Thomas Reid.

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

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is the only object, and yet is often con-
founded with the perception of it. But, in
Hume's, the idea or the impression, which
is only a more lively idea, is mind, percep-
tion, and object, all in one : so that, by the
term perception, in Mr Hume's system, we
must understand the mind itself, all its
operations, both of understanding and will,
and all the objects of these operations. Per-
ception taken in this sense he divides into
our more lively perceptions, which he calls
impressions* and the less lively, which he
calls ideas. To prevent repetition, I must
here refer the reader to some remarks made
upon this division, Essay I. chap. 1, in the
explication there given of the words, per-
ceive, object, impression, [pp. 222, 223, 226.]

Philosophers have differed very much
with regard to the origin of our ideas, or
the sources whence they are derived. The
Peripatetics held that all knowledge is de-
rived originally from the senses ;■(■ and this
ancient doctrine seems to be revived by
some late French philosophers, and by Dr
Hartley and Dr Priestley among the Brit-
ish. [189] Des Cartes maintained, that
many of our ideas are innate. Locke op-
posed the doctrine of innate ideas with
much zeal, and employs the whole first
book of his Essay against it. But he ad-
mits two different sources of ideas . the
operations of our external senses, which he
calls sensation, by which we get all our
ideas of body, and its attributes ; and re-
flection upon the operations of our minds, by
which we get the ideas of everything be-

• Mr Stewart (Etem. III. Addenda to vol L p.
43) seems to think that the word impression was
first introduced as a technical .term, into the philo-
sophy of mind, by Hume. This is not altogether
correct. For, besides the instances which Mr Stewart
himself adduces, of the illustration attempted, of the
phenomena of memory from the analogy of an im-
press and a ttace, words corresponding to impression
were among the ancients familiarly applied to the pro-
cesses of external perception, imagination, &c.,in the
Atomistic, the Platonic, the Aristotelian, and the
Stoical philosophies ; while, among modern psycholo-
gists, (as Di s Cartes and Gassendi,; the term was like-
wise in common use.— H.

t This is an Incorrect, at least a too unqualified,
statement. — H.

longing to the mind. The main design of
the second book of Locke's " Essay," is to
shew, that all our simple ideas, without
exception, are derived from the one or the
other, or both of these sources. In doing
this, the author b led into some paradoxes,
although, in general, he is not fond of para-
doxes : And had he foreseen all the con-
sequences that may be drawn from his ac-
count of the origin of our ideas, he would
probably have examined it more carefully."

Mr Hume adopts Locke's account of the
origin of our ideas ; and from that principle
infers, that we have no idea of substance,
corporeal or spiritual, no idea of power, no
other idea of a cause, but that it is something
antecedent, and constantly conjoined to that
which we call its effect ; and, in a word,
that we can have no idea of anything but
our sensations, and the operations of mind
we are conscious of.

This author leaves no power to the mind
in framing its ideas and impressions ; and,
no wonder, since he holds that we have no
idea of power ; and the mind is nothing bnt
that succession of impressions and ideas of
which we are intimately conscious.

He thinks, therefore, that our impressions
arise from unknown causes, and that the
impressions are the causes of their corre-
sponding ideas. By this he means no mora
but that they always go before the ideas ;
for this is all that is necessary to constitute
the relation of cause and effect. [190]

As to the order and succession of our
ideas, he holds it to be determined by three
laws of attraction or association, which he
takes to be original properties of the ideas,
by which they attract, as it were, or asso-
ciate themselves with other ideas which
either resemble them, or which have been
contiguous to them in time and place, or to
which they have the relations of cause and

We may here observe, by the way, that
the last of these three laws seems to be in-
cluded in the second, since causation, ac-
cording to him, implies no more than con.
tiguity in time and place. -(■

» At any rate, according to Locke, all our know-
ledge is a derivation from experience. — H.

