Thomas Reid.

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

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contemplating in some degree even in our
present state, but not without a certain
purification of mind, and abstraction from
the objects of sense. Such, as far as I am
able to comprehend, were the sublime
notions of Plato, and probably of Pytha-

The philosophers of the Alexandrian
school, commonly called the latter Plato-
nists, seem to have adopted the same sys-
tem ; but with this difference, that they
made the eternal ideas not to be a principle
distinct from the Deity, but to be in the
divine intellect, as the objects of those con-
ceptions which the divine mind must, from
all eternity, have had, not only of every-

• The Platonic theory of Ideas has nothing to do
with a doctrine of sensitive perception ; and its intro-
duction into the question is only pregnant with con-
fusion ; while, in regard to sensitive perception, the
peculiar hypothesis of Malebranche, is in fact not only
not similar to, but much farther removed from, the
Platonic than the common Cartesian theory, and
the Leibnitzian — H.

thing which he has made, but of every pos-
sible existence, and of all the relations of
things.* By a proper purification and
abstraction from the objects of sense, we
may be in some measure united to the
Deity, and, in the eternal light, be enabled
to discern the most sublime intellectual

These Platonic notions, grafted upon
Christianity, probably gave rise to the
sect called Mystics, which, though in its
spirit and principles extremely opposite to
the Peripatetic, yet was never extinguished,
but subsists to this day. [120]

Many of the Fathers of the Christian
church have a tincture of the tenets of the
Alexandrian school ; among others, St
Augustine. But it does not appear, as far
as I know, that either Plato, or the latter
Platonists, or St Augustine, or the Mystics,
thought that we perceive the objects of
sense in the divine ideas. They had too
mean a notion of our perception of sensible
objects to ascribe to it so high an origin.
This theory, therefore, of our perceiving
the objects of sense in the ideas of the
Deity, I take to be the invention of Father
Malebranche himself. He, indeed, brings
many passages of St Augustine to counte-
nance it, and seems very desirous to have
that Father of his party. But in those
passages, though the Father speaks in a
very high strain of God's being the light of
our minds, of our being illuminated imme-
diately by the eternal light, and uses other
similar expressions ; yet he seems to apply
those expressions only to our illumination
in moral and divine things, and not to the
perception of objects by the senses. Mr
Bayle imagines that some traces of this
opinion of Malebranche are to be found in
Amelius the Platonist, and even in Demo-
critus; but his authorities seem to be

Malebranche, with a very penetrating
genius, entered into a more minute examin-
ation of the powers of the human mind,
than any one before him. He had the advan-
tage of the discoveries made by Des Cartes,
whom he followed without slavish attach-

He lays it down as a principle admitted
by all philosophers, and which could not
be called in question, that we do not per-
ceive external objects immediately, but by
means of images or ideas of them present
to the mind. " I suppose," says he," that

* And this, though Aristotle asserts the contrary,
was perhaps also the doctrine of Plato. — H.

f The theory of Malebranche has been vainly
sought for in the Bible, the Platonists, and the Fathers.
It is, in fact, more clearly enounced mi Homer than
in any of these graver sources.

To~6f yag via is-h srtxdoviuv ocvd^troiVt
OTov esr' ii/teif ofyy,iri ir«T»jfi aySf £v Tl dtaiv T8.
But for anticipations, see Note P.— H.

[119, 120"]



every one will grant that we perceive not
the objects that are without us immediately,
and of themselves. • We see the sun, the
stars, and an infinity of objects without us ;
and it is not at all likely that the soul sal-
lies out of the body, and, as it were, takes a
walk through the heavens, to contemplate
all those objects. [121] She sees them not,
therefore, by themselves ; and the imme-
diate object of the mind, when it sees the
sun, for example, is uot the sun, but some-
thing which is intimately united to the
soul ; and it is that which I call an idea.
So that by the word idea, I understand
nothing else here but that which is the im-
mediate object, or nearest to the mind,
when we perceive-|- any object.$ It ought
to be carefully observed, that, in order to
the mind's perceiving any object, it is abso-
lutely necessary that the idea of that ob-
ject be actually present to it. Of this it

is not possible to doubt

The things which the soul perceives are of
two kinds. They are either in the soul, or
they are without the soul. Those that are
in the soul are its own thoughts — that is to
say, all its different modifications. [For
by these words — thought, manner of think-
ing, or modification of the soul, I under-
stand in general whatever cannot be in the
mind without the mind perceiving it, as its
proper sensations, its imaginations, its pure
intellections, or simply its conceptions, its
passions even, and its natural inclina-
tions. ]§ The soul has no need of ideas for
perceiving these things. || But with regard
to things without the soul, we cannot per-
ceive them but by means of ideas."^f

