare, surely, have
been the instances where the talents for
both were united in so eminent a degree.

His genius and industry, in many differ,
ent branches of literature, will, by his
works, be known to posterity : his private
virtues and public spirit, his assiduity.
through a long and laborious life, in many
honourable public offices with which he was
entrusted, and his zeal to encourage and
promote everything that tended to the
improvement of his country in laws, litera-
ture, commerce, manufactures, and agricul-
ture, are best known to his friends and

The favourable opinion which he, and
you my friends, were pleased to express
of this work, has been my chief encourage-
ment to lay it before the public ; and per-
haps, without that encouragement, it had
never seen the light : for I have always
found, that, without social intercourse, even
a favourite speculation languishes ; and
that we cannot help thinking the better of our
own opinions [vi. ] when they are approved
by those whom we esteem good judges.

You know that the substance of these
Essays was delivered annually, for more

2 id


than twenty years, in Lectures to a large
body of the more advanced students in this
University, and for several years before, in
another University. Those who heard me
with attention, of whom I presume there
are some hundreds alive, will recognise the
doctrine which they heard, some of them
thirty years ago, delivered to them more
diffusely, and with the repetitions and illus-
trations proper for such audiences.

I am afraid, indeed, that the more intel-
ligent reader, who is conversant in such
abstract subjects, may think that there are
repetitions still left, which might be spared.
Such, I hope, will consider, that what to

one reader is a superfluous repetition, to
the greater part, less conversant in such
subjects, may be very useful. If this apo-
logy be deemed insufficient, and be thought
to be the dictate of laziness, I claim some
indulgence even for that laziness, at my
period of life, [vii.]

You who are in the prime of life, with
the vigour which it inspires, will, I hope,
make more happy advances in this or in any
other branch of science to which your taleui *
may be applied.

Tho. Rbid.
Glasgow College, June 1, 1785.


Human knowledge may be reduced to
two general heads, according as it relates
to body or to mind ; to things material or
to things intellectual.*

The whole system of bodies in the uni-
verse, of which we know but a very small
part, may be called the Material World ;
the whole system of minds, from the infinite
Creator to the meanest creature endowed
with thought, may be called the Intellectual
World. These are the two great kingdoms
of nature-) - that fall within our notice;
and about the one, or the other, or things
pertaining to them, every art, every science,
and every human thought is employed ; nor
can the boldest flight of imagination carry
us beyond their limits.

Many things there are, indeed, regarding
the nature and the structure both of body
and of mind, which our faculties cannot
reach ; many difficulties which the ablest
philosopher cannot resolve : but of other

» See Stewart 's "Life and Writings of Reid,"
supra, p 14 ; and his " Elements," vol. L, introduc-
tion ; Jouflroy, in the preface to his " Oeuvres de
Reid," t. i., pp. 23-iJ3. 'this important Preface will
soon be made generally accessible. to the British pub-
lic bya highly competent translator. — H.

f The term Nature is used sometimes in a wider,
sometimes in a narrower extension. When employed
in its most extensive meaning, it embraces the two
worlds of mind and matter. When employed in its
more restricted signification, it is a synonyme for the
latter only, and is then used in contradistinction to
the former. In the Greek philosophy, the word
eC/rti was general in its meaning ; and the great
branch of philosophy styled " physical or phytioLt-
gical," included under it not only the sciences of
matter, but also those of mind. V\ ith us, the term
Nature is more vaguely extensive than the terms,
physics, i hi. su at, physiology, physiological, or even
tn .n the adjective natural ; whereas, in the philo-
sophy of Germany, Nntur, and its correlatives,
wh ther of Greek or Lalin derivation, are, in general,
exprcssiveof the woild of matter in contrast to the
world of- inielligcnce. — H.


natures, if any other there be, we have no
knowledge, no conception at all.

