Thomas Reid.

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

. (page 5 of 114)
Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 5 of 114)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

academical engagements. It was not, how-
ever, without reluctance, that he consented
to tear himself from a spot where he had
so long been fastening his roots ; and,
much as he loved the society in which he
passed the remainder of his days, I am
doubtful if, in his mind, it compensated the
sacrifice of earlier habits and connections.

Abstracting from the charm of local
attachment, the University of Glasgow, at
the time when Dr Reid was adopted as one
of its members, presented strong attrac-
tions to reconcile him to his change of
situation. Robert Simson, the great re-
storer of ancient geometry, was still alive ;
and, although far advanced in years, pre-
served unimpaired his ardour in study, his
relish for social relaxation, and his amusing
singularities of humour. Dr Moor com-
bined, with a gaiety and a levity foreign to
this climate, the profound attainments of a
scholar and of a mathematician. In Dr
Black, to whose fortunate genius a new
world of science had just opened, Reid
acknowledged an instructor and a guide ;
and met a simplicity of manners congenial
to his own. The Wilsons (both father and
son) were formed to attach his heart by the
similarity of their scientific pursuits, and
an entire sympathy with his views and sen-
timents. Nor was he less delighted with
the good-humoured opposition which his
opinions never failed to encounter in the
acuteness of Millar — then in the vigour of
youthful genius, and warm from the lessons
of a different school. Dr Leechman, the
friend and biographer of Hutcheson, was
the official head of the College ; and added

the weight of a venerable name to the repu.
tation of a community which he had oncn
adorned .in a more active station.*

Animated by the zeal of such associates,
and by the busy scenes which his new resi-
dence presented in every department of
useful industry, Dr Reid entered on his
functions at Glasgow with an ardour not
common at the period of life which he had
now attained. His researches concerning
the human mind, and the principles of
morals, which had occupied but an incon-
siderable space in the wide circle of science
allotted to him by his former office, were,
extended and methodized in a course which
employed five hours every week, during six
months of the year ; the example of his
illustrious predecessor, and the prevailing
topics of conversation around him, occa-
sionally turned his thoughts to commercial
politics, and produced some ingenious essays
on different questions connected with trade,
which were communicated to a private
society of his academical friends ; his early
passion for the mathematical sciences was
revived by the conve sation of Simson,
Moor, and the Wilsons ; and, at the age of
fifty-five, he attended the lectures of Black,
with a juvenile curiosity and enthusiasm.

As the substance of Dr Reid's lectures at
Glasgow (at least of that part of them
which was most important and original)
has been since given to the public in a more
improvod form, it is unnecessary for me to
enlarge on the plan which he followed in
the discharge of his official duties. I shall
therefore only observe, that, beside his spe-
culations on the intellectual and active
powers of man, and a system of practi-
cal ethics, his course comprehended some
general views with respect to natural juris-
prudence, and the fundamental principles of
politics. A few lectures on rhetoric, which
were read, at a separate hour, to a more
advanced class of students, formed a volun-
tary addition to the appropriate functions
of his office, to which it is probable he
was prompted, rather by a wish to supply
what was then a deficiency in the established
course of education, than by any predilec-
tion for a branch of study so foreign to his
ordinary pursuits.

The merits of Dr Reid as a public teacher
were derived chiefly from that rich fund of
original and instructive philosophy which is
to be found in his writings, and from his
unwearied assiduity in inculcating principles
winch he conceived to be of essential import-
ance to human happiness. In his elocution
and mode of instruction, there was nothing
Peculiarly attractive. He seldom, if ever §
indulged himself in the warmth of exS
pore discourse ; nor was his manner of

Note C.



reading calculated to increase the effect of
what he had committed to writing. Such,
however, was the simplicity and perspicuity
of his style, such the gravity and authority
of his character, and such the general in-
terest of his young hearers in the doctrines
which he taught, that, by the numerous
audiences to which his . instructions were
addressed, ho was heard uniformly with the
most silent and respectful attention. On
this subject, I speak from personal know-
ledge ; having had the good fortune, during
a considerable part of winter 1772, to be
one of his pupils.