Having laid this foundation, as a prin-
ciple common to all philosophers, and which
admits of no doubt, he proceeds to enume-
rate all the possible ways by which the ideas
of sensible objects may be presented to the
mind : Either, first, they come from the
bodies which we perceive ;* • or, secondly, the
soul has the power of producing them in it-
self ;ff or, thirdly, they are produced by the

• Rather in or by themselves (par eux mimes.)

t That is, in the language of philosophers before
Reid, *' where we have the apprehensive cognition
or consciousness of any object."— H.

t In this definition, all philosophers concur. Des
Cartes, Locke, &c, give it in almost the same terms.

\ I have inserted this sentence, omitted by Reid,
from the original, in order to shew in how exten-
sive a meaning the term thought was used in the
Cartesian school. See Cartesii Princ, P. I., \ 9. — H.

|| Hence the distinction precisely taken by Male-
branche of Idea (idte) and Feeling, (sentiment,) cor-
responding in principle to our Perception of the
primary, and our Sensation of the secondary qualities.

H be la Recherche de la Veriti. Liv. III., Partie
ii., ch. I.— H.

• • The common Peripatetic doctrine, &c.— H.

■ff Malebranche refers, I presume, to the opinions
of certain Cartesians. See Gassendi Opera, iii. p 321.
— H.
[121, 122]

Deity, either in our creation, or occasionally,
as there is use for them ;" or, fourthly, the
soul has in itself virtually and eminently, as
the schools speak, all the perfections which
it perceives in bodies ;+ or, fifthly, the soul
is united with a Being possessed of all per-
fection, who has in himself the ideas of all
created things.

This he takes to be a complete enumera-
tions of all the possible ways in which the
ideas of external objects may be presented
to our minds. He employs a whole chapter
upon each ; refuting the four first, and con-
firming the last by various arguments.
The Deity, being always present to our
minds in a more intimate manner than any
other being, may, upon occasion of the im-
pressions made on our bodies, discover to us,
as far as he thinks proper, and according
to fixed laws, his own ideas of the object ;
and thus we see all things in God, or in the
divine ideas.:}: [122]

However visionary this system may ap-
pear on a superficial view, yet, when we
consider that he agreed with the whole tribe
of philosophers in conceiving ideas to be the
immediate objects of perception, and that
he found insuperable difficulties, and even
absurdities, in every other hypothesis con-
cerning them, it will not appear so wonder-
ful that a man of very great genius should
fall into this ; and, probably, it pleased
so devout a man the more, that it sets, in
the most striking light, our dependence upon
God, and his continual presence with us.

He distinguished, more accurately than
any philosopher had done before, the objects
which we perceive from the sensations in
our own minds, which, by the laws of
Nature, always accompany the perception
of the object. As in many things, so par-
ticularly in this, he has great merit. For
this, I apprehend, is a key that opens the
way to a right understanding, both of our
external senses and of other powers of the
mind. The vulgar confound sensation with
other powers of the mind, and with their
objects, because the purposes of life do not
make a distinction necessary. The con-
founding of these in common language, has
led philosophers, m one period, to make
those things external which really are sens-
ations in our own minds ; and, in another
period, running, as is usual, into the con-

• Opinions analogous to the second or third, were
held by the Platonists, by some of the Greek, and
by many of the Arabian Aristotelians. See .-.bove, p.
262, note •.— H.

+ Something similar to this is hazarded by Des
Cartes in his Third " Meditation," which it is likely
that Malebranche had in his eye.— H.

% It should have been noticed that the Malebranch-
ian philosophy is fundamentally Cartesian, and that,
after De la Forge and Geulinx, the doctrine of
Divine Assistance, implicitly maintained by Des
Cartes, was most ably developed by Malebranche, to
whom it owes, >ndeed, a principal share of its eel-
brity.— H.



