Thomas Reid.

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

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sensations,* but that the secondary are not.

That we have many sensations by means
of our external senses, there can be no
doubt ; and, if he is pleased to call those
ideas, there ought to be no dispute about
the meaning of a word. But, says Bishop
Berkeley, by our senses, we have the know-
ledge, only of our sensations or ideas, call
them which you will. I allow him to call
them which he will ; but I would hare the
word only in this sentence to be well weighed,
because a great deal-depends upon it.

For, if it be true that, by our senses, we
have the knowledge of our sensations only,
then his system must be admitted, and the
existence of a material world must be given
up as a dream. No demonstration can be
more invincible than this. If we have any
knowledge of a material world, it must be
by the senses : but, by the senses, we have
no knowledge but of our sensations only ;
and our sensations have no resemblance of
anything that can be in a material world. +
The only proposition in this demonstration
which admits of doubt is, that, by our senses,
we have the knowledge of our sensations
only, and of nothing else. If there are ob-
jects of the senses which are not sensations,
his arguments do not touch them : they may
be things which do not exist in the mind, as
all sensations do ; they may be things of which,
by our senses, we have notions, though no
ideas; just as, byconsciousness and reflection,
we have notions of spirits and of their oper-
ations, without ideas or sensations.} [180]

Shall we say, then, that, by our senses,
we have the knowledge of our sensations
only ; and that they give us no notion of
anything but of our sensations ? Perhaps
this has been the doctrine of philosophers,
and not of Bishop Berkeley alone, otherwise
he would have supported it by arguments.
Mr Locke calls all the notions we have by
our senses, ideas of sensation ; and in tins
has been very generally followed. Hence
it seems a very natural inference, that ideas

* Here again we have a criticism which proceeds
on. the erroneous implication, that Locke meant by
sensation what Heid himself did. If for sensation
we substitute perception, (and by sensation Locke
denoted both sensation proper and perception proper,)
there remains nothing to censure ; for Reid main-
tains that " our senses give us adirect andadistinct
notion of the primary qualities, and inform us what
thty are in themselves " (infra, p. 237 ;) which is only
Locke's meaning in other words. The same observa-
tion applies to many of the following passages. — H.

t See the last note.— H.

t But, unless that be admitted, which the natural
conviction of mankind certifies, that we have an
immediate perception— a consciousness — of external
and extended existences, it makes no difference, in
regard to the conclusion of the Idealist, whether
■fc'liat we are conscious of in perception be supposed
an entity in the mind, (an idea in Reids meaning,)
or a modification of the mind, (a notion- or concep.
tion.) See above, p. 12S, notes *. — H.

of sensation are sensations. But philoso-
phers may err : let us hear the dictates of
common sense upon this point-
Suppose I am pricked with a pin, I ask,
Is the pain I feel, a sensation ? Undoubtedly
it is. There can be nothing that resembles
pain in any inanimate being. But I ask
again, Is the pin a sensation? To this
question I find myself under a necessity of
answering, that the pin is not a sensation,
nor can have the least resemblance to any
sensation. The pin has length and thick-
ness, and figure and weight. A sensation
can have none of those qualities. I am not
more certain that the pain I feel is a sensa-
tion, than that the pin is not a sensation ;
yet the pin is an object of sense ; and I am
as certain that I perceive its figure and
hardness by my senses, as that I feel pain
when pricked by it.*

Having said so much of the ideas of sense
in Berkeley's system, we are next to con-
sider the account he gives of the ideas of
imagination. Of these he says, Principles,
§ 28 — " I find I can excite ideas in my
mind at pleasure, and vary and shift the
scene as oft as I think fit. It is no more
than willing ; and straightway this or that idea
arises in my fancy ; and by the same power
it is obliterated, and makes way for another.
This making and unmaking of ideas, doth
very properly denominate the mind active.
Thus much is certain, and grounded on
experience. Our sensations," he says, " are
called real things ; the ideas of imagination
are more properly termed ideas, or images
of things ;"■(• that is, as I apprehend, they
are the images of our sensations. [181]
It might surely be expected that we should
be well acquainted with the ideas of imagin-
ation, as they are of our making ; yet, after
all the Bishop has said about them, I am
at a loss to know what they are.

