Thomas Reid.

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

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of body arc no qualities of body at all, but
sensations of the mind : That the primary
qualities of body are resemblances of our
sensations : That we have no notion of dur-
ation, but from the succession of ideas in
our minds : That personal identity consists
in consciousness ; so that the same indivi-
dual thinking being may make two or three
different persons, and several different think-
ing beings make one person : That judg-
ment is nothing but a perception or the
agreement or disagreement of our ideas.
Most of these paradoxes I shall have oc-
casion to examine.

However, all these consequences of the
doctrine of ideas were tolerable, compared
with those which came afterwards to be dis-
covered by Berkeley and Hume : — That
there is no material world : No abstract
ideas or notions : That the mind is only a
train of related impressions and ideas, with-
out any subject on which they may be im-
pressed ; That there is neither space nor
time, body nor mind, but impressions and
ideas only : And, to sum up all, That there
is no probability, even in demonstration it-
self, nor any one proposition more probable
than its contrary.

These are the noble fruits which have
grown upon this theory of ideas, since it
began to be cultivated by skilful hands. It
is no wonder that sensible men should be
disgusted at philosophy, when such wild
and shocking paradoxes pass under its name.
However, as these paradoxes have, with
great acuteness and ingenuity, been deduced
by just reasoning from the theory of ideas,
they must at last bring this advantage, that
positions so shocking to the common sense
of mankind, and so contrary to the decisions
of all our intellectual powers, will open men's
eyes, and break the force of the prejudice
which hath held them entangled in that
theory. [218]



There is yet another system concerning

perception, of which I shall give some ac




count, because of the fame of its author. It
is the invention of the famous German phi-
losopher Leibnitz, who, while he lived, held
the .first rank among the Germans in all
parts of philosophy, as well as in mathe-
matics, in jurisprudence, in the knowledge
of antiquities, and in every branch both of
science and of literature. He was highly
respected by emperors, and by many kings
and princes, who bestowed upon him singu-
lar marks of their esteem. He was a par-
ticular favourite of our Queen Caroline,
consort of George II., with whom he con-
tinued his correspondence by letters, after
she came to the crown of Britain, till his

The famous controversy between him and
the British mathematicians, whether he or
Sir Isaac Newton was the inventor of that
noble improvement in mathematics, called
by Newton, the method of fluxions, and by
Leibnitz the differential method, engaged
the attention of the mathematicians in
Europe for several years. He had likewise
a controversy with the learned and judicious
Dr Samuel Clarke, about several points of
the Newtonian philosophy which he dis-
approved. The papers which gave occasion
to this controversy, with all the replies and
rejoinders, had the honour to be transmitted
from the one party to the other, through
the hands of Queen Caroline, and were
afterwards published.

His authority, in all matters of philoso-
phy, is still so great in most parts of Ger-
many, that they are considered as bold
spirits, and a kind of heretics, who dissent
from him in anything. [219] Carolus"
Wolfius, the most voluminous writer in
philosophy of this age, is considered as the
great interpreter and advocate of the Leib-
nitzian system, and reveres as an oracle
whatever has dropped from the pen of
Leibnitz. This author proposed two great
works upon the mind. The first, which I
have seen, he published with the title of
" Psychologia Empirica, seu Experiment-
alis."-f The other was to have the title of
" Psychologia Rationalis ;" and to it he
refers for his explication of the theory of
Leibnitz with regard to the mind. But
whether it was published I have not learn-
ed. +

I must, therefore, take the short account
I am to give of this system from the writ-
ings of Leibnitz himself, without the light
which his interpreter Wolfius may have
thrown upon it. <

Leibnitz conceived the whole universe,

•■ His name was Christian H.

+ This title is incorrect. It is "Psychologia Em-
pirica methodo scientifica perlractata," &c. The
work appeared in 1732.— H.