[essay It

trary extreme, to make everything almost
to be a sensation or feeling in our minds.

It is obvious that the system of Male-
branche leaves no evidence of the existence
of a material world, from what we perceive
by our senses ; for the divine ideas, which
are the objects immediately perceived, were
the same before the world was created.
Malebranche was too acute not to discern
this consequence of his system, and too can-
did not to acknowledge it. [123] Hefairly
owns it, and endeavours to make advantage
of it, resting the complete evidence we have
of the existence of matter upon the author-
ity of revelation. He shews that the argu-
ments brought by Des Cartes to prove the
existence of a material world, though as
good as any that reason could furnish, are
not perfectly conclusive ; and, though he
acknowledges with Des Cartes that we feel
a strong propensity to believe the existence
of a material world, yet he thinks this is
not sufficient ; and that to yield to such
propensities without evidence, is to expose
ourselves to perpetual delusion. He thinks,
therefore, that the only convincing evidence
we have of the existence of a material world
is, that we are assured by revelation that
God created the heavens and the earth,
r and that the Word was made flesh. He is
sensible of the ridicule to which so strange
an opinion may expose him among those
who are guided by prejudice ; but, for the
sake of truth, he is willing to bear it. But
no author, not even Bishop Berkeley, hath
shewn more clearly, that, either upon his
own system, or upon the common principles
of philosophers with regard to ideas, we
have no evidence left, either from reason
or from our senses, of the existence of a
material world. It is no more than justice
to Father Malebranche, to acknowledge that
Bishop Berkeley's arguments are to be
found in him in their whole force.

Mr Norris, an English divine, espoused
the syBtem of Malebranche, in his " Essay
towards the Theory of the Ideal or Intel-
Jectual World," published in two volumes
8°, anno 1701. This author has made a
feeble effort to supply a defect which is to
be found not in Malebranche only, but in
almost all the authors who have treated of
ideas— I mean, to prove their existence.*
He has employed a whole chapter to prove
that material things cannot be an immediate
object of perception. His arguments are
these : Is*, They are without the mind, and,
therefore there can be no union between the
object and the perception. 2dly, They are
disproportioned to the mind, and removed

* This is incorrect. In almost every system of
the Aristotelico-scholastic philosophy, the attempt is
made to prove the existence of Species ; nor is Reid's
asset tinn true even of ideas in the Cartesian philoso-
phy. In fact, Norris's arguments are all old and
commonplace.*- H.

from it by the whole diameter of being.
Sdly, Because, if material objects were
immediate objects of perception, there could
be no physical science; things necessary
and immutable being the only objects of
science. [124] ilhlp, If material things were
perceived by themselves, they would be a
true light to our minds, as being the intel-
ligible form of our understandings, and con-
sequently perfective of them, and, indeed,
superior to them.

Malebranche's system was adopted by
many devout people in France of both
sexes ; but it seems to have had no great
currency in other countries. Mr Locke
wrote a small tract against it, which is
found among his posthumous works :* but,
whether it was written in haste, or after
the vigour of his understanding was im-
paired by age, there is less of strength and
solidity in it than in most of his writings.
The most formidable antagonist Male-
branche met with was in his own country —
Antony Arnauld, doctor of the Sorbonne,
and one of the acutest writers the Jansenists
have to boast of, though that sect has pro-
duced many. Malebranche was a Jesuit,
and the antipathy between the Jesuits and
Jansenists left him no room to expect
quarterfrom hislearnedantagonist.-|- Those
who choose to see this system attacked on
the one hand, and defended on the other,
with subtilty of argument and elegance of
expression^ and on the part of Arnauld
with much wit and humour, may find satis-
faction by reading Malebranche's " Enquiry
after Truth ;" Arnauld's book " Of True and
False Ideas ;" Malebranche's " Defence ;"
and some subsequent replies and defences.
In controversies of this kind, the assailant
commonly has the advantage, if they are
not unequally matched ; for it is easier to
overturn all the theories of philosophers
upon this subject, than to defend any one
of them. Mr Bayle makes a very just re-
mark upon this controversy — that the argu-
ments of Mr Arnauld against the system of
Malebranche, were often unanswerable, but