I would observe, in the first place, with
regard to these ideas of imagination — that
they are not sensations ; for surely sensation
is the work of the senses, and not of imagin-
ation ; and, though pain be a sensation, the
thought of pain, when I am not pained, is
no sensation.

I observe, in the second place — that I can
find no distinction between ideas of imagin-
ation and notions, which the author says
are not ideas. I can easily distinguish be-

• This illustration is taken from Des Cartes. In
this paragraph, the term sensation is again not used
in <the. extension given to it by the philosophersin
question. — H.

t Berkeley's real words are — *' The ideas imprint-
ed ton the Senses by the Author of Nature are called
real things, and those excited in the Imagination
being less regular, vivid and constant, are more pro-
perly termed ideas -or. images of things, which they
copy and represent. But then our Sensations, bethey
never so vivid and. distinct, are nevertheless Weas—
that is, they exist in the mind, or are- perceived by
it, as truly as the ideas of its own framing.' 1 Sect,
xxxiii.— H.

T180, 181]



t ween a notion and a sensation. It is one
thing to say, I have the sensation of pain.
It is another thing to say, I have a notion of
pain. The last expression signifies no more
than that I understand what is meant by the
word pain. The first signifies that I really
feel pain. But I can find no distinction
between the notion of pain and the imagin-
ation of it, or indeed between the notion
of anything else, and the imagination of it.
I can, therefore, give no account of the
distinction which Berkeley makes between
ideas of imagination and notions, which, he
says, are not ideas. They seem to me per-
fectly to coincide.*

He seems, indeed, to say, that the ideas
of imagination differ not in kind from those
of the senses, but only in the degree of their
regularity, vivacity, and constancy. " They
are," says he, " less regular, vivid, and con-
stant." This doctrine was afterwards greed-
ily embraced by Mr Hume, and makes a
main pillar of his system ; but it cannot be
reconciled to common sense, to which Bishop
Berkeley professes a great regard. For,
according to this doctrine, if we compare the
state of a man racked with the gout, with
his state when, being at perfect ease, he
relates what he has suffered, the difference
of these two states is only this — that, in the
last,"the pain is less regular, vivid, and con-
stant, than in thefirst. [182] Wecannot
possibly assent to this. Every man knows
that he can relate the pain he suffered, not
only without pain, but with pleasure ; and
that to suffer pain, and to think of it, are
things which totally differ in kind, and not
in degree only.-)-

We see, therefore, upon the whole, that,
according to this system, of the most im-
portant objects of knowledge — that is, of

* Vet the distinction of ideas, strictly so called, and
notions, is one of the most common and important in
the philosophy of mind. • Nor do we owe it, as has been
asserted, to Berkeley. It was virtually taken by Des
Cartes and the Cartesians,. in their discrimination of
ideas of imagination and idea s.of intelligence; it was
in terms vindicated against Locke, by Serjeant, Stil-
lingfleet,,Norris, Z. Mayne, Bishop Brown, and
others ; Bonnet signalized it ; and, under the con-
trast of Anschauungen -and Begriffe, it has long been
an established and classical discrimination with the
philosophers of Germany. Nay, Reid himself sug-
gests it in the distinction he requires between ima.
ginaMon and conception, a 'distinction which he unfor-
tunately did not. carry out, and which Mr Stewart
still more unhappily again perverted. See below, p.
371. The terms noUomvai conception, (or more cor-
rectly- concept in thisSsense,) should- be reserved
totexpress what' we. comprehend but cannot picture
in imagination, such as. a relation, a general term,
&c. The vtord'idea, as' one prostituted to all mean,
ings, it were perhaps better altogether to discard.
As- for the representations of imagination or phan-
tasy, I would employ the terms image or phantasm, it
being distinctly understood that these terms are ap-
plied to denote the re-presentations, not ot our visible
perceptions merely, as the terms taken literally would
indicate, but ot our sensible perceptions in general. —