That everything that exists must be either
corporeal or incorporeal is evident. But
it is not so evident that everything [2] that
exists must either be corporeal or endowed
with thought. Whether there be in the
universe beings which are neither extended,
solid, and inert, like body, nor active and
intelligent, like mind, seems to be beyond
the reach of our knowledge. There appears
to be a vast interval between body and
mind ; and whether there be any interme-
diate nature that connects them together,
we know not.

We have no reason to ascribe intelli-
gence, or even sensation, to plants; yet
there appears in them an active force and
energy, which cannot be the result of any
arrangement or combination of inert matter.
The same thing may be said of those powers
by which animals are nourished and grow,
by which matter gravitates, by which mag-
netical and electrical bodies attract and
repel each other, and by which the parts of
solid' bodies cohere.

Some have conjectured that the pheno-
mena of the material world which require
active force, are produced by the continual
operation of intelligent beings : others have
conjectured that there may be in the uni-
verse, beings that are active, without in-
telligence, which, as a kind of incorporeal
machinery, contrived by the supreme wis-
dom, perform their destined task without
any knowledge or intention. * But, laying
aside conjecture, and all pretences to deter-
mine in things beyond our reach, we must

* Like the tripods of Vulcan —

0^g« oi KVTO.uattot duov ^t/jy..a.T' iy£tm<— H.



rest in this, that body and mind are the
only kinds of being of which we can have
any knowledge, or can form any concep-
tion. If there are other kinds, they are
not discoverable by the faculties which God
hath given us ; and, with regard to Us, are
as if they were not. [3]

As, therefore, all our knowledge is con-
fined to body and mind, or things belonging
to them, there are two great branches of
philosophy, one relating to body, the other
to mind. The properties of body, and the
laws that obtain in the material system, are
the objects of natural philosophy, as that
word is now used. The branch which
crcats of the nature and operations of minds
lias, by some, been called Pneumatology.*
And to the oneor the other of these branches,
the principles of all the sciences belong.

What variety there may be of minds or
thinking beings, throughout this vast uni-
verse, we cannot pretend to say. We dwell
in a little corner of God's dominion, dis-
joined from the rest of it. The globe which
we inhabit is but one of seven planets that
encircle our sun. What various orders of
beings may inhabit the other six, their
secondaries, and the comets belonging to
our system, and how many other suns may
be encircled with like systems, are things
altogether hid from us. Although human
reason and industry have discovered, with
great accuracy, the order and distances of
the planets, and the laws of their motion,
we have no means of corresponding with
them That they may be the habitation of
animated beings, is very probable ; but of
the nature or powers of their inhabitants,
we are perfectly ignorant. Every man is
conscious of a thinking principle, or mind,
in himself ; and we have sufficient evidence
of a like principle in other men. The
actions of brute animals shew that they
have some thinking principle, though of a
nature far inferior to the human mind. And
everything about us may convince us of the
existence of a supreme mind, the Maker and
Governor of the universe. These are all
the minds of which reason can give us any
certain knowledge. [4]

The mind of man is the noblest work of
God which reason discovers to us, and,
therefore, on account of its dignity, deserves
our study. ■)• It must, indeed, be acknow-
ledged, that, although it is of all objects the
nearest to us, and seems the most within
our reach, it is very difficult to attend to
its operations so as to form a distinct notion

• Now properly superseded by the term Psychol-
ogy ; to which no competent objection can be made,
and which affords us — what the various clumsy peri-
phrases in use do not — a convenient adjective,/>s#cAo-
(ogt'eah — H.

t " On earth," says a forgotten philosopher,
** there is nothing great but Man ; in man there is
nothing great but Mind." — H.

of them ; and on that account there is no
branch of knowledge in which the ingenious
and speculative have fallen into so great
errors, and even absurdities. These errors
and absurdities have given rise to a general
prejudice against all inquiries of this nature.
Because ingenious men have, for many
ages, given different and contradictory
accounts of the powers of the mind, it is
concluded that all speculations concerning
them are chimerical and visionary.

