Thomas Reid.

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

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yet none of them ever placed it in the toe.-f-

* As already repeatedly observed, the objective
element (perception) and the subjective element
(feeling, sensation) are always in the inverse ratio
of each other. This is a law of which Reid and the
philosophers were not aware — H.

f Not in the xaeexclusively. But, both in ancient
and modern times, the opinion has been held that
the mind has as much a local presence in the toe as in
the head. '1 he doctrine, indeed, long generally main-
tained was, that in relation tothe horty, thesoulis all
in the whole, and all in every pari. On the question of
the seat of the soul, which has been marvellously
perplexed, I c.inuot enter. I shall only say, in gene.
ral, iha' the first condition of the possibility of ac

[249, S30~]



Qessay n,

What shall we say then in this case ? Do
our senses really deceive us, and make us
believe a thing which our reason determines
to be impossible ? [251] I answer, first.
That, when a man says he has pain in his toe,
he is perfectly understood, both by himself
and those who hear him. This is all that
he intends. He really feels what he and
all men call a pain in the toe ; and there is
no deception in the matter. Whether,
therefore, there be any impropriety in the
phrase or not, is of no consequence in com-
mon life. It answers all the ends of speech,
both to the speaker and the hearers.

In all languages there are phrases which
have a distinct meaning; while, at the
6ame time, there may be something in the
structure of them that disagrees with the
analogy of grammar or with the principles
of philosophy. And the reason is, because
language is not made either by gramma-
rians or philosophers. Thus, we speak of
feeling pain, as if pain was something dis-
tinct from the feeling of it. We speak of
pain coming and going, and removing from
one place to another. Such phrases are
meant by those who use them in a sense
that is neither obscure nor false. But the
philosopher puts them into his alembic,
reduces them to their first principles, draws
out of them a sense that was never meant,
and so imagines that he has discovered an
error of the vulgar.

I observe, secondly, That, when we con-
sider the sensation of pain by itself, with-
out any respect to its cause, we cannot say
with propriety, that the toe is either the
place or the subject of it. But it ought to
be remembered, that, when we speak of pain
in the toe, the sensation is combined in our
thought, with the cause of it, which really is
in the toe. The cause and the etfect are
combined in one complex notion, and the
same name serves for both. It is the busi-
ness of the philosopher to analyse this com-
plex notion, and to give different names to
its different ingredients. He gives the
name of pain to the sensation only, and the
name of disorder to the unknown cause of
it. Then it is evident that the disorder
only is in the toe, and that it would be an
error to think that the pain is in it. * But
we ought not to ascribe this error to the
vulgar, who never made the distinction, and
who, under the name of pain, comprehend
both the sensation and its cause. -f* [252]

immediate, intuitive, or real perception of external
things, which our consciousness assures that we pos-
sess, is the immediate connection ofthe cognitive
principle with every part of the corporeal organism. —

* Only if the toe he considered as a mere material
mass, and apart from an animating principle. — H.

f That the pain is where it is felt is, however, the
doctrine ot common sense. We only feel in as much
■*s we have a body and a anul ; we only fpel pain in
the toe in as much as we have such a member, and in

Cases sometimes happen, which give
occasion even to the vulgar to distinguish
the painful sensation from the disorder
which is the cause of it. A man who has had
liis leg cut off, many years after feels pain
in a toe of that leg. The toe has now no
existence ; and he perceives easily, that the
toe can neither be the place nor the subject
of the pain which he feels ; yet it is the
same feeling he used to have from a hurt
in the toe ; and, if he did not know that his
leg was cut oft', it would give him the same
immediate conviction of some hurt or dis-
order iu the toe. *

The same phenomenon may lead the
philosopher, in all cases, to distinguish sens-
ation from perception. We say, that the
man had a deceitful feeling, when he felt a
pain in his toe after the leg was cut off ;
and we have a true meaning in saying so.
But, if we will speak accurately, our sensa-
tions cannot be deceitful ; they must be
what we feel them to be, and can be no-
thing else. Where, then, lies the deceit ? I
answer, it lies not in the sensation, which
is real, but in the seeming percepti n he
had of a disorder in his toe. This percep-
tion, which Nature had conjoined with the
sensation, was, in this instance, fallacious.