X It was'pbblished-in 1734. Such careless ignorance
of the most distinguished works on the subject of an
author's speculations, is peculiarly British. — H.
r 219, 290]

bodies as well as minds, to be made up
of monads— that is, simple substances, each
of which is, by the Creator, in the begin-
ning of its existence, endowed with certain
active and perceptive powers. A monad,
therefore', is an active substance, simple,
without parts or figure, which has within
itself the power to produce all the changes
it undergoes from the beginning of its ex-
istence to eternity. The changes which
the monad undergoes, of what kind soever,
though they may seem to us the effect of
causes operating from without, yet they
are only the gradual and successive evolu-
tions of its own internal powers, which
would have produced all the same changes
and motions, although there had been no
other being in the universe.

Every human soul is a monad joined to
an organized body, which organized body
consists of an infinite number of monads,
each having some degree of active and of
perceptive power in itself. But the whole
machine of the body has a relation to that
monad which we call the soul, which is, as
it were, the centre of the whole. [220]

As the universe is completely filled with
monads, without any chasm or void, and
thereby every body acts upon every other
body, according to its vicinity or distance,
and is mutually reacted upon by every other
body, it follows, says Leibnitz, that every
monad is a kind of living mirror, which re-
flects the whole universe, according to its
point of view, and represents the whole
more or less distinctly.

I cannot undertake to reconcile this part
of the system with what was before men-
tioned — to wit, that every change in a
monad is the evolution of its own original
powers, and would have happened though
no other substance had been created. But,
to proceed.

There are different orders of monads,
some higher and others lower. The higher
orders he calls dominant ; such is the hu-
man soul. The monads that compose the
organized bodies of men, animals, and plants,
are of a lower order, and subservient to the
dominant monads. But every monad, of
whatever order, is a complete substance in
itself — indivisible, having no parts ; inde-
structible, because, having no parts, it can-
not perish by any kind of decomposition ;
it can only perish by annihilation, and we
have no reason to believe that God will ever
annihilate any of the beings which he has

The monads of a lower order may, by a
regular evolution of their powers, rise to a
higher order. They may successively be
joined to organized bodies, of various forms
and different degrees of perception ; but
they never die, nor cease to be in some de»
guee active and percipient.


30 H



This philosopher makes a distinction be-
tween perception and what he calls apper-
ception. The first is common to all monads,
the last proper to the higher orders, among
which are human souls. [221]

By apperception he understands that de-
gree of perception which reflects, as it were,
upon itself; by which we are conscious of
our own existence, and conscious of our
perceptions ; by which we can reflect upon
the operations of our own minds, and can
comprehend abstract truths. The inind, in
many operations, he thinks, particularly in
sleep, and in many actions common to us
with the brutes, has not this apperception,
although it is still filled with a multitude of
obscure and indistinct perceptions, of which
we are not conscious.

He conceives that our bodies and minds
are united in such a manner that neither
has any physical influence upon the other.
Each performs all its operations by its own
internal springs and powers ; yet the oper-
ations of one correspond exactly with those
of the other, by a pre-established harmony ;
just as one clock may be so adjusted as to
keep time with another, although each has
its own moving power, and neither receives
any part of its motion from the other.

So that, according to this system, all our
perceptions of external objects would be the
same, though external things had never
existed ; our perception of them would con-
tinue, although, by the power of God, they
should this moment be annihilated. "We
do not perceive external things because they
exist, but because the soul was originally so
constituted as to produce in itself all its
successive changes, and all its successive
perceptions, independently of the external

Every perception or apperception, every
operation, in a word, of the soul, is a neces-
sary consequence of the state of it imme-
diately preceding that operation ; and this
state is the necessary consequence of the
state preceding it ; and so backwards, until
you come to its first formation and consti-
tution, which produces, successively and
by necessary consequence, all its succes-
sive states to the end of its existence ;
[222] so that, in this respect, the soul, and
every monad, may be compared to a watch
wound up, which, having the spring of its
motion in itself, by the gradual evolution of
its own spring, produces all the successive
motions wo observe in it.

