Thomas Reid.

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

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tions. We shall, therefore, take that gene-
ral division which is the most common, into
the powers of understanding and those of
witl.\ Under the will we comprehend our
active powers, and all that lead to action,
or influence the mind to act — such as appe-
tites, passions, affections. The understand-
ing comprehends our contemplative powers ;
by which we perceive objects ; by which
we conceive or remember them ; by which
we analyse or compoundthem ; and by which
we judge and reason concerning them.

• A merely verbal dispute. See before, p. 205, b,
note.— H.

t It would be out of place to enter on the exten.
Bive field of history and discussion relative to the
distribution of our mental powers. It is sufficient
to say, that the vulgar division of the faculties,
adopted by Reid, into those of the Understanding
and those of the Will, is to be traced to the classifi-
cation, taken in the Aristotelic school, of the powers
into gnostic, or cognitive, and orectic, or appetent
On this the reader may consult the admirable 'intro-
duction of Philopon us—or rather of Ammonius Her.
miae— to the books of Aristotle upon the Soul.— H.

Although this general division may be of
use in order to our proceeding more metho-
dically in our subject, we are not to under-
stand it as if, in those operations which are
ascribed to the understanding, there were
no exertion of will or activity, or as if the
understanding were not employed in the
operations ascribed to the will ; for I con-
ceive there is no operation of the under-
standing wherein the mind is not active in
some degree. We have some command
over our thoughts, and can attend to this
or to that, of many objects which present
themselves to our senses, to our memory,
or to our imagination. ~YV"e can survey an
object on this side or that, superficially or
accurately, for a longer or a shorter time ;
so that our contemplative powers are under .
the guidance and direction of the active ;
and the former never pursue their object
without being led and directed, urged or
restrained by the latter : and because the
understanding is always more or less di-
rected by the will, mankind have ascribed
some degree of activity to [68] the mind in
its intellectual operations, as well as in those
which belong to the will, and have ex-
pressed them by active verbs, such as see-
ing, hearing, judging, reasoning, and the

And as the mind exerts some degree of
activity even in the operations of under-
standing, so it is certain that there can be
no act of will which is not accompanied
with some act of understanding- The will
must have an object, and that object must
be apprehended or conceived in the under-
standing. It is, therefore, to be remem-
bered, that, in most, if not all operations of
the mind, both faculties concur ; and we
range the operation under that faculty which
hath the largest share in it. *

The intellectual powers are commonly
divided into simple apprehension, judgment,
and reasoning. -f As this division has in
its favour the authority of antiquity, and of
a very general reception, it would be im-
proper to set it aside without giving any
reason : I shall, therefore, explain it briefly,
and give the reasons why I choose to follow

* It should be always remembered that the various
mental energies are all only possible in and through
each other; and thatourpsychologicalanalysesdo not
suppose any area! distinction of the operations which
we discriminate by different names. Thought and
volition can no more be exerted apart, than the sides
and angles of a square can exist separately 'from each
other.— H.

f This is a singular misapprehension. The divi-
sion in question, I make bold to sav, never was
proposed by any philosopher as a ptychological dis-
tribution of the cognitive faculties in general : on
the contrary, it is only a logical distribution of .that
section of the cognitive (acuities which we.denomi.
nate discursive, as those alone which are proximately
concerned in the process of reasoning— or thought, in
its strictest signification. — H,




It may be observed that, without appre-
hension of the objects concerning which
we judge, there can be no judgment ; as
little can there be reasoning without both
apprehension and judgment : these three
operations, therefore, are not independent
of each other. The' second includes the
first, and the third includes both the first
and second; but the first may be exer-
cised without either of the other two. * It
is on that account called simple apprehen-
sion ; that is, apprehension unaccompanied
with any judgment about the object appre-
hended. This simple apprehension of an
object is, in common language, called having
a notion, or having a conception of the ob-
ject, and by late authors is called having
an idea of it. In speaking, it is expressed
by a word, or by a part of a proposition,
without that composition and structure
which makes a complete sentence ; as a
man, a man of fortune. Such words, taken
by themselves, signify simple apprehen-
sions. They neither affirm nor [69] deny;
they imply no judgment or opinion of the
thing signified by them ; and, therefore,
cannot be said to be either true or false.