t Mr Hume says—" I do not find that any philo-
sopher has attempted to enumerate or class all the
principles of Association ; a subject, however, that
seems to me very worthy of curiosity. To me there
appears to be only three principles of connection
among ideas : Resemblance — Contiguity in time or
place— Cause and Effect,*' — Essays, vol. ii., p. 24—
Aristotle, and, after him, many other philosophers,
had, however, done this, and with even greater success
than Hume himself. Aristotle's reduction is to the
four following heads . — Proximity in time — Conti.
guity in place — Resemblance — Contrast. This is
more correct than Hume's ; for Hume's second head
ought to be divided into two ; while our connecting
any particular events in the relation of cause and
effect, is itself the result of their observed proximity
in time and contiguity in place ; nay, to custom and
this empirical connection (as observed by Keid) does

[189, 190'J


It is not my design at present to shew
how Mr Hume, upon the principles he has
borrowed from Locke and Berkeley, has,
with great acuteness, reared a system of
absolute scepticism, which leaves no rational
ground to believe any one proposition,
rather than its contrary : my intention in
this place being only to give a detail of the
sentiments of philosophers concerning ideas
since they became an object of speculation,
and concerning the manner of our perceiv-
ing external objects by their means.



In this sketch of the opinions of philoso-
phers concerning ideas, we must not omit
Anthony Arnauld, doctor of the Sorbonne,
who, in the year 1683, published his book
" Of True and False Ideas," in opposition
to the system of Malebranche before men-
tioned. It is only about ten years since I
could find this book, and I believe it is
rare." [191]

Though Arnauld wrote before Locke,
Berkeley, and Hume, I have reserved to
the last place some account of his senti-
ments, because it seems difficult to deter-
mine whether he adopted the common theory
of ideas, or whether he is singular in reject-
ing it altogether as a fiction of philoso-
* The controversy between Malebranche
and Arnauld necessarily led them to con-
sider what kind of things ideas are — a point
upon which other philosophers had very
generally been silent. Both of them pro-
fessed the doctrine universally received:
that we perceive not material things imme-
diately — that it is their ideas that are the
immediate objects of our thought — and that
it is in the idea of everything that we per-
ceive its properties.

It is necessary to premise that both
these authors use the word perception, as
Des Cartes had done before them, to sig-
nify every operation of the understand-
ing.-f- " To think, to know, to perceive, are
the same thing," says Mr Arnauld, chap,
v. def. 2. It is likewise to be observed,
that the various operations of the mind are
by both called modifications of the mind.
Perhaps they were led into this phrase by
the Cartesian doctrine, that the essence of
the mind consists in thinking, as that of
body consists in extension. I apprehend,

Hume himself endeavour to reduce the principle of
Causality altogether.— H. See NotesD**andD**«.

* The treatises of Arnauld in his controversy with
Malebranche, are to be found in the ihirly.eiohth
volume of his collected works in 4to. — H.

t Every apprehensive, or strictly cognitive opera,
tion of the understanding.— H.


therefore, that, when they make sensation,
perception, memory, and imagination, to
be various modifications of the mind, they
mean no more but that these are things
which can only exist in the mind as their
subject. We express the same thing, by
calling them various modes of thinking, or
various operations of the mind.*

The things which the mind perceives,
says Malebranche, are of two kinds. They
are either in the mind itself, or they are
external to it. The things in the mind,
are all its different modifications, its sensa-
tions, its imaginations, its pure intellec-
tions, its passions and affections. These
are immediately perceived ; we are con-
scious of them, and have no need of ideas
to represent them to us. [192]

Things external to the mind, are either
corporeal or spiritual. With regard to the
last, he thinks it possible that, in another
state, spirits may be an immediate object
of our understandings, and so be perceived
without ideas ; that there may be such an
union of spirits as that they may imme-
diately perceive each other, and communi-
cate their thoughts mutually, without signs
and without ideas.

But, leaving this as a problematical point,
he holds it to be undeniable, that material
things cannot be perceived immediately,
but only by the mediation of ideas. He
thought it likewise undeniable, that the idea
must be immediately present to the mind,
that it must touch the soul as it were, and
modify its perception of the object.

From these principles we must neces-
sarily conclude, either that the idea is
some modification of the human mind, or
that it must be an idea in the Divine
Mind, which is always intimately present
with our minds. The matter being brought
to this alternative, Malebranche considers
first all the possible ways such a modifica-
tion may be produced in our mind as that
we call an idea of a material object, taking
it for granted always, that it must be an
object perceived, and something different
from the act of the mind in perceiving it.
He finds insuperable objections against
every hypothesis of such ideas being pro-
duced in our minds; and therefore- con-
cludes, that the immediate objects of per-
ception are the ideas of the Divine Mind.