1 There is here a confusion between pain considered
as a feeling, and as the cognition qf a feeling, to
which the philosophers would object.— H.
[182, 183]

spirits, of their operations, and of the rela-
tions of things — we have no ideas at all ;*
we have notions of them, but not ideas ; the
ideas we have are those of sense, and those
of imagination. The first are the sensa-
tions we have by means of our senses, whose
existence no man can deny, because he is
conscious of them ; and whose nature hath
been explained by this author with great
accuracy. As to the ideas of imagination,
he hath left us much in the dark. He makes
them images of our sensations; though,
according to his own doctrine, nothing can
resemble a sensation but a sensation.-)- He
seems to think that they differ from sensa-
tions only in the degree of their regularity,
vivacity, and constancy. But this cannot
be reconciled to the experience of mankind;
-and, besides this mark, which cannot be
admitted, he hath given us no other mark
by which they may be distinguished from
notions. Nay, it may be observed, that the
very reason he gives why we can have no
ideas of the acts of the mind about its ideas,
nor of the relations of things, is applicable
to what he calls ideas of imagination.
Principles, § 142. " We may not, I think,
strictly be said to have an idea of an active
being, or of an action, although we may be
said to have a notion of them. I have some
knowledge or notion of my mind, and its
acts about ideas, in as much as I know or
understand what is meant by these words.
[I will not say that the terms Idea and
Notion may not be used convertibly, if the
world will have it so. But yet it conduces to
clearness and propriety that we distinguish
things very different by different names.]
It is also to be remarked, that all relations
including an act of the mind, we cannot so
properly be said to have an idea, but rather
a notion of the relations and habitudes be-
tween things." From this it follows, that our
imaginations are not properly ideas, but no-
tions, because theyinclude an act of the mind'.
[183] For he tells us, in a passage already
quoted, that they are creatures of the mind,
of its own framing, and that it makes and
unmakes them as it thinks fit, and from this
is properly denominated active. If it be a
good reason why we have not ideas, but
notions only of relations, because they in-
clude an act of the mind, the same reason
must lead us to conclude, that our imagina>
tions are notions and not ideas, since they
are made and unmade by the mind as it
thinks fit .- and, from this, it is properly de-
nominated active. %

* That is, no images of them in the phantasy. Reid
himself would not say that such could be imagined. —

f Berkeley does not say so in the meaning -sup-
posed. — H.

(.Imagination is an ambiguous word; it. means
either the act of imagining, or the product— i. e, the
image imagined. Of the former, Berkeley held, we
can form a notion, but not an -idea, in the sense ht

U 2




When so much has been written, and so
many disputes raised about ideas, it were
desirable that we knew what they are, and
to what category or class of beings they be-
long. In this we might expect satisfaction
in the writings of Bishop Berkeley, if any-
where, considering his known accuracy and
precision in the use of words ; and it is for
this reason that I have taken so much pains
to find out what he took them to be.

After all, if I understand what he calls the
ideas of sense, they are the sensations which
we have by means of our five senses ; but
they are, he says, less properly termed ideas.

I understand, likewise, what he calls
notions ; but they, says he, are very differ-
ent from ideas, though, in the modern way,
often called by that name.

The ideas of imagination remain, which
are most properly termed ideas, as he says ;
and, with regard to these, I am still very
much in the dark. When I imagine a lion
or an elephant, the lion or elephant is the
object imagined. The act of the mind, in
conceiving that object, is the notion, the
conception, or imagination of the object. If
besides the object, and the act of the mind
about it, there be something called the idea
of the object, I know not what it is.*

If we consult other authors who have
treated of ideas, we shall find as little satis-
faction with regard to the meaning of this
philosophical term. [184] The vulgar
have adopted it ; but they only mean by
it the notion or conception we have of any
object, especially our more abstract or gen-
eral notions. When it is thus put to sig-
nify the operation of the mind about objects,
whether in conceiving, remembering, or
perceiving, it is well understood. But phi-
losophers will have ideas to be the objects
of the mind's operations, and not the oper-
ations themselves. There is, indeed, great
variety of objects of thought. We can
think of minds, and of their operations ; of
bodies, and of their qualities and relations.
If ideas are not comprehended under any of
these classes, I am at a loss to comprehend
what they are.