The same reasoning may be applied to
every phenomenon that can, with propriety,
be called a deception of sense. As when
one who has the jaundice sees a body
yellow, which is really white ;-f- or when a
man sees an object double, because his
eyes are not both directed to it : in these,
and other like cases, the sensations we have
are real, and the deception is only in the
perception which nature has annexed to

Nature has connected our perception of
external objects with certain sensations.
If the sensation is produced, the corre-
sponding perception follows even when there
is no object, and in that case is apt ta
deceive us. [253] In like manner, nature
has connected our sensations with certain
impressions that are made upon the nerves
and brain ; and, when the impression is
made, from whatever cause, the corre-
sponding sensation and perception imme-
diately follow. Thus, in the man who feels
pain in his toe after the leg is cut off, the
nerve that went to the toe, part of which was
cut off with the leg, had the same impres-
sion made upon the remaining part, which,
in the natural state of his body, was caused

as much as the mind, or sentient principle, pervades
it. We just as much feel in the toe as we think in
in the head. If (but only if) the latter be a vitium
subrcptionis, as Kant thinks, so is the former— H.

* ihis illustration is Dcs Cartes*. If correct, it
only shews that the connection of mind with organ,
ization extends from the centre to the circumference
of the nervous system, and is not limited to any
p^rt.— H.

^ The man docs not a.-e the white body at all.— H.



by a hurt in the toe : and immediately this
impression is followed by the sensation and
perception which nature connected with it. "

In like manner, if the same impressions
which are made at present upon my optic
nerves by the objects before me, could be
made in the dark, I apprehend that I
should have the same sensations and see
the same objects which I now see. The im-
pressions and sensations would in such a case
be real, and the perception only fallacious.*

Let us next consider the notions which
our senses give us of those attributes of
bodies called powers. This is the more
necessary, because power seems to imply
some activity ; yet we consider body as a
dead inactive thing, which does not act, but
may be acted upon.

Of the mechanical powers ascribed to
bodies, that which is called their vis insita
or inertia, may first be considered. By
this is meant, no more than that bodies
never change their state of themselves,
either from rest to motion, or from motion
to rest, or from one degree of velocity or
one direction to another. In order to
produce any such change, there must be
some force impressed upon them ; and the
change produced is precisely proportioned
to the force impressed, and in the direction
of that force.

That all bodies have this property, is a
matter of fact, which we learn from daily
observation, as well as from the most accu-
rate experiments.. [254] Now, it seems
plain, that this 1 does not imply any activity
in body, but rather the contrary. A power
in body to change its state, would much
rather imply activity than its continuing in
the same state : so that, although this
property of bodies is called their vis insita,
or vis inertia, it implies no proper activity.

If we consider, next, the power of gravity,
it is a fact that all the bodies of our pla-
netary system gravitate towards each other.
This has been fully proved by the. great
Newton. But this gravitation is not con-
ceived by that philosopher to be a power
inherent in bodies, which they exert of
themselves, but a force impressed upon
them, to which they must necessarily yield.
Whether this force be impressed by some
subtile aether, or whether it be impressed by
the power of the Supreme Being, or of some
subordinate spiritual being, we do not know ;
but all sound natural philosophy, particu-
larly that of Newton, supposes it to be an
impressed force, and not inherent in bodies. +

So that, when bodies gravitate, they do

* This is a doctrine which cannot be reconciled
with that of an intuitive or objective perception.
All here is subjective. — H.

t That ail activity supposes an immaterial or spi-
ritual agent, is an ancient doctrine. It is, however,
only an hypothesis. — H.

not properly act, but are acted upon : they
only yield to an impression that is made
upon them. It is common in language to
express, by active verbs, many changes in
things wherein they are merely passive :
and this way of speaking is used chiefly
when the cause of the change is not obvious
to sense. Thus we say that a ship sails,
when every man of common sense knows
that she has no inherent power of motion,
and is only driven by wind and tide. In
like manner, when we say that the planets
gravitate towards the sun, we mean no more
but that, by some unknown power, they are
drawn or impelled in that direction.