Against this system Arnauld wrote his
book " Of True and False Ideas." He
does not object to the alternative men-
tioned by Malebranche ; but he maintains,
that ideas are modifications of our minds.
And, finding no other modification of the

* Modes, or modifications ofmind,m the Cartesian
school, mean merely what some recent philosopher*
express by states of mind and include .both the
arrive and passive phenomena of the conscious suit,
ject. The terms were used by Des Cartes aa well as
by his disciples.— H.



£essay ti.

human mind which can be called the idea
of an external object, he says it is only
another word for perception. Chap, v., def.
3. [193] "I take the idea of an object,
and the perception of an object, to be the
same thing. I do not say whether there
may be other things to which the name of
idea may be given. But it is certain that
there are ideas taken in this sense, and that
these ideas are either attributes or modifi-
cations of our minds."*

This, I think, indeed, was to attack the
system of Malebranche upon its weak side,
and where, at the same time, an attack was
least expected. Philosophers had been so
unanimous in maintaining that we do not
perceive external objects immediately,-)-
but by certain representative images of
them called ideas,% that Malebranche
might well think his system secure upon
that quarter, and that the- only question to
be determined was, in what subject those
ideas are placed, whether in the human or
in the divine mind ?

But, says Mr Arnauld, those ideas are
mere chimeras — fictions of philosophers ;
there are no such beings in nature ; and,
therefore, it is to no purpose to inquire
whether they are in the divine or in the hu-
man mind. The only true and real ideas
are our perceptions, which § are acknow-
ledged by all philosophers, and by Male-
branche himself, to be acts or modifications
of our own minds. He does not say that
the fictitious ideas were a fiction of Male-
branche. He acknowledges that they had
been very generally maintained by the
scholastic philosophers, || and points out,
very judiciously, the prejudices that had
led them into the belief of such ideas.

Of all the powers of our mind, the

> Arnauld did not allow that perceptions and
ideas are really or numerically distinguished — i.e., as
one thing from another thing ; not even that they
are modally distinguished — i. e. t as a thing from Its
mode. lie maintained that they azereally identical,
and only rationally discriminated as viewed in dif-
ferent relations ; the indivisible mental modification
being called a 'perception, by reference to the mind or
thinking subject— an idea, by reference to the mediate
object or thing thought. Arnauld everywhere avows
that he denies ideas only as existences distinct from
the act itself of perception.— See Oeuvres, t. xxxviii.
pp. 187, 198, 199, 389.— H.

f Arnauld does not assert against Malebranche,
" thaVwe perceive external objects immediately" — that
is, in themselves, and as existing. He was too accu-
rate for this. By an immediate cognition, Reid
means merely the negation of the intermediation of
any third thing between the reality perceived and
the percipient mind H.

t Idea was not the word by which representative
images, distinct from the percipient act, had been
commonly called j nor were philosophers at all unani-
mous in the admission of such vicarious objects.—
See Notes G, L, M, N, O, &c.— H.

$ That is, Perceptions, (the cognitive acts,> but not
Ideas, (the immediate objects of thoieacts.) "The latter
were not acknowledged by Malebranche and all phi-
losophers to be mere acts or modifications of our own
minds H.

|| But by a diueront name H.

external senses are thought to be the
best understood, and their objects are the
most familiar. Hence we measure other
powers by them, and transfer to other
powers the language which properly be-
longs to them. The objects of sense must
be present to the sense, or within its
sphere, in order to their being perceived.
Hence, by analogy, we are led to say of
everything when we think of it, that it is
present to the mind, or in the mind. [194]
But this presence is metaphorical, or ana-
logical only ; and Arnauld calls it objec-
tive presence, to distinguish it from that -
local presence which is required in objects
that are perceived by sense. But both
being called by the same name, they are-
confounded together, and those things that
belong only to real or local presence, are
attributed to the metaphorical.