It does not appear to me, from what I
am now able to recollect of the order which
he observed in treating the different parts
of his subject, that he had laid much stress
on systematical arrangement. It is pro-
bable that he availed himself of whatever
materials his private inquiries afforded, for
his academical compositions, without aiming
at the merit of combining them into a whole,
by a comprehensive and regular design — an
undertaking to which, if I am not mistaken,
the established forms of his university,
consecrated by long custom, would have
presented some obstacles. One thing is
certain, that neither he nor his immediate
predecessor ever published any general pr...
spectus of their respective plans, nor any
heads or outline* to assist their students in
tracing the trains of thought which suggested
their various transitions.

The interest, however, excited by such
details as these, even if it were in my power
to render them more full and satisfactory,
must necessarily be temporary and local ;
and I, therefore, hasten to observations of
a more general nature, on the distinguishing
characteristics of Dr Reid's philosophical
genius, and on the spirit and scope of those
researches which he has bequeathed to
posterity concerning the phenomena and
laws of the human mind. In mentioning
his first performance on this subject, I have
already anticipated a few remarks which
are equally applicable to his subsequent
publications ; but the hints then suggested
were too slight to place in so strong a
light as I cculd wish the peculiarities of
that mode of investigation which it was the
great object of his writings to recommend
and to exemplify. His own anxiety to
neglect nothing that might contribute to its
farther illustration induced him, while his
health and faculties were yet entire, to
withdraw from his public labours, and to
devote himself, with an undivided attention,
to a task of more extensive and permanent
utility. It was in the year 1781 that he
carried this design into execution, at a
period of life (for he was then upwards of
seventy) when the infirmities of age might
be supposed to account sufficiently for his

retreat ; but when, in fact, neither the
vigour of his mind nor of his body seemed
to have suffered any injury from time. The
works which he published not many years
afterwards, afford a sufficient proof of the
assiduity with which he had availed himself
of his literary leisure — his " Essays on tlio
Intellectual Powers of Man" appearing in
1785, and those on the " Active Powers"
in 1788.

As these two performances are, both of
them, parts of one great work, to which his
" Inquiry into the Human Mind" may be
regarded as the introduction, I have re-
served for this place whatever critical reflec-
tions I have to offer on his merits as an
author ; conceiving that they would be more
likely to produce their intended effect, when
presented at once in a connected form, than
if interspersed, according to a chronological
order, with the details of a biographical



mi reid's philosophy.

I have already observed that the dis-
tinguishingfeatureof Dr Reid's philosophy,
is the systematical steadiness with which
he has adhered in his inquiries, to that plan
of investigation which is delineated in the
" Novum Organon," and which has been so
happily exemplified in physics by Sir Isaac
Newton and his followers. To recommend
this plan as the only effectual method of
enlarging our knowledge of nature, was the
favourite aim of all his studies, and a topic
on which he thought he could not enlarge
too rnuch, in conversing or corresponding
with his younger friends. In a letter to Dr
Gregory, which I have perused, he particu-
larly congratulates him upon his acquaint-
ance with Lord Bacon's works ( adding,
" I am very apt to measure a man's under-
standing by the opinion he entertains of
that author."

It were perhaps to be wished that he had
taken a little more pains to illustrate the
fundamental rules of that logic the value
of which he estimated so highly ; more
especially, to point out the modifications
with which it is applicable to the science of
mind. Many important hints, indeed, con-
nected with this subject, may be collected
from different parts of his writings ; but I
am inclined to think that a more ample
discussion of it, in apreliminary dissertation,
might have thrown light on the scope of
many of his researches, and obviated some
of the most plausible objections which have
boon stated to his conclusions.



It is not, however, my intention at pre-
sent to attempt to supply a desideratum of
S" great a magnitude — an undertaking
which, I trust, will find a more convenient
place, in the farther prosecution of those
speculations with respect to the intellectual
powers which I have already submitted to
the public. The detached remarks which
lollow, are offered merely as a supplement
to what I have stated concerning the nature
and object of this branch of study, in the
Introduction to the " Philosophy of the
Human Mind."