The second operation in this division is
judgment ; in which, say the philosophers,
there must be two objects of thought com-
pared, and some agreement or disagree-
ment, or, in general, some relation discerned
between them ; in consequence of which,
there is an opinion or belief of that relation
which we discern. This operation is ex-
pressed in speech by a proposition, in which
some relation between the things compared
is affirmed or denied : as when we say, Alt
men are fallible.

Truth and falsehood are qualities which
belong to judgment only ; or to proposi-
tions by which judgment is expressed.
Every judgment, every opinion, and every
proposition, is either true or false. But
words which neither affirm nor deny any-
thing, can have neither of those qualities ;
and the same may be said of simple appre-
hensions, which are signified by such words.

The third operation is reasoning ; in
which, from two or more judgments, we
draw a conclusion.

This division of our intellectual powers
corresponds perfectly with the account com-
monly given by philosophers, of the suc-
cessive steps by which the mind proceeds
in the acquisition of its knowledge ; which
are these three : First, By the senses, or
by other means, it is furnished with various

• This is.not correct. Apprehension is a* impos-
sible without judgment, ?s judgment is impossible
without apprehension. The apprehension of a thing
or notion, is only realized in the mental affirmation
that the concept ideally exists, and this affirmation is
a judgment. In fact, all consciousness supposes a
judgment, as all consciousness supposes a discrimina-
tion.— H


simple apprehensions, notions, or ideas.
These are the materials which nature gives
it to work upon ; and from the simple ideas
it is furnished with by nature, it forms
various others more complex. Second:y,
By comparing its ideas, and by perceiving
their agreements and disagreements, it
forms its judgments. And, Lastly, From
two or more judgments, it deduces con-
clusions of reasoning.

Now, if all our knowledge is got by a
procedure of this kind, [70] certainly the
threefold division of the powers of under-
standing, into simple apprehension, judg-
ment, and reasoning, is the most natural
and the most proper that can be devised.
This theory and that division are so closely
connected that it is difficult to judge which
of them has given rise to the other ; and
they must stand or fall together. But, if
all our knowledge is not got by a process
of this kind — if there are other avenues
of knowledge besides the comparing our
ideas, and perceiving their agreements and
disagreements — it is probable that there ma v
be operations of the understanding which
cannot be properly reduced under any of
the three that have been explained.

Let us consider some of the most familiar
operations of our minds, and see to which
of the three they belong. I begin with
consciousness. I know that I think, and
this of all knowledge is the most certain.
Is that operation of my mind which gives
me this certain knowledge, to be called
simple apprehension ? No, surely. Simple
apprehension neither affirms nor denies.
It will not be said that it is by reason-
ing that I know that I think. It re-
maius, therefore, that it must be by judg-
ment — that is, according to the account
given of judgment, by comparing two ideas,
and perceiving the agreement between
them. But what are the ideas compared ?
They must be the idea of myself, and the
idea of thought, for they are the terms of
the proposition / think. According to this
account, then, first, I have the idea of my-
self and the idea of thought ; then, by com-
paring these two ideas, I perceive that I

Let any man who is capable of reflection
judge for himself, whether it is by an opera-
tion of this kind that he comes to be con-
vinced that he thinks ? To me it appears
evident, that the conviction I have that I
think, is not got in this way ; and, therefore,
I conclude, either that consciousness is not
judgment, or that judgment is not rightly
defined to be the perception of some agree-
ment oi disagreement between two ideas.

The perception of an object by my

senses is another operation of [71] the

understanding. 1 would know whether it

be simple apprehension, or judgment, or

It 2



[essay I.

reasoning. It is not simple apprehension,
because I am persuaded of the existence of
the object as much as I could be by demon-
stration. It is not judgment, if by judg-
ment be meant the comparing ideas, and
perceiving their # agreements or disagree-
ments. It is not reasoning, because those
who cannot reason can perceive.