We are likewise accustomed to see objects
by their images in a mirror, or in water ;
and hence are led, by analogy,' to think that
objects may be presented to the memory or
imagination in some similar manner, by
images, whidfphilosopher have called ideas.

By such prejudices and analogies, Arnauld
conceives, men have been led to believe that
the objects of memory and imagination
must be presented to the mind by images
or ideas ; and the philosophers have been
more carried away by these prejudices than
even the vulgar, because the use made of
this theory was to explain and account for
the various operations of the mind — a matter
in which the vulgar take no concern.

He thinks, however, that Des Cartes had
got the better of these prejudices, and that
he uses the word idea as signifying the same
thing with perception, • and is, therefore,
surprised that a disciple of Des Cartes, and
one who was so great an admirer of him as
Malebranche was, should be carried away
by them. It is strange, indeed, that the
two most eminent disciples of Des Cartes
and his contemporaries should differ so
essentially with regard to his doctrine con-
cerning ideas. -f-

I shall not attempt to give the reader an
account of the continuation of this contro-
versy between those two acute philosophers,
in the subsequent defences and replies ; be-
cause I have not access to see them. After
much reasoning, and some animosity, each

• 1 am convinced that in this interpretation of Des
Cartes' doctrine, Arnauld is right ; for Des Cartes
defines mental ideas — those, to wit, of which- we are
conscious— to be " CogUaliones prout sunt tanquam
imagines— that is, thoughts considered in their repre-
sentative capacity j nor is there any passage to be found
in the writings at thiB philosopher, which, if properly
understood, warrants the conclusion, that, by ideas in
Vie mind, he meant aught distinct from the cognitive
act. The double use of the term idea by Des Cartel
has, however, led Reid and others into a miscon-
ception on this point. See Note N.— H.

t Reid's own doctrine is far more ambiguous.— H.

£193, 194]


continued in his own opinion, and left his
antagonist where he found him. [195]
Malebranche's opinion of out seeing all
things in God, soon died away of itself ; and
Arnauld's notion of ideas seems to have
been less regarded than it deserved, by the
philosophers that came after him ;* per-
haps for this reason, among others, that it
seemed to be, in some sort, given up by
himself, in his attempting to reconcile it to
the common doctrine concerning ideas.

From the account I have given, one
would be apt to conclude that Arnauld
totally denied the existence of ideas, in the
philosophical sense of that word, and that
he adopted the notion of the vulgar, who
acknowledge no object of perception but the
external object. But he seems very un-
willing to deviate so far from the common
track, and, what he had given up with one
hand, he takes back with the other.

For, first, Having defined ideas to be the
same thing with perceptions, he adds this
qualification to his definition : — " I do not
here consider whether there are other things
that may be called ideas ; but it is certain
there are ideas taken in this sense. ■(- I
believe, indeed, there is no philosopher who
does not, on some occasions, use the word
idea in this popular sense.

* The opinion of Arnauld in regard to the nature
of ideas wag by no means' overlooked by subsequent
philosophers. It is found fully detailed in -almost
every systematic course or compend of philosophy,
which appeared for a long time after its first promul.
gation, and in many. of these it is the doctrine. re-
commended as the true. Arnauld's was indeed the
opinion which latterly 'prevailed in the Cartesian
school. From this it passed into other schools. Leib-
nitz, like Arnauld, regarded Ideas, Notions, Repre-
sentations, as mere modifications of the mind, (what
by his disciples, were called material ideas, like the
cerebral ideas of Des Cartes, are out of the question,)
and no cruder opinion than this has ever subse-
quently found a footing in any of the German

" I don't know," says Mr Stewart, " of any author
who, prior to Dr Reid, has expressed himself on this
subject with so much justness and precision as Father
Burner, in the following passage of his Treatise on
■ First Truths :'—

" ' If we confine ourselves to what is intelligible in
our observations on ideas, we will say, they are no-
thing* but mere modifications of the mind as a think-
ing being. They are called ideas with regard to the
object represented ; and perceptions with regard to
the faculty representing. It is manifest that our
ideas, considered in this sense, are not more distin-
guished than motion is from a body moved.' — (P.
311 jEnalish Translation.)" — t'lem. iii. Add. to vol. i.
p. 10.