* In answer to Locke's " Examination of P. Male-
branche's Opinion," Leibnitz wrote " Remarks,"
which are to be found among his posthumous works,
published by Raspe. — H.

t Malebranche was not a Jesuit, but a Priest of the
Oratory; and so little was he either a favourer or
favourite of the Jesuits, that, by the Pere de Valois,
he was accused of heresy, by the Pere Hardouin, of
Atheism. The endeavours of the Jesuits in France to
prohibit the introduction of every form of the Carte-
sian doctrine into the public seminaries of education,
are well known. Malebranche and Arnauld were
therefore not opposed as Jesuit and Jansenist, and it
should likewise be remembered that they were both
Cartesians. — H.

t Independently of his principal hypothesis alto-
gether, the works of Malebranche deserve the most
attentive study, both on account of the many ad.
mirable thoughts and observations with which they
abound, and because they are among the few con.
summate models of philosf phical eloquence — H.

ns3, 124,3



they were capable of being retorted against
his own system ; and his ingenious antag-
onist knew well how to use this defence. [.125]



This theory, in general, is, that we per-
ceive external objects only by certain images
which are in our minds, or in the sensorium
to which the mind is immediately present.
Philosophers in different ages have differed
both in the names they have given to those
images, and in their notions concerning
them. It would be a laborious task to
enumerate all their variations, and per-
haps would not requite the labour. I shall
only give a sketch of the principal dif-
ferences with regard to their names and
their nature.

By Aristotle and the Peripatetics, the
images presented to our senses were called
sensible species or forms ; those presented
to the memory or imagination were called
phantasms ; and those presented to the
intellect were called intelligible species ;
and they thought that there can be no
perception, no imagination, no intellection,
without species or phantasms," What the
ancient philosophers called species, sensible
and intelligible, and phantasms, in later
times, and especially since the time of Des
Cartes, came to be called by the common
name of ideas. -(• The Cartesians divided
our ideas into three classes — those of sensa-
tion, of imagination, and of pure intellection.
Of the objects of sensation and imagination,
they thought the images are in the brain ;%
but of objects that are incorporeal the
images are in the understanding or pure

Mr Locke, taking the word idea in the
same sense as Des Cartes had done before
him, to signify whatever is meant by phan-
tasm, notion, or species, divides ideas into
those of sensation, and those of reflection ;
meaning by the first, the ideas of all corpo-
real objects, whether perceived, remem-
bered, or imagined; by the second, the
ideas of the powers and operations of our
minds. [126] What Mr Locke calls ideas,
Mr Hume divides into two distinct kinds,
impressions and ideas. The difference be-
twixt these, he says, consists in the degrees
of force and liveliness with which they strike
upon the mind. Under impressions he com-
prehends all our sensations, passions, and

• See Note SI.— H.

I Not merely especially, but only since the time of
Del Cartes, See Note G.— H.

t incorrect. See Note N.— H.
£125, 126]

emotions, as they make their first appear-
ance in the soul. By ideas, he means the
faint images of these in thinking and rea-

Dr Hartley gives the same meaning to
ideas as Mr Hume does, and what Mr
Hume calls impressions he calls sensations ;
conceiving our sensations to be occasioned
by vibrations of the infinitesimal particles
of the brain, and ideas by miniature vibra-
tions or vibratiuncles. Such differences
we find among philosophers, with regard to
the name of those internal images of objects
of sense which they hold to be the imme-
diate objects of perception."

We shall next give a short detail of the
sentiments of the Peripatetics and Carte-
sians, of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, con-
cerning them.