In this account of Leibnitz's system con-
cerning monads and the pre-established
harmony, I have kept, as nearly as I could,
to his own expressions, in his " New System
of the Nature and Communication- of Sub-
stances, and of the Union of Soul and
Body ;" and in the several illustrations of
that new system which he afterwards pub-

lished ; and in his " Principles of Nature
and Grace founded in Reason." I shall
now make a few remarks upon this system.

1. To pass over the irresistible necessity
of all human actions, which makes a part of
this system, that will be considered in an-
other place, I observe, first, that the dis-
tinction made between perception and ap-
perception is obscure and unphilosophical-
As far as we can discover, every operation
of our mind is attended with consciousness,
and particularly that which we call the per.
ception of external objects ; and to speak of
a perception of which we are not conscious,
is to speak without any meaning.

As consciousness is the only power by
which we discern the operations of our own
minds, or can form any notion of them, an
operation of mind of which we are not con-
scious, is, we know not what ; and to call
such an operation by the name of perception,
is an abuse of language. No man can per-
ceive an object without being conscious that
he perceives it. No man can think without
being conscious that he thinks. What men
are not conscious of, cannot therefore, with-
out impropriety, be called either perception
or thought of any kind. And, if we will
suppose operations of mind of which we are
not conscious, and give a name to such
creatures of our imagination, that name
must signify what we know nothing about.*

2. To suppose bodies organized or un-
organized, to be made up of indivisible
monads which have no parts, is contrary to
all that we know of body. It is essential
to a body to have parts ; and every part of
a body is a body, and has parts also. No
number of parts, without extension or figure,
not even an infinite number, if we may use
that expression, can, by being put together,
make a whole that has extension and figure,
which all bodies have.

3. It is contrary to all that we know of
bodies, to ascribe to the monads, of which
they are supposed to be compounded, per-
ception and active force. If a philosopher
thinks proper to say, that a clod of earth
both perceives and has active force, let him
bring his proofs. But he ought not to
expect that men who have understanding
will so far give it up as to receive without
proof whatever his imagination may sug-

4. This system overturns all authority of
our senses, and leaves not the least ground
to believe the existence of the objects of

• The .language in which Leibnitz expresses his
doctrine of latent modifications of mind, which,
though out of consciousness, manifest their existen-e
in their effects, is objectionable; the doctrine itself is
not only true but of the very highest importance in
psychology, although it has neveryet been apprrci.
atednr even,understood by any writer on philosophy
in this isl.ind.— H.




sense, or the existence of anything which
depends upon the authority of our senses ;
for our perception of objects, according to
this system, has no dependence upon any-
thing external, and would be the same as it
is, supposing external objects had never
existed, or that they were from this moment

It is remarkable that Leibnitz's system,
that of Malebranche, and the common sys-
tem of ideas or images of external objects
in the mind, do all agree in overturning all
the authority of our senses ; and this one
thing, as long as men retain their senses,
will always make all these systems truly

5. The last observation I shall make
upon this system, which, indeed, is equally
applicable to all the systems of Perception
I have mentioned, is, that it is all hypo-
thesis, made up of conjectures and suppo-
sitions, without proof. The Peripatetics
supposed sensible species to be sent forth
by the objects of sense. The moderns sup-
pose ideas in the brain or in the mind. [224]
Malebranche supposed that we perceive
the ideas of the Divine mind. Leibnitz
supposed monads and a pre-established har-
mony; and these monads being creatures
of his own making, he is at liberty to give
them what properties and powers his fancy
may suggest. In like manner, the Indian
philosopher supposed that the earth is sup-
ported by a huge elephant, and that the
elephant stands on the back of a huge tor-

Such suppositions, while there is no proof
of them offered, are nothing but the fictions
of human fancy ; and we ought no more
to believe them, than we believe Homer's
fictions of Apollo's silver bow, or Minerva's
shield, or Venus's girdle. Such fictions in
poetry are agreeable to the rules of art :
they are intended to please, not to convince.
But the philosophers would have us to
believe their fictions, though the account
they give of the phenomena of nature has
commonly no more probability than the
account that Homer gives of the plague in
the Grecian camp, from Apollo taking his
station on a neighbouring mountain, and
from his silver bow letting fly his swift
arrows into the camp.