I find the same difficulty in classing me-
mory under any of the operations men-

There is not a more fruitful source of
error in this branch of philosophy, than
divisions of things which are taken to be
complete when they are not really so. To
make a perfect division of any class of
things, a man ought to have the whole
under his view at once. But the greatest
capacity very often is not sufficient for
this. Something is left out which did not
come under the philosopher's view when
he made his division : and to suit this to
the division, it must be made what nature
never made it. This has been so common
a fault of philosophers, that one who would
avoid error ought to be suspicious of divi-
sions, though long received, and of great
authority, especially when they are grounded
on a theory that may be called in question.
In a subject imperfectly known, we ought
not to pretend to perfect divisions, but to
leave room for such additions or alterations
as a more perfect view of the subject may
afterwards suggest.

I shall not, therefore, attempt a com-
plete enumeration of the powers of the hu-
man understanding. I shall only mention
those which I propose to explain ; and they
are the following : —

1st, The powers we have by means of
our external senses. 2dly, Memory. 3dly,
Conception. ithly, The powers of resolv-
ing and analysing complex objects, and
compounding those that are more simple.
Sthly, Judging. 6thly, Reasoning. Tthly,
Taste. 8thly, Moral Perception ;* and, last
of all, Consciousness.t [72]



There is another division of the powers
of the mind, which, though it has been,
ought not to be overlooked by writers on
this subject, because it has a real founda-
tion in nature. Some operations of our
minds, from their very nature, are social,
others are solitary.

* Moral Perception is treated under the Active
Powers, in Essay V.— H.

t Consciousness obtains only an incidental consi-
deration, under Judgment, in the Fifth Chapter of
the Sixth Essay .— H.

By the first, I understand such operations
as necessarily suppose an intercourse with
some other intelligent being. A man may
understand and will ; he may apprehend,
and judge, and reason, though he should
know of no intelligent being in the universe
besides himself. But, when he asks inform-
ation, or receives it ; when he bears tes-
timony, or receives the testimony of an-
other ; when he asks a favour, or accepts
one ; when he gives a command to his ser-
vant, or receives one from a superior ; when
he plights his faith in a promise or con-
tract — these are acts of social intercourse
between intelligent beings, and can have no
place in solitude. They suppose under-
standing and will ; but they suppose some-
thing: more, which is neither understanding
nor will ; that is, society with other intellU
gent beings. They may be called intellec-
tual, because they can only be in intellectual
beings ; but they are neither simple appre-
hension, nor judgment, nor reasoning, nor are
they any combination of these operations.

To ask a question, is as simple an opera-
tion as to judge or to reason ; yet it is
neither judgment nor reasoning, nor simple
apprehension, nor is it any composition of
these. Testimony is neither simple appre-
hension, nor judgment, nor reasoning. The
same may be said of a promise, or of a con-
tract. These acts of mind are perfectly
understood by every man of common under-
standing ; but, when philosophers attempt
to bring them within the pale of their divi-
sions, by analysing them, they find inex-
plicable mysteries, [73] and even contradic-
tions, in them. One may see an instance
of this, of many that might be mentioned,
in Mr Hume's " Enquiry concerning the
Principles of Morals," § 3, part 2, note,
near the end.

The attempts of philosophers to reduce
the social operations under the common
philosophical divisions, resemble very much
the attempts of some philosophers to re-
duce all our social affections to certain
modifications of self-love. The Author of
our being intended us to be social beings,
and has, for that end, given us social intel-
lectual powers, as well as social affections.*
Both are original parts of our constitution,
and the exertions of both no less natural
than the exertions of those powers that are
solitary and selfish.