What has been said of the power of gra-
vitation may be applied to other mechanical
powers, such as cohesion, magnetism, elec-
tricity ; and no less to chemical and medical
powers. By all these, certain effects are
produced, upon the application of one body
to another. [255] Our senses discover the
effect; but the power is latent. We know
there must be a cause of the effect, and we
form a relative notion of it from its effect ; a n d
very often the same name is used to signify
the unknown cause, and the known effect.

AVe ascribe to vegetables the powers of
drawing nourishment, growing and multi-
plying their kind. Here likewise the effect
is manifest, but the cause is latent to sense.
These powers, therefore, as well as all the
other powers we ascribe to bodies, are un-
known causes of certain known effects. It
is the business of philosophy to investigate
the nature of those powers as far as we are
able ; but our senses leave us in the dark.

We may observe a great similarity in the
notions which our senses give us of second-
ary qualities, of the disorders we feel in our
own bodies, and of the various powers of
bodies which we have enumerated. They
are all obscure and relative notions, being
a conception of some unknown cause of a
known effect. Their names are, for the
most part, common to the effect and to
its cause ; and they are a proper subject
of philosophical disquisition. They might,
therefore, I think, not improperly be called
occult qualities.

This name, indeed, is fallen into disgrace
since the time of Des Cartes. It is said to
have been used by the Peripatetics to cloak
their ignorance, and to stop all inquiry into
the nature of those qualities called occvll.
Be it so. Let those answer for this abuse
of the word who were guilty of it. To call a
thing occult, if we attend to the meaning
of the word, is rather modestly to confers
ignorance, than to cloak it. It is to point
it out as a proper subject for the investiga-
tion of philosophers, whose proper business
it is to better the condition of humanity, by
discovering what was before hid from human
knowledge. [256]



Qessay 11.

Were I therefore to make a division of
the qualities of bodies as they appear to our
senses, I would divide them first into those
that are manifest and those that are occvl .
The manifest qualities are those which Mr
Locke calls primary ; such as Extension,
Figure, Divisibility, Motion, Hardness,
Softness, Fluidity. The nature of these is
manifest even to sense ; and the business of
the philosopher with regard to them, is not
to find out their nature, which is wellknown,
but to discover the effects produced by their
various combinations ; and, with regard to
those of them which are not essential to
matter, to discover their causes as far as
he is able.

The second class consists of occult quali-
ties, which may be subdivided into various
kinds : as, first, the secondary qualities ;
secondly, the disorders we feel in our own
bodies ; and, thirdly, all the qualities which
we call powers of bodies, whether mechani-
cal, chemical, medical, animal, or vegetable;
or if there be any other powers not compre-
hended under these heads. Of all these the
existence is manifest to sense, but the nature
is occult ; and here the philosopher has an
ample field.

What is necessary for the conduct of our
animal life, the bountiful Author of Nature
hath made manifest to all men. But there
are many other choice secrets of Nature,
the discovery of which enlarges the power
and exalts the state of man. These are left
to be discovered by the proper use of our
rational powers. They are hid, not that
they may be always concealed from human
knowledge, but that we may be excited to
search for them. This is the proper busi-
ness of a philosopher, and it is the glory of
a man, and the best reward of his labour,
to discover what Nature has thus con-
cealed. [257]



The objects of sense we have hitherto
considered are qualities. But qualities must
have a subject. We give the names of
matter, material substance, and body, to the
subject of sensible qualities ; and it may be
asked what this matter is.

I perceive in a billiard ball, figure, colour,
and motion ; but the ball is not figure, nor
is it colour, nor motion, nor all these taken
together; it is something that has figure,
and colour, and motion. This is a dictate
of nature, and the belief of all mankind.