The influence of Bacon's genius on the
subsequent progress of physical discovery,
has been seldom fairly appreciated — by some
wiiters almost entirely overlooked, and by
others considered as the sole cause of the
reformation in science which has since taken
place. Of these two extremes, the latter
certainly is the least wide of the truth ; for,
in the whole history of letters, no other
individual can be mentioned, whose exer-
tiona have had so indisputable an effect in
forwarding the intellectual progress of man-
kind. On the other hand, it must be ac-
knowledged, that, before the era when Bacon
appeared, various philosophers in different
parts of Europe had struck into the right
path ; and it may perhaps be doubted
whether any one important rulewith respect
to the true method of investigation be con-
tained in his works, of which no hint can
be traced in those of his predecessors. His
great merit lay in concentrating their feeble
and scattered lights ; fixing the attention
of philosophers on the distinguishing cha-
racteristics of true and of false scienoe, by
a felicity of illustration peculiar to himself,
seconded by the commanding powers of a
bold and figurative eloquence. The method
of investigation which he recommended had
been previously followed in every instance
in which any solid discovery had been made
with respect to the laws of nature ; but it
had been followed accidentally and without
any regular, preconceived design ; and it
was reserved for him to reduce to rule and
method what others had effected, either
fortuitously, or from some momentary
glimpse of the truth. It is justly observed
by Dr Reid, that " the man who first dis-
covered that cold freezes water, and that
heat turns it into vapour, proceeded on the
same general principle by which Newton
discovered the law of gravitation and the
properties of light. His ' Reguhe Philo-
sophandi' are maxims of commonsense, and
are practised every day in common life;
and he who philosophizes by other rules,
either concerning the material system or
concerning the mind, mistakes his aim.'*

These remarks are not intended to detract
from the just glory of Bacon ; for they
apply to ail those, without exception, who

have systematized the principles of any of
the arts. Indeed, they apply less forcibly
to him than to any other philosopher whose
studies have been directed to objects analo-
gous to his ; inasmuch as we know of no
art of which the ru es have been reduced
successfully into a didactic form, when the
art itself was as much hV infancy as expe-
rimental philosophy was when Bacon wrote.
Nor must it be supposed that the utility
was small of thus attempting to systematize
the accidental processes of unenlightened
ingenuity, and to give to the noblest exer-
tions of human reason, the same advan-
tages of scientific method which have
contributed so much to insure the success
of genius in pursuits of inferior importance.
The very philosophical motto which Rey-
nolds has so happily prefixed to his
"Academical Discourses," admits, on this
occasion, of a still more appropriate appli-
cation : — " Omnia fere quae prseceptis con-
tinentur ab ingeniosis hominibus fiunt ; sed
casu quodam magis quam scientia. Ideoque
doctrina et animadversio adhibenda est, ut
ea quae iiiterdum sine ratione nobis occur-
runt, semper in nostra protestate sint ; et
quoties res postulaverit, a nobis ex praepa-
rato adhibeantur."

But, although a few superior minds seem
to have been, in some measure, predisposed
for that revolution in science which Bacon
contributed so powerfully to accomplish,
the case was very different with the great
majority of those who were then most dis-
tinguished for learning and talents. His
views were plainly too advanced for the age
in which he lived ; and, that he was sen-
sible of this himself, appears from those
remarkable passages in which he styles
himself " the servant of posterity," and
" bequeaths his fame to future times."
Hobbes, who, in his early youth, had
enjoyed his friendship, speaks, a consider-
able time after Bacon's death, of experi-
mental philosophy, in terms of contempt ;
influenced, piobably, not a little by the
tendency he perceived in the inductive
method of inquiry, to undermine the found-
ations of that fabric of scepticism which it
was the great object of his labours to rear.
Nay, even during the course of the last
century, it has been less from Bacon's own
speculations, than from the examples of
sound investigation exhibited by a few emi-
nent men, who professed to follow him as
their guide, that the practical spirit of his
writings has been caught by the multitude
oi physical experimentalists over Europe i
truth and gsod sense descending gradually,
in this as in other instances, by the force of
imitation and of early habit, from the
higher orders of intellect to the lower In
^me parts of the Continent, more 'espe-
cully, the circulation of Bacon's philoso.