In ancient philosophy, ideas were said to
be immaterial forms, which, according to
one system, existed from all eternity ; and,
according to another, are sent forth from
the objects whose form they are.-)- In mo-
dern philosophy, they are things in the
mind, which are the immediate objects of
all our thoughts, and which have no exist-
ence when we do not think of them. They
are called the images, the resemblances, the

uses the term ; whereas, of the latter, we can form
an idea by merely repeating the imaginatory act —


* On Keid's misconception on this point, see Note
B.— H.

t Nothing by the name of idea was sent off from
objects in the ancient philosophy. — H.

representatives of external objects of sense ;
yet they have neither colour, nor smell, nor
figure, nor motion, nor any sensible quality.
I revere the authority of philosophers, espe.
cially where they are so unanimous ; but
until I can comprehend what they mean by
ideas, I must think andspeak with the vulgar.

In sensation, properly so called, I can
distinguish two things— the mind, or sen-
tient being, and the sensation. Whether
the last is to be called a feeling or an oper-
ation, I dispute not ; but it has no object
distinct from the sensation itself. If in
sensation there be a third thing, called an
idea, I know not what it is.

In perception, in remembrance, and in
conception, or imagination, I distinguish
three things — the mind that operates, the
operation of the mind, and the object of that
operation.* [185] That the object per-
ceived is one thing, and the perception of
that object another, I am as certain as I
can be of anything. The same may be
said of conception, of remembrance, of love
and hatred, of desire and aversion. In all
these, the act of the mind about its object is
one thing, the object is another thing.
There must be an object, real or imaginary,
distinct from the operation of the mind
about it.-)- Now, if in these operations the
idea be a fourth thing different from the
three I have mentioned, I know not what it
is, nor have been able to learn from all that
has been written about ideas. And if the
doctrine of philosophers about ideas con-
founds any two of these things which I have
mentioned as distinct — if, for example, it
confounds the object perceived with the
perception of that object, and represents
them as one and the same thing— such doc-
trine is altogether repugnant to all that I am
able to discover of the operations of my own
mind ; and it is repugnant to the common
sense of mankind, expressed in the struc-
ture of all languages.



Two volumes of the "Treatise of Human
Nature" were published in 1739, and the
third in 1740. The doctrine contained in
this Treatise was published anew in a more
popular form in Mr Hume's "Philosophical
Essays," of which there have been various
editions. What other authors, from the

• See Note B.— H.

f If there bean imaginary object distinct from the
act of imagination, where does it exist P It cannot
be external to the mind — for, ex liypothesi, it is ima.
ginary ; and, if in the mind itself, distinct from the act
of imagination— why. what is this but the very crudest
doctrine of specks f For Reid'8 puzzle, see Note B.
— H,

["184, 185]



time of Des Cartes, had called ideas, this
author distinguishes into two kinds — to wit,
impressions aud ideas ; comprehending under
the first, all our sensations, passions, and
emotions ; and under the last, the faint
images of these, when we remember or
imagine them. [186]

He sets out with this, as a principle that
needed no proof, and of which therefore he
offers none— that all the perceptions of the
human mind resolve themselves into these
two kinds, impressions and ideas.

As this proposition is tho foundation upon
which the whole of Mr Hume's system
rests, and from which it is raised with great
acuteness indeed, and ingenuity, it were to
be wished that he had told us upon what
authority this fundamental proposition rests.
But we are left to guess, whether it is held
forth as a first principle, which has its
evidence in itself ; or whether it is to be
received upon the authority of philosophers.

Mr Locke had taught us, that all the
immediate objects of human knowledge are
ideas in the mind. Bishop Berkeley, pro-
ceeding upon this foundation, demonstrated,
very easily, that there is no material world.
And he thought that, for the purposes
both of philosophy and religion, we should
find no loss, but great benefit, in the want
of it. But the Bishop, as became his order,
was unwilling to give up the world of spirits.
He saw very well, that ideas are as unfit to
represent spirits as they are to represent
bodies. Perhaps he saw that, if we per-
ceive only the ideas of spirits, we shall find
the same difficulty in inferring their real
existence from the existence of their ideas, as
we find in inferring the existence of matter
from the idea of it ; and, therefore, while he
gives up the material world in favour of the
system of ideas, he gives up one-half of that
system in favour of the world of spirits ; and
maintains that we can, without ideas, think,
and speak, and reason, intelligibly about
spirits, and what belongs to them.