Our social intellectual operations, as well
as our social affections, appear very early
in life, before we are capable of reasoning ;
yet both suppose a conviction of the exist-
ence of other intelligent beings. When a
child asks a question of his nurse, this act

• " Man," says Aristotle, '* is, by nature, nr-re
political than any bee or ant." And, in another
woik, " Man is the sweetest thing to man"— i.flji-
au vi%i?ov avffgwTflf. — H.

[ 72, 73]



of his mind supposes not only a desire to
know what he asks ; it supposes, likewise,
a conviction that the nurse is an intelligent
being, to whom "he can communicate his
thoughts, and who can communicate her
thoughts to him. How he came by this
conviction so early, is a question of some
importance in the knowledge of the human
mind, and, therefore, worthy of the con-
sideration of philosophers. But they seem
to have given no attention, either to this
early conviction, or to those operations of
mind which suppose it. Of this we shall
have occasion to treat afterwards.

All languages are fitted to express the
social as well as the solitary operations of
the mind. It may indeed be affirmed, that,
to express the former, is the primary and
direct intention of language. A man who
had no intercourse with any other intelli-
gent being, would never think of language.
He would be as mute as the beasts of the
field ; even more so, because they have
some degree of social intercourse with one
another, and some of them [74] with man.
When language is once learned, it may be
useful even in our solitary meditations ; and
by clothing our thoughts with words, we
may have a firmer hold of them. But
this was not its first intention ; and the
structure of every language shews that it is
not intended solely for this purpose.

In every language, a question, a com-
mand, a promise, which are social acts, can
be expressed as easily and as properly as
judgment, which is a solitary act. The ex-
pression of the last has been honoured with
a particular name ; it is called a proposition ;
it has been an object of great attention to

philosophers ; it has been analysed into its
very elements of subject predicate, and co-
pula. All the various modifications of these,
and of propositions which are compounded of'
them, have been anxiously examined in
many voluminous tracts. The expre-simi
of a question, of a command, or of a pro-
mise, is as capable of being analysed as a
proposition is ; but we do not find that this
has been attempted ; we have not so much
as given them a name different from the
operations which they express.

Why have speculative men laboured so
anxiously to analyse our solitary operations,
and given so little attention to the social ?
I know no other reason but this, that, in
the divisions that have been made of the
mind's operations, the social have been
omitted, and thereby thrown behind the

In all languages, the second person of
verbs, the pronoun of the second person, and
the vocative case in nouns, are appropriated
to the expression of social operations of' mind,
and could never have had place in language
but for this purpose : nor is it a good
argument against this observation, that, by
a rhetorical figure, we sometimes address
persons that are absent, or even inanimated
beings, in the second person. For it ought
to be remembered, that all figurative ways
of using words or phrases suppose a natural
and literal meaning of them.* [75]

* What, throughout this chapter, is implied, ought
to have been explicitly stated — that language is natu-
ral to man; and consequently the faculty of speech
ought to have been enumerated among the mental
powers. — H.





Of all the operations of our minds, the
perception of external objects is the most
familiar. The senses come to maturity
even in infancy, when other powers have
not yet sprung up. They are common to
us with brute animals, and furnish us with
the objects about which our other powers
are the most frequently employed. We
find it easy to attend to their operations ;
and, because they are familiar, the names
which properly belong to them are applied

to other powers which are thought to re-
semble them. For these reasons, they claim
to be first considered.

The perception of external objects is one
main link of that mysterious chain which
connects the material world with the intel-
lectual. We shall find many things in this
operation unaccountable ; sufficient to con-
vince us that we know but little of our own
frame ; and that a perfect comprehension
of our mental powers, and of the manner of
their operation, is beyond the reach of our

In perception, there are impressions upon
the organs of sense; the nerves, and brain,