But whatever effect this prejudice may
have with superficial thinkers, the judicious
will not be apt to be carried away with it.
About two hundred years ago, the opinions
of men in natural philosophy were as various
and as contradictory as they are now con-
cerning the powers of the mind. Galileo,
Torricelli, Kepler, Bacon, and Newton,
had the same discouragement in their
attempts to throw light upon the material
system, as we have with regard to the in-
tellectual. If they had been deterred by
such prejudices, we should never have
reaped the benefit of their discoveries,
which do honour to human nature, and will
make their names immortal. The motto
which Lord Bacon prefixed to some of his
writings was worthy of his genius, Iaveniam
viam aut faciam.*

There is a natural order in the progress
of the sciences, and good reasons may be
assigned why the philosophy of body should
[5] be elder sister to that of mind, and of a
quicker growth ; but the last hath the prin-
ciple of life no less than the first, and will
grow up, though slowly, to maturity. The
remains of ancient philosophy upon this
subject, are venerable ruins, carrying the
marks of genius and industry, sufficient to
inflame, but not to satisfy our curiosity. In
later ages, Des Cartes was the first that
pointed out the road we ought to take in
those dark regions. Malebranche, Arnauld,
Locke, Berkeley, Buffier, Hutcheson,
Butler, Hume, Price, Lord Karnes, have
laboured to make discoveries — nor have they
laboured in vain ; for, however different
and contrary their conclusions are, how-
ever sceptical some of them, they have all
given new light, and cleared the way to those
who shall come after them.

We ought never to despair of human
genius, but rather to hope that, in time,
it may produce a system of the powers and
operations of the human mind, no less cer-
tain than those of optics or astronomy.

This is the more devoutly to be wished,
that a distinct knowledge of the powers of
the mind would undoubtedly give great light
to many other branches of science. Mr
Hume hath justly observed, that " all the

• See Mr Stewart's "Philosophical Essay«," Pre
liminary Dissertation, ch. ii



sciences have a relation to human nature ;
and, however wide any of them may seem
to run from it, they still return back by one
passage or another. This is the centre and
capital of the sciences,* which, being once
masters of, we may easily extend our con-
quests everywhere."

The faculties of our minds are the tools
and engines we must use in every disquisi-
tion ; and the better we understand their [6]
nature and force, the more successfully we
shall be able to apply them. Mr Locke
gives this account of the occasion of his
entering upon his essay concerning human
understanding : — " Five or six friends,"
says he, " meeting at my chamber, and dis-
coursing on a subject very remote from
this, found themselves quickly at a stand
by the difficulties that rose on every side.
After we had for a while puzzled ourselves,
without coming any nearer to a resolution
of those doubts that perplexed us, it came
into my thoughts that we took a wrong
course ; and that, before we set ourselves
upon inquiries of that nature, it was neces-
sary to examine our own abilities, and see
what objects our understandings were fitted
or not fitted to deal with. This I proposed
to the company, who all readily assented ;
and thereupon it was agreed that this should
be our first enquiry." If this be commonly
the cause of perplexity in those disquisi-
tions which have least relation to the mind,
it must be so much more in those that have
an immediate connection with it.

The sciences maybe distinguished into
two classes, according as they pertain to the
material or to the intellectual world. The
various parts of natural philosophy, the
mechanical arts, chemistry, medicine, and
agriculture, belong to the first ; but, to the
last, belong grammar, logic, rhetoric, na-

* Hume probably had the saying of Folybius in
his eye, who calls History the mother city dtMjwflTe-
\i s ) of Philosophy.— H.