phical works has been surprisingly slow.
It is doubtful whether Des Cartes himself
ever perused them ;* and, as late as the
year 1759, if we may credit Montucla, they
were very little known in Prance. The
introductory discourse prefixed by D'Alem-
bert to the " Encyclopedie," first recom-
mended them, in that country, to general

The change which has taken place, dur-
ing the two last centuries, in the plan of
physical research, and the success which
has so remarkably attended it, could not
fail to suggest an idea, that something
analogous might probably be accomplished
at a future period, with respect to the
phenomena of the intellectual world. And,
accordingly, various hints of this kind may
be traced in different authors, since the
era of Newton's discoveries. A memorable
instance occurs in the prediction with which
that great man concludes his " Optics :" —
" That, if natural philosophy, in all its
parts, by pursuing the inductive method,
shall at length be perfected, the bounds of
moral philosophy will also be enlarged."
Similar remarks may be found in other
publications ; particularly in Mr Hume's
" Treatise of Human Nature," where the
subject is enlarged on with much ingenuity.
As far, however, as I am able to judge, l5r
Reid was the first who conceived justly and
clearly the analogy between these two dif-
ferent branches of human knowledge ; de-
fining, with precision, the distinct provinces
of observation and reflection,-)- in furnish-
ing the data of all our reasonings concerning
matter and mind ; and demonstrating the
necessity of a careful separation between the
phenomena which they respectively exhibit,
while we adhere to the same mode of philo-
sophizing in investigating the laws of both.

That so many philosophers should have
thus missed their aim, in prosecuting the
study of the human mind, will appear the
less surprising when we consider in how
many difficulties, peculiar to itself, this

• This is a mistake, which it is the more requisite
to correct, because Mr Stewart's authority in histori-
cal points is, in consequence of hishabi'ual accuracv,
de>ervedly high. It is repeated, if I recollect aright,
in more articulate terms, in the " Dissertation on the
Proeressnf Metaphysical Philosophy." Des Cartes,
in three or four passages ot bis " Letters," makes
honourable menion of Bacon and his method; his
works he seems notonly to have perused but studied
There is, however, no reason to suppose that Des Car.
res was acquainted with the writings of his great
predecessor in the early part of bis life.; and his own
views in philosophy were probably not affected by
this influence. Mr Stewart, likewise, greatly under-
rates hV influence of the Haconian writings in gene.
ral, previous to the recommendation of D'AIem-
bert. On this subject, the reader is referred to a
valuable paper by Professor Napier on the " Scope
anrj Influence pf the Baconian Philosophy," in the
Tfansactions-of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. — H .

+ See a note on Reid's Mxth " Essay on the Intel.
Jectual Powers," chap l.»and of theorhjinal edition,
p. 517.— H

science is involved. It is sufficient .it
present to mention those which arise from
the metaphorical origin of all the words
which express the intellectual phenomena ;
from the subtle and fugitive nature of the
objects of our reasonings ; from the habits
of inattention we acquire, in early life, to the
subjects of our consciousness ; and from the
prejudices which early impressions and asso-
ciations create to warp our opinions. It
must be remembered, too, that, in the
science of mind, (so imperfectly are its logi-
cal rules as yet understood !) we have not
the same checks on the abuses of our rea-
soning powers which serve to guard us
against error in our other researches. In
physics, a speculative mistake is abandoned
when contradicted by facts which strike
the senses. In mathematics, an absurd or
inconsistent conclusion is admitted as a
demonstrative proof of a faulty hypothesis.
But, in those inquiries which relate to the
principles of human nature, the absurdities
and inconsistencies to which we are led by
almost all the systems hitherto proposed,
instead of suggesting corrections and im-
provements on these systems, have too
frequently had the effect of producing
scepticism with respect to all of them alike.
How melancholy is the confession of
Hume ! — " The intense view of these
manifold contradictions and imperfections
in human reason, has so wrought upon me,
and heated my brain, that I am ready to
reject all belief and reasoning, and can
look upon no opinion even as more prob-
able or likely than another."