Aristotle seems to have thought that the
soul consists of two parts, or rather that
we have two souls — the animal and the ra-
tional ; or, as he calls them, the soul and
the intellect, f To the first, belong the
senses, memory, and imagination ; to the
last, judgment, opinion, belief, and reason-
ing. The first we have in common with
brute animals ; the last is peculiar to man.
The animal soul he held to be a certain
form of the body, which is inseparable from
it, and perishes at death. To this soul the
senses belong ; and he defines a sense to be
that which is capable of receiving the sensi-
ble forms or species of objects, without any
of the matter of them ; as wax receives the
form of the seal without any of the matter
of it. The forms of sound, of colour, of

* Reid, I may observe in general, does not dis.
tinguislvas it especially behoved him to do, between
what were held by philosophers to be the proximate
causes of our mental representations, and these
representations themselves as'the objects of cognition
— i. e , between what are known in the schools as
thespecies impressa, and the species express^. The
former, to which the name of sfjecies, image, idea,
was often given, in common with the latter, was held
on all hands to be unknown to consciousness, and
generally supposed to be merely certain occult motions
in the organism. -The latter, the result determined
by the former, is the mental representation, and
the immediate or proper object in perception. Great
confusion, to those who do not bear this distinction in
mind, is, however, the consequence of the verbal
ambiguity; and Reid'a misrepresentations of the
doctrine of the philosophers its, in a great measure, to
be traced to this source. — H.

+ This not correct. Instead nftwo, the animal and
rational, Aristotle gave to the soul three generic
functions, the vegetable, the animal or sensual, and
the rational; but whether he supposes these to
constitute three concentric potences, three separate
parts, or three distinct souls, has divided his disciples.
He also defines the soul ingenerai, and not, as Reid
supposes, the mere * animal soul,' to be the form or
ivTeAfouat of the body. — {De c I.) In-
tellect [vis) he however thought was inorganic; but
there is some ground for believing that he did not
view this as personal, but harboured an opinion
which, under various modifications, many of his fol
lowers also held, that the active intellect was com-
mon to all men, immortal and divine. Km? yu e treat
sr&yru, to iv fipgi 0«« * \iryou X x$z*l J" Aoyoff iAA* n
xeiiTrt)*, 77 ouv Sit KEiirrov xeii ttrifij/Mlf UXOI, akr,t
Qtcei — H.



Qessay li

taste, and of other sensible qualities, are,
in manner, received by the senses. " [127]

It seems to be a necessary consequence
of Aristotle's doctrine, that bodies are con-
stantly sending forth, in all directions, as
many different kinds of forms without
matter as they have different sensible qua-
lities ; for the forms of colour must enter
tey the eye, the forms of sound by the ear,
and so of the other senses. This, accord-
ingly, was maintained by the followers of
Aristotle, though not, as far as I know,
expressly mentioned by himself. •)- They
disputed concerning the nature of those
forms of species, whether they were real
beings or nonentities ;$ and some held
them to be of an intermediate nature be-
tween the two. The whole doctrine of the
Peripatetics and schoolmen concerning
forms, substantial and accidental, and con-
cerning the transmission of sensible species
from objects of sense to the mind, if it be
at all intelligible, is so far above my com-
prehension that I should perhaps do it in-
justice, by entering into it more minutely.
Malebranche, in his " Eecherche de la
Verite," has employed a chapter to shew
that material objects do not send forth
sensible species of their several sensible

The great revolution which Des Cartes
produced in philosophy, was the effect of a
superiority of genius, aided by the circum-
stances of the times. Men had, for more
than h. thousand years, looked up to Ari-
stotle as an oracle in philosophy. His
authority was the test of truth. The small
remains of the Platonic system were con-
fined to a few mystics, whose principles and
manner of life drew little attention. The
feeble attempts of Ramus, and of some
others, to make improvements in the sys-
tem, had little effect. The Peripatetic
doctrines were so interwoven with the whole
system of scholastic theology, that to dissent
from Aristotle was to alarm the Church.
The most useful and intelligible parts,
even of Aristotle's writings, were neglected,
and philosophy was become an art of speak-
ing learnedly, and disputing subtilely, with-
out producing any invention of use in human
life. It was fruitful of words, but barren
of works, and admirably contrived for
drawing a veil over human ignorance, and

• See Note M.— H.

f Nor is there valid ground for supposing that such
an opinion was even implicitly held by the Stagirite.
It was also explicitly repudiated by many of his fol.
lowers. See Note M. — H.

t The question in the schools, between those who
admitted species, was not, whether species, in gene,
ral, were real beings or nonentities (which would
have been, did they exist or not,) but whether sen-
si le species were material, immaterial, or of a
nature between body and spi it — a problem, it must
b ' allowed, sufficiently futile, but not, like the other,
self- contradictory. — H.

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 60 of 114)