Men then only begin to have a true taste
in philosophy, when they have learned to
hold hypotheses in just contempt ; and to
consider them as the reveries of speculative
men, which will never have any similitude
to the works of God.

* It is a disputed point whether Leibnitz were
serious in his monadology and pre established har-
mony.— H.


The Supreme Being has given us some
intelligence of his works, by what our senses
inform us of external things, and by what
our consciousness and reflection inform us
concerning the operations of our own minds.
Whatever can he inferred from these com-
mon informations, by just and sound reason-
ing, is true and legitimate philosophy : but
what we add to this from conjecture is all
spurious and illegitimate. [225]

After this long account of the theories
advanced by philosophers, to account for
our perception of external objects, I hope
it will appear, that neither Aristotle's theory
of sensible species, nor Malebranche's of
our seeing things in God, nor the common
theory of our perceiving ideas in our own
minds, nor Leibnitz's theory of monads
and a pre-established harmony, give any
satisfying account of this power of the mind,
or make it more intelligible than it is
without their aid. They are conjectures,
and, if they were true, would solve no diffi-
culty, but raise many new ones. It is,
therefore, more agreeable to good sense
and to sound philosophy, to rest satisfied
with what our consciousness and attentive
reflection discover to us. of the nature ol
perception, than, by inventing hypotheses,
to attempt to explain things which are
above the reach of human understanding.
I believe no man is able to explain how we
perceive external objects, any more than
how we are conscious of those that are
internal. Perception, consciousness, me-
mory, and imagination, are all original and
simple powers of the mind, and parts of its
constitution. For this reason, though I
have endeavoured to shew that the theories
of philosophers on this subject are iil
grounded and insufficient, I do not attempt
to substitute any other theory in their

Every man feels that perception gives
him an invincible belief of the existence of
that which he perceives; and that this
belief is not the effect of reasoning, but
the immediate consequence of perception.*
When philosophers have wearied them-
selves and their readers with their specula-
tions upon this subject, they can neither
strengthen this belief, nor weaken it ; nor
can they shew how it is produced.. It puts
the philosopher and the peasant upon a
level ; and neither of them can give any
other reason for believing his senses, than
that he finds it impossible for him to do
otherwise. [226]

* In an immediate perception of external thingg,
the belief of their existence wouid not be a conse-
quence of the perception, bul be involved in the per-
cer/'ion itself.— H.



[essay II



Having finished what I intend, with
regard to that act of mind which we call
the perception of an external object, I
proceed to consider another, which, by our
constitution, is conjoined with perception,
and not with perception only, but with
many other acts of our minds ; and that is
sensation- To prevent repetition, I must
refer the reader to the explication of this
word given in Essay I,, chap. i.

Almost all our perceptions have corre-
sponding sensations which constantly ac-
company them, and, on that account, are
very apt to be confounded with them.
Neither ought we to expect that the sens-
ation, and its corresponding perception,
should be distinguished in common lan-
guage, because the purposes of common
life do not require it. Language is made
to serve the purposes of ordinary conversa-
tion ; and we have no reason to expect that
it should make distinctions that are not of
common use. Hence it happens, that a
quality perceived, and the sensation cor-
responding to that perception, often go under
the same name.

This makes the names of most of our
sensations ambiguous, and this ambiguity
hath very much perplexed philosophers. It
will be necessary to give some instances, to
illustrate the distinction between our sens-
ations and the objects of perception.