Under these discouragements to this
branch of study, it affords us some comfort
to reflect on the great number of important
facts with respect to the mind, which are
scattered in the writings of philosophers.
As the subject of our inquiry here lies
within our own breast, a considerable mix-
ture of truth may be expected even in those
systems which are most erroneous ; not
only because a number of men can scarcely
be long imposed on by a hypothesis which
is perfectly groundless, concerning the ob-
jects of their own consciousness, but because
it is generally by an alliance with truth,
and with the original principles of human
nature, that prejudices and associations
produce their effects. Perhaps it may even
oe affirmed, that our progress in this re-
search depends less on the degree of our
industry and invention, than on our saga-
city and good sense in separating old dis-
coveries from the errors which have bet n
blended with them ; and on that candid
and dispassionate temper that may prevent
us from being led astray by the love of
novelty, or the affectut'on of singularity.
In this respect, the science of mind pos-
sesses a very important advantage over



tliat which relates to the laws of the mate-
rial world. The former has been culti-
vated with more or less success in all ages
and countries : the facts which serve as
the basis of the latter have, with a very few
exceptions, been collected durtngtthe course
of the two last centuries. An observation
similar to this is applied to systems of
ethics by Mr Smith, in his account of the
theory of Mandeville ; and the illustration
ho gives of it may be extended with equal
propriety to the science of mind in general :
— " A system of natural philosophy," he
remarks, " may appear very plausible, and
be, for a long time, very generally received
in the world, and yet have no foundation in
nature, nor any sort of resemblance to the
truth. But it is otherwise with systems of
moral philosophy. When a traveller gives
an account of some distant country, he may
impose upon our credulity the most ground-
less and absurd fictions as the most certain
matters of fact ; but when a person pretends
to inform us of what passesin our neighbour-
hood, and of the affairs of the very parish
we live in — though here, too, if we are so
careless as not to examine things with our
own eyes, he may deceive us in many re-
spects — yet the greatest falsehoods which
he imposes on us must bear some resem-
blance to the truth, and must even have a,
considerable mixture of truth in them.''

These considerations demonstrate the es-
sential importance, iu this branch of study,
of forming, at the commencement of our
inquiries, just notions of the criteria of true
and false science, and of the rules of philoso-
phical investigation. They demonstrate, at
the same time, that an attention to the rules
of philosophizing, as they are exemplified in
the physical researches of Newton and his fol-
lowers, although the best of all preparations
for an examination of the mental phenomena,
is but one of the steps necessary to insure
our success. On an accurate comparison of
the two subjects, it might probably appear,
that, after this preliminary step has been
gained, the most arduous part of the process
still remains. One thing is certain, that it
is not from any defect in the power of ratio-
cination or deduction, that our speculative
errors chiefly arise — a fact of which wc
have a decisive proof in the facility with
which most students may be taught the
mathematical and physical sciences, when
compared with the difficulty of leading their
minds to the truth, on questions of morals
and politics.

The logical rules which lay the foundation
of sound and useful conclusions concerning
the laws of this internal world, although
not altogether overlooked by Lord Bacon,
were plainly not the principal object of his
work ; and what he has written on the sub-
ject, consists chiefly of detached hints dropped

casually in the course of other speculations.
A comprehensive view of the sciences and
arts dependent on the philosophy of the
human mind, exhibiting the relations whick
they bear to each other, and to the general
system of human knowledge, would form a
natural and useful introduction to the study
of these logical principles ; but such a view
remains still a desideratum, after all the
advances made towards it by Bacon and
D'Alembert. Indeed, in the present im-
proved state of things, much is wanting to
complete and perfect that more simple part
of their intellectual map which relates to
the material universe. Of the inconsider-
able progress hitherto made towards a just
delineation of the method to be pursued in
studying the mental phenomena, no other
evidence is necessary than this, That the

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 5 of 114)