As to the nature of this something, I am
afraid we can give little account of it, but
that it hns the qualities which our senses

But how do we know that they are qua-
lities, and cannot exist without a subject ?
I confess I cannot explain how we know
that they cannot exist without a subject,
any more than I can explain how we know
that they exist. We have the information
of nature for their existence ; and I think
we have the information of nature that they
are qualities.

The belief that figure, motion, and colour
are qualities, and require a subject, must
either be a judgment of nature, or it must
be discovered by reason, or it must be a
prejudice that has no just foundation. There
are philosophers who maintain that it is a
mere prejudice ; that a body is nothing but
a collection of what we call sensible quali-
ties ; and that they neither have nor need
any subject. This is the opinion of Bishop
Berkeley and Mr Hume; and they were
led to it by finding that they had not in
their minds any idea of substance. [258]
It could neither be an idea of sensation nor
of reflection.

But to me nothing seems more absurd
than that there should be extension without
anything extended, or motion without any-
thing moved ; yet I cannot give reasons for
my opinion, because it seems to me self-
evident, and an immediate dictate of my

And that it is the belief of all mankind,
appears in the structure of all languages ;
in which we find adjective nouns used to
express sensible qualities. It is well known
that every adjective in language must belong
to some substantive expressed or undei-
stood — that is, every quality must belong
to some subject.

Sensible qualities make so great a part of
the furniture of our minds, their kinds are
so many, and their number so great, that,
if prejudice, and not nature, teach us to
ascribe them all to a subject, it must have
a great work to perform, which cannot be
accomplished in a short time, nor carried
on to the same pitch in every individual.
We should find not individuals only, but
nations and ages, differing from each other
in the progress which this prejudice had
made in their sentiments ; but we fiud no
such difference among men. What one mau
accounts a quality, all men do, and ever did.

It seems, therefore, to be a judgment of
nature, that the things immediately per-
ceived are qualities, which must belong to
a subject ; and all the information that our
senses give us about this subject, is, that
it is that to which such qualities belong.
From this it is evident, that our notion of
body or matter, as distinguished from its
qualities, is a relative notion;* and I am

♦ That is— our notion of absolute body is retail*
Tins is nicon ecily expressed. We can know, we can

[257, aSbl




afraid it must always be obscure until men
have other faculties. [259]

The philosopher, in this, seems to have
no advantage above the vulgar; for, as
they perceive colour, and figure, and motion
by their senses as well he does, and both
are equally certain that there is a subject
of those qualities, so the notions which
both have of this subject are equally ob-
scure. When the philosopher calls it a
substratum, and a subject of inhesion, those
learned words convey no meaning but what
every man understands and expresses, by
saying, in common language, that it is a
thing extended, and solid, and movable.

The relation which sensible qualities bear
to their subject — that is, to body — is not,
however, so dark but that it is easily dis-
tinguished from all other relations. Every
man can distinguish it from the relation
of an effect to its cause ; of a mean to its
end ; or of a sign to the thing signified by

I think it requires some ripeness of un-
derstanding to distinguish the qualities of a
body from the body. Perhaps this dis-
tinction is not made by brutes, nor by in-
fants ; and if any one thinks that this dis-
tinction is not made by our senses, but by
some other power of the mind, I will not
dispute this point, provided it be granted
that men, when their faculties are ripe,
have a natural conviction that sensible qua-
lities cannot exist by themselves without
some subject to which they belong.

I think, indeed, that some of the determ-
inations we form concerning matter can-
not be deduced solely from the testimony
of sense, but must be referred to some other