[essay II,

which, by the laws of our nature, are fol- I
lowed by certain operations of mind. These
two things are apt to be confounded ; but
ought most carefully to be distinguished.
Some philosophers, without good reason,
have concluded, that the [7C] impressions
made on the body are the proper efficient
cause of perception. Others, with as little
reason, have concluded that impressions are
made on the mind similar to those made on
the body. From these mistakes many others
have arisen The wrong notions men have
rashly taken up with regard to the senses,
have led to wrong notions with regard to
other powers which are conceived to resemble
them. Many important powers of mind
have, especially of late, been called internal
fljnses, from a supposed resemblance to the
external — such as, the sense of beauty, the
sense of harmony, the moral sense.* And
it is to be apprehended that errors, with
regard to the external, have, from analogy,
led to similar errors with regard to the
internal ; it is, therefore, of some conse-
quence, even with regard to other branches
of our subject, to have just notions concern-
ing the external senses.

In order to this, we shall begin with some
observations on the organs of sense, and on
the impressions which in perception are
made upon them, and upon the nerves and

IVe perceive no external object but by
means of certain baddy organs which God
has given us for that purpose. The Su-
preme Being who made us, and placed us
in this world, hath given us such powers of
mind as he saw to be suited to our state
and rank in his creation. He has given us
the power of perceiving many objects around
us — the sun, moon, and stars, the earth and
sea, and a variety of animals, vegetables,
and inanimate bodies. But our power of
perceiving these objects is limited in various
ways, and particularly in this — that, with-
out the organs of the several senses, we
perceive no external object. We cannot
see wilhout eyes, nor hear without ears ; it
is not only necessary that we should have
these organs, but that they should be in a
sound and natural state. There are many
disorders of the eye that cause total blind-
ness ; others that impair the powers of vi-
sion, without destroying it altogether : and
the same may be said of the organs of all
the other senses. [77]

All this is so well known from experience,
■that it needs no proof; but it ought to be
observed, that we know it from experience
only. We can give no reason for it, but
that such is the will of our Maker. No
man can shew it to be impossible to the
Supreme Being to have given us the power of

* He refers to Hutcheson.— H

perceiving external objects without such or-
gans/* We have reason to believe that, when
we put off these bodies and all the organs
belonging to them, our perceptive powers
shall rather be improved than destroyed or
impaired. We have reason to believe that
the Supreme Being perceives everything in
a much more perfect manner than we do,
without bodily organs. We have reason to
believe that there are other created beings
endowed with powers of perception more
perfect and more extensive than ours, with-
out any such organs as we find necessary.

We ought not, therefore, to conclude,
that such bodily organs are, in their own
nature, necessary to perception ; but rather
that, by the will of God, our power of per-
ceiving external objects is limited and cir-
cumscribed by our organs of sense; so that
we perceive objects in a certain manner,
and in certain circumstances, and in no
other, -f-

If a man was shut up in a dark room, so
that he could see nothing but through one
small hole in the shutter of a window,
would he conclude that the hole was the
cause of his seeing, and that it is impos-
sible to see any other way ? Perhaps, if he
had never in his life seen but in this way,
he might be apt to think so ; but the con-
clusion is rash and groundless. He sees,
because God has given him the power oi
seeing ; and he sees only through this small
hole, because his power of seeing is circum-
scribed by impediments on all other hands.

Another necessary caution in this matter
is, that we ought not to confound the or-
gans of perception with the being that per-
ceives. Perception must be the act of some
being that perceives. The eye [78] is not
that which sees ; it is only the organ by which
we see.$ The ear is not that which hears,
but the organ by which we hear ; and so of
the rest. §

A man cannot see the satellites of Jupiter
but by a telescope. Doesheconcludefrom
this, that it is the telescope that sees those
stars ? By no means — such a conclusion
would be absurd. It is no less absurd to

* However astonishing, it is now proved beyond
all rational doubt, th it, in certain abnormal states
of the nervous organism, perceptions are possible,
through other than the ordinary channels of the
senses. — H

+ The doctrine of Plato and of many other phi-
losophers, Reid ought, however, to have said,
limited to, instead of " by our organs of sense ;'' for,
if the body be viewed as the prison of the soul, the
senses mubt be viewed at leant as partial outlets.—

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 55 of 114)