In this passage. Burlier only repeats the doctrine of
Arnauld, in Arnauld's own words.

Dr Thomas Brown, on the other hand, has en-
deavoured to shew that this doctrine, (which he
identifies with Reid's,) had been long the catholic
opinion ; and that Reid, in his attack on the Ideal
system, only refuted what had been already almost
universally exploded. In this attempt he is, how-
ever, singularly unfortunate ; for, with the excep-
tion of Crousaz, all the examples he* adduces to
evince the prevalence of Arnauld's doctrine are only
so many mistakes, so many instances, in fact, which
might be alleged in confirmation of the very opposite
conclusion. See Edinburgh Review, vol. Hi., p. 181-

f See following note. — H. "

[195. 19ci]

Secondly, He supports this popular senso
of the word by the authority of Des Cartes,
who, in his demonstration of the existence
of God, from the idea of him in our minds,
defines an idea thus : — " By the word idea,
I understand that form of any thought, by
the immediate perception of which I am
conscious of that thought ; so that I can ex-
press nothing by words, with understanding,
without being certain that there is in my mind
the idea of that which is expressed by the
words." Thie definition seems, indeed, to
be of the same import with that which is
given by Arnauld. But Des Cartes adds
a qualification to it, which Arnauld, in
quoting it, omits ; and which shews that
Des Cartes meant to limit his definition to
the idea then treated of — that is, to the idea
of the Deity ; and that there are other ideas
to which this definition does not apply. [ 1 96 ]
For he adds: — " And thus I give the name
of idea, not solely to the images painted in
the phantasy ; nay, in this place, I do not
at all give the name of ideas to those
images, in so far as they are painted in the
corporeal phantasy that is in some part of
the brain, but only in so far as they inform
the mind, turning its attention to that part
of the brain."*

Thirdly, Arnauld has employed the whole
of his sixth chapter, to shew that these ways
of speaking, common among philosophers —
to wit, that we perceive not things imme-
diately ; that it is their ideas that are the
immediate objects of our thoughts; that it is
in the idea of everything that'we perceive its
properties — are not to be rejected, but are
true when rightly understood. He labours
to reconcile these expressions to his own
definition of ideas, by observing, that every
perception and every thought is necessarily
conscious of itself, and reflects upon itself ;
and that, by this consciousness and reflec-
tion, it is its own immediate object. Whence
he infers, that the idea — that is, the percep-
tion — is the immediate object of perception.

This looks like a weak attempt to recon-
cile two inconsistent doctrines by one who
wishes to hold both.-)- It is true, that con-
sciousness always goes along with percep-
tion; but they are different operations of
the mind, and they have their different
objects. Consciousness is not perception,
nor is the object of consciousness the object
of perception.^ The same may be said of

* Des Cartes here refers to the other meaning which
he gives to the term idea — that is, to denote the
material motion, the organic affeqtion of the main,
of which the mind is not conscious. On Reid's mis.
apprehension of the Cartesian doctrine touching this
matter, see Note N. — H.

f Arnauld's attempt is neither weak nor inconsist-
ent. He had, in. fact, a clearer view of the condi-
tions of the problem than Reid himself, who has, in
fact, confounded two opposite doctrines. See Note C.
— H.

t On Reid's error in reducing consciousness to a
special faculty, see Note H.— H.




every operation of mind that has an object.
Thus, injury is the object of resentment.
When I resent an injury, I am conscious
of my resentment — that is, my resentment
is the immediate and the only object of my
consciousness ; but it would be absurd to
infer from this, that my resentment is the
immediate object of my resentment. [197]
Upon the whole, if Arnauld— in conse-
quence of his doctrine, that ideas, taken
for representative images of external ob-
jects, are a mere fiction of the philosophers
— had rejected boldly the doctrine of Des
Cartes, as well as of the other philosophers,
concerning those fictitious beings, and all
the ways of speaking that imply their ex-
istence, I should have thought him more
consistent with himself, and his doctrine
concerning ideas more rational and more
intelligible than that of any other author of
my acquaintance who has treated of the

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 67 of 114)