When I smell a rose, there is in this
operation both sensation and perception.
The agreeable odour I feel, considered by
itself, without relation to any external ob-
ject, is merely a sensation. [227] It affects
the mind in a certain way ; and this affection
of the mind may be conceived, without a
thought of the rose, or any other object.
This sensation can be nothing else than it
is felt to be. Its very essence consists in
being felt ; and, when it is not felt, it is not.
There is no difference between the sensa-
tion and the feeling of it — they are one and
the same thing. It is for this reason that
we before observed that, in sensation, there
is no object distinct from that act of the
mind by which it is felt — and this holds
true with regard to all sensations.

Let us next attend to the perception
which we have in smelling arose. Percep-
tion has always an external object ; and the
object of my perception, in this case, is that
quality in the rose which I discern by the
sense of smell. Observing that the agree-
able sensation is raised when the rose is
near, and ceases when it is removed, I am
led, by my nature, to conclude some quality
to be in the rose, which is the cause of this

sensation. This quality in the rose is the
object perceived ; and that act of my mind
by which I have the conviction and belief
of this quality, is what in this case I call

But it is here to be observed, that the
sensation I feel, and the quality in the rose
which I perceive, are both called by the
same name. y The smell of a rose is the
name given to both : so that this name hath
two meanings ; and the distinguishing its
different meanings removes all perplexity,
and enables us to give clear and distinct
answers to questions about which philoso-
phers have held much dispute. *f*

Thus, if it is asked, whether the smell
be in the rose, or in the mind that feels it,
the answer is obvious : That there are two
different things signified by the smell of a
rose ; one of which is in the mind, and can
be in nothing but in a sentient being ; the
other is truly and properly in the rose. The
sensation which I feel is in my mind. The
mind is the sentient being ; and, as the rose
is insentient, there can be no sensation, nor
anything resembling sensation in it. [228]
But this sensation in my mind is occasioned
by a certain quality in the rose, which is
called by the same name with the sensation,
not on account of any similitude, but be-
cause of their constant concomitancy.

All the names we have for smells, tastes,
sounds, and for the various degrees of heat
and cold, have a like ambiguity; and what
has been said of the smell of a rose may be
applied to them. They signify both a sens-
ation, and a quality perceived by means of
that sensation. The first is the sign, the
last the thing signified. As both are con-
joined by nature, and -as the purposes of
common life do not require them to be dis-
joined in our thoughts, they are both ex-
pressed by the same name : and this am-
biguity is to be found in all languages 3 be-
cause the reason of it extends to all.

The same ambiguity is found in the
names of such diseases as are indicated by
a particular painful sensation : such as the
toothache, the headache. The toothache

* This paragraph appears to be an explicit disa-
vowal of the doctrine of an intuitive or immediate
perception. If, from a certain sensible feeling, or
sensation, (which is itself cognitive of no object,) I am
only determined by my nature to conclude that there
is some external quality which is the cause of this
sensation, and if this quality, thus only known as an
inference from its effect, be \h? object perceived ,- tin*n
is perception not an act in mediately cognitive of
any existing object, and the object perceived is, m
(act, except as an imaginary something, unknotcn.
— H.

+ In reference to this and the following paragraphs,
I may observe that the distinction of subjective and
objective qualities here vaguely attempted, had been
already precisely accomplished by Aristotle, in his
discrimination of to.By.tiko.) -roiory.ra (qtialUatespnt).
bites,) and T «0*) (passionesj. In regard to the I ar-
tesian distinction, which is equally precise, but ot
which likewise lieid is unaware, see above, p 20b-
col. b, nolc * H





signifies a painful sensation, which can only
be in a sentient being ; but it signifies also
a disorder in the body, which has no simili-
tude to a sensation, but is naturally con-
nected with it.

Pressing my hand with force against the
table, 1 feel pain, and I feel the table to be
hard. The pain is a sensation of the mind,
and there is nothing that resembles it in
the table. The hardness is in the table,
nor is there anything resembling it in the
mind. Feelinu is applied to both ; but in
a different sense ; being a word common'to
the act of sensation, and to that of perceiv-
ing by the sense of touch.

I touch the table gently with my hand,
and I feel it to be smooth, hard, and cold.
These are qualities of the table perceived by

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 70 of 114)