There seems to be nothing more evident
than that all bodies must consist of parts ;
and that every part of a body is a body, and
a distinct being, which may exist without the
other parts ; and yet I apprehend this con-
clusion is not deduced solely from the testi-
mony of sense : for, besides that it is a
necessary truth, and, therefore, no object
of sense,* there is a limit beyond which we

conceive, only what is relative. Our knowledge of
qualities or phenomena is necessarily relative ; for
these exist only as they exist inrelation to our facul-
ties. The knowledge, or even the conception, of a
substance in itself, and apart from any qualities in
relation to, and therefore cognisable or conceivable
by, our minds, involves a contradiction. Of such we
can form only a negative notion ; that is, we can
merely conceive it as inconceivable. But to call this ne-
gative notion a relative notion, is wrong ; 1°, because
all our (positive) notions are relative -, and <s°, because
this is itself a negative notion — i. e., no notion at all —
simply because there is no relation. The samo im-
proper application of the term relative was also made
by Reid when speaking of the secondary qualities. — H.
* It is creditable to Reid that he perceived that
the quality of necessity is the criterion which distin-
guishes native from adventitious notions or judg-
ments. He did not, however, always make the proper
use of it. Leibnitz has the honour of first explicitly
enouncing this criterion, and Kant of first fully ap-


cannot perceive any division of a body.
The parts become too small to be perceived
by our senses ; but we cannot believe that
it becomes then incapable of being farther
divided, or that such division would make
it not to be a body. [260]

We carry on the division and subdivision
in our thought far beyond the reach of our
senses, and we can find no end to it : nay.
I think we plainly discern that there can
be no limit beyond which the division can-
not be carried.

For, if there be any limit to this division,
one of two things must necessarily happen :
either we have come by division to a body
which is extended, but has no parts, and is
absolutely indivisible ; or this body is divi-
sible, but, as soon as it is divided, it becomes
no body. Both these positions seem to me
absurd, and one or the other is the neces-
sary consequence of supposing a limit to the
divisibility of matter.

On the other hand, if it is admitted that
the divisibility of matter has no limit, it
will follow that no body can be called one
individual substance. You may as well
call it two, or twenty, or two hundred. For,
when it is divided into parts, every part is
a being or substance distinct from all the
other parts, and was so even before the di-
vision. Any one part may continue to
exist, though all the other parts were an-

There is, indeed, a principle long re-
ceived as an axiom in metaphysics, which
I cannot reconcile to the divisibility of mat-
ter ; it is, that every being is one, omne ens
est unum. By which, I suppose, is meant,
that everything that exists must either Le
one indivisible being, or composed of a de-
terminate number of indivisible beings-
Thus, an army may be divided into regi-
ments, a regiment into companies, and a
company into men. But here the division
has its limit ; for you cannot divide a man
without destroying him, because he is an
individual; and everything, according to
this axiom, must be an individual, or made
up of individuals. [261]

That this axiom will hold with regard to
an army, and with regard to many other
things, must be granted ; but I require the
evidence of its being applicable to all beings

Leibnitz, conceiving that all beings must
have this metaphysical unity, was by this
led to maintain that matter, and, indeed,
the whole universe, is made up of monads —
that is, simple and indivisible substances.

Perhaps, the same apprehension might
lead Boscovich into his hypothesis, which
seems much more ingenious — to wit, that

plying it to the phenomena. Jn none has Kant been
more successful than in this under consideration.-*

Y 3




matter is composed of a definite number of
mathematical points, endowed with certain
powers of attraction and repulsion.

The divisibility of matter without any
limit, seems to me more tenable than either
of these hypotheses ; nor do I lay much
stress upon the metaphysical axiom, con-
sidering its origin. Metaphysicians thought
proper to make the attributes common to
all beings the subject of a science. It
must be a matter of some difficulty to find
out such attributes ; and, after racking
their invention, they have specified three —
to wit, Unity, Verity, and Goodness ; and
these, I suppose, have been invented to
make a number, rather than from any clear
evidence of their being universal.

There are other determinations concern-
ing matter, which, I think, are not solely
founded upon the testimony of sense : puch
as, that it is impossible that two bodies
should occupy the same place at the same
time ; or that the same body should be in
different places at the same time ; or that
a body can be moved from one place to
another, without passing through the inter-
mediate places, either in a straight course,
or by some circuit. These appear to be
necessary truths, and therefore cannot be
conclusions of our senses ; for our senses
testify only what is, and not what must ne-
cessarily be.* [262]

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 73 of 114)