[«■ n

tural theology, morals, jurisprudence, law.
politics, and the fine arts. The know-
ledge of the human mind is the root from
which these grow, and draw their nourish-
ment.* Whether, therefore, we consider
the dignity of this subject, or its subser-
viency to science in general, and to the
noblest branches of science in particular, it
highly deserves to be cultivated. [7]

A very elegant writer, on the sublime and
beautiful,f concludes his account of the
passions thus : — " The variety of the pas-
sions is great, and worthy, in every branch
of that variety, of the most diligent inves-
tigation. The more accurately we search
into the human mind, the stronger traces
we everywhere find of His wisdom who mad 6
it. If a discourse on the use of the parts of
the body may be considered as a hymn to
the Creator,} the use of the passions,
which are the organs of the mind, cannot
be barren of praise to Him, nor unproductive
to ourselves of that noble and uncommon
union of science and admiration, which a
contemplation of the works of infinite Wis-
dom alone can afford to a rational mind ;
whilst referring to Him whatever we find of
right, or good, or fair, in ourselves, dis-
covering His strength and wisdom even in our
own weakness and imperfection, honouring
them where we discover them clearly, and
adoring their profundity where we are lost
in our search, we may be inquisitive with-
out impertinence, and elevated without
pride ; we may be admitted, if I may dare
to say so, into the counsels of the Almighty,
by a consideration of his works. This ele-
vation of the mind ought to be the principal
end of all our studies, which, if they do not
in some measure effect, they are of very
little service to us."

* It is justly observed by M. Jouffroy, that the
division here enounced is not in principle identical
with that previously propounded. — H.

f Burke.— H.

J Galen is referred to.— H.








There is no greater impediment to the
advancement of knowledge than the ambi-
guity of words. To this chiefly it is owing
that we find sects and parties in most
branches of science; and disputes which
are carried on from age to age, without being
brought to an issue.

Sophistry has been more effectually ex-
cluded from mathematics and natural
philosophy than from other sciences. In
mathematics it had no place from the begin-
ning ; mathematicians having had the wis-
dom to define accurately the terras they use,
and to lay down, as axioms, the first prin-
ciples on which their reasoning is grounded.
Accordingly, we find no parties among ma-
thematicians, and hardly any disputes.* [10]

In natural philosophy, there was no less
sophistry, no less dispute and uncertainty,
than in other sciences, until, about a cen-
tury and a half ago, this science began to be
built upon the foundation of clear defini-
tions and self-evident axioms. Since that
time, the science, as if watered with the
dew of Heaven, hath grown apace ; dis-
putes have ceased, truth hath prevailed,
and the science hath received greater in-
crease In two centuries than in two thous-
and years before.

It were to be wished that this method,
which hath been so successful in those
branches of science, were attempted in
others ; for definitions and axioms are the
foundations of all science. But that defini-
tions may not be sought where no defini-
tion can be given, nor logical definitions be
attempted where the subject does not admit
of them, it may be proper to lay down some
general principles concerning definition, for

• It was not the superior wisdom of mathema-
ticians, but. the simple and palpable character of their
object-matter, which determined the difference.— H.


the sake of those who are less conversant
in this branch of logic.

When one undertakes to explain any art
or science, he will have occasion to use
many words that are common to all who
use the same language, and some that are
peculiar to that art or science. Words of
the last kind are called terms of the art, and
ought to be distinctly explained, that their
meaning may be understood.

A definition* is nothing else but an ex-
plication of the meaning of a word, by words
whose meaning is already known. Hence
it is evident that every word cannot be
defined ; for the definition must consist of
words ; and there could be no definition, if
there were not words previously understood
without definition. Common words, there-
fore, ought to be used in their common
acceptation ; and, when they have different
acceptations in common language, these,
when it is necessary, ought to be distin-
guished. But they require no definition.
It is sufficient to define words that are un-
common, or that are used in an uncommon

It may farther be observed, that there
are many words, which, though they may
need explication, cannot be logically defined.
A [ 1 1 ] logical definition — that is, a strict and
proper definition — must, express the kind
[genus] of the thing defined, and the spe-
cific difference by which the species defined
is distinguished from every other species
belonging to that kind. It is natural to the
mind of man to class things under various
kinds, and again to subdivide every kind
into its various species. A species may
often be subdivided into subordinate species,
and then it is considered as a kind.

From what has been said of logical defi-
nition, it is evident, that no word can be
logically defined which does not denote »

# In what follows, there is a confusion of defini-

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 49 of 114)