Mr Hume shews no such partiality in
favour of the world of spirits. He adopts
the theory of ideas in its full extent ; and,
in consequence, shews that there is neither
matter nor mind in the universe ; nothing
but impressions and ideas. "What we call
a body, is only a bundle of sensations ; and
what we call the mind is only a bundle of
thoughts, passions, and emotions, without
any subject. [187]

Some ages hence, it will perhaps be
looked upon as a curious anecdote, that
two philosophers of the eighteenth century,
of very distinguished rank, were led, by a
philosophical hypothesis, one, to disbelieve
the existence of matter, and the other, to
disbelieve the existence both of matter and
of mind. Such an anecdote may not be
uninstructive, if it prove a, warning to
[ 186-188]

philosophers to beware of hypotheses, espe-
cially when they lead to conclusions which
contradict the principles upon which all men
of common sense must act in common life.

The Egoists," whom we mentioned be-
fore, were left far behind by Mr Hume ;
for they believed their own existence, and
perhaps also the existence of a Deity. But
Mr Hume's system does not even leave him
a self to claim the property of his impres-
sions and ideas.

A system of consequences, however ab-
surd, acutely and justly drawn from a few
principles, in very abstract matters, is of
real utility in science, and may be made
subservient to real knowledge. This merit
Mr Hume's metaphysical writings have in
a great degree.

We had occasion before to observe, that,
since the time of Des Cartes, philosophers,
in treating of the powers of the mind, have,
in many instances, confounded things which
the common sense of mankind has always
led them to distinguish, and which have
different names in all languages. Thus, in
the perception of an external object, all
languages distinguish three things— the
mind that perceives, the operation of that
mind, which is called perception, and the
object perceived. + Nothing appears more
evident to a mind untutored by philosophy,
than that these three are distinct things,
which, though related, ought never to be
confounded. [188] The structure of all
languages supposes this distinction, and is
built upon it. Philosophers have intro-
duced a fourth thing in this process, which
they call the idea of the object, which is
supposed to be an image, or representative
of the object, and is said to be the imme-
diate object. The vulgar know nothing
about this idea ; it is a creature of philo-
sophy ,introduced to account for and explain
the manner of our perceiving external objects.

* In supplement to note § at p. 269, supra, in re-
gard to the pretended^sect of Egoists, there is to be
added the following notices, which I did not recol-
lect till after that note was set : —

Wolf, (Psychologia Rationalis, § 38,) after dividing
Idealists into Egoists and Pluralists, says,inter alia, of
the former : — " Fuit paucis abhinc annis assecla

Jjuidam Malebranchii, Parisiis, qui Egoismum pro-
essus est (quod mirum mihi videtur) asseclas et ipse
nactus est." In his Vernuenftigc Gedankmvon Gott,
&c, c. I , \1, he also mentions this alterseltsamste
Sects. There is also an oration by Christopher
Matthaeus Pfaff, the Chancellor of Tuebingen—
** De Egoismo, nova philosophica haeresi," in 1723—
which I have not seen. — '1 hus, what I formerly ha-
zarded, is still farther confinntd. All is vague and
contradictory hearsay in regard to the Egoists. The
French place them in Scotland ; the Scotch in Hoi-
land ; the Germans in France j and they are various! v
stated as the immediate disciples of Des Cartes,
Malebranche, Spinoza. There is certainly no reason
why an Egoistical Idealism should not have been
explicitly promulgated before Fichte, (whose doctrine,
however, is not the same ;) but I have, as yet, seen
no satisfactory grounds on which it can. be shewn
that this had actually been done.— H.
t See Notes B and C— H.



[essay II.

It ia pleasant to observe that, while philo-
sophers, for more than a century, have been
labouring, by means of ideas, to explain
perception and the other operations of the
mind, those ideas have by degrees usurped
the place of perception, object, and even of
the mind itself, and have supplanted those
very things they were brought to explain.
Des Cartes reduced all the operations of the
understanding to perception ; and what can
be more natural to those who believe that
they are only different modes of perceiving
ideas in our own minds ? Locke confounds
ideas sometimes with the perception of an
external object, sometimes with the external
object itself. In Berkeley's system, the idea

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 66 of 114)