Thomas Reid.

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

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hend as if he had said that figure may per-
haps be considered as a mixture of colour
and sound.

Our thoughts pass easily from the end
to the means ; from any truth to the evi-
dence on which it is founded, the conse-
i quences that may be drawn from it, or the
use that may be made of it. From a part
we are easily led to think of the whole, from
a subject to its qualities, or from things
related to the relation. Such transitions in
thinking must have been made thousands
of times by every man who thinks and
reasons, and thereby become, as it were,
beaten tracks for the imagination.
, / Not only the relations of objects to each
'other influence our train of thinking, but
the relation they bear to the present tem-
per and disposition of the mind ; their re-
lation to the habits we have acquired,
whether moral or intellectual ; to the com-
pany we have kept, and to the business in
which we have been chiefly employed. The
same event will suggest very different re-
flections to different persons, and to the
same person at different times, according
as he is in good or bad humour, as he is
lively or dull, angry or pleased, melancholy/
or cheerful.

Lord Karnes, in his " Elements of Criti-
cism," and Dr Gerard, in his " Essay on
Genius," have given a much fuller and
juster enumeration of the causes that in-
fluence our train of thinking, and I have

able speculations on this matter arewholly unknown.
Of these I can, at present, say nothing.— H. See
Notes D * », D * » «. r\j, 24) 425 -|



nothing to add to what they have said on
this subject.

Secondly, Let us consider how far this
attraction of ideas must be resolved into
original qualities of human nature. [426]

I believe the original principles of J)he
mind, of which we can give no account but
that such is our constitution, are more in
number than is commonly thought. But
we ought not to multiply them without

That trains of thinking, which, by fre-
quent repetition, have become familiar,
should spontaneously offer themselves to
our fancy, seems to require no other origi-
nal quality but the power of habit.*

In all rational thinking, and in all rational
discourse, whether serious or facetious, the
thought must have some relation to what
went before. Every man, therefore, from
the dawn of reason, must have been accus-
tomed to a train of related objects. These
please the understanding, and, by custom,
become like beaten tracks which invite the

As far as it is in our power to give a
direction to our thoughts, which it is un-
doubtedly in a great degree, they will be
directed by the active principles common
to men — by our appetites, our passions, our
affections, our reason, and conscience. And
that the trains of thinking in our minds are
chiefly governed by these, according as one
or another prevails at the time, every man
will find in his experience.

If the mind is at any time vacant from
every passion and desire, there are still
some objects that are more acceptable to
us than others. The facetious man is
pleased with surprising similitudes or con-
trasts ; the philosopher with the relations
of things that are subservient to reasoning ;
the merchant with what tends to profit;
and the politician with what may mend the

A good writer of comedy or romance can
feign a train of thinking for any of the per-
sons of his fable, which appears very natu-
ral, and is approved by the best judges.
Now, what is it that entitles such a fiction
to approbation ? Is it that the author has
given a nice attention to the relations of
causation, contiguity, and similitude in the
ideas? [427] This surely is the least
part of its merit. But the chief part con-
sists in this, that it corresponds perfectly
with the general character, the rank, the
habits, the present situation and passions of
the person. If this be a just way of judging
in criticism, it follows necessarily, that the
circumstances last mentioned have the chief
influence in suggesting our trains of thought.

* We can as well explain Habit by Association,
u Association by Habit.— H.


It cannot be denied, that the state of the
body has an influence upon our imagination,
according as a man is sober or drunk, as
he is fatigued or refreshed. Crudities and
indigestion are said to give uneasy dreams,
and have probably a like effect upon the
waking thoughts. Opium gives to some
persons pleasing dreams and pleasing im-
aginations when awake, and to others such
as are horrible and distressing.

These influences of the body upon the
mind can only be known by experience, and
I believe we can give no account of them.

Nor can we, perhaps, give any reason why
we must think without ceasing while we are
awake. I believe we are likewise origi-
nally disposed, in imagination, to pass from
any one object of thought to others that are
contiguous to it in time or place. This, I
think, may be observed in brutes and in
idiots, as well as in children, before any
habit can be acquired that might account
for it. The sight of an object is apt to
suggest to the imagination what has been
seen or felt in conjunction with it, even
when the memory of that conjunction is

Such conjunctions of things influence not
only the imagination, but the belief and the
passions, especially in children and in
brutes ; and perhaps all that we call memory
in brutes is something of this kind.

They expect events in the same order and
succession in which they happened before ;
and by this expectation, their actions and
passions, as well as their thoughts, are re-
gulated. [428] A horse takes fright at
the place where some object frighted him
before. We are apt to conclude from this
that he remembers the former accident.
But perhaps there is only an association
formed in his mind between the place and
the passion of fear, without any distinct

Mr Locke has given us a very good
chapter upon the association of ideas ; and
by the examples he has given to illustrate
this doctrine, I think it appears that very
strong associations may be formed at once —
not of ideas to ideas only, but of ideas to
passions and emotions ; and that strong as-
sociations are never formed at once, but
when accompanied by some strong passion
or emotion. I believe this must be resolved
into the constitution of our nature.

Mr Hume's opinion. — that the complex
ideas, which are the common objects of
discourse and reasoning, are formed by those
original attractions of ideas to which he
ascribes the train of thoughts in the mind —
will come under consideration in another

To put an end to our remarks upon this
theory of Mr Hume, I think he has real
merit in bringing this curious subject under
2 02




the view of philosophers, and carrying it a
certain length. But I see nothing in this
| theory that should hinder- us to conclude,
! that everything in the trains of our thought,
which bears the marks of judgment and
reason, has been the product of judgment
and reason previously exercised, either by
the person himself, at that or some former
time, or by some other person. The at-
traction of ideas will be the same in a man's
second thoughts upon any subject as in his
first. Or, if some change in his circum-
stances, or in the objects about him, should
make any change in the attractions of' his
ideas, it is an equal chance whether the
second be better than the first, or whether
they be worse. But it is certain that
every man of judgment and taste will, upon
a review, correct that train of thought which
first presented itself. If the attractions of
ideas are the sole causes of the regular
arrangement of thought in the fancy, there
is no use for judgment or taste in any com-
position, nor indeed any room for their
operation. [429 J

There are other reflections, of a more
practical nature and of higher importance,
to which this subject leads.

I believe it will be allowed by every man,
that our happiness or misery in life, that
our improvement in any art or science which
we profess, and that our improvement in
real virtue and goodness, depend in a very
great degree on the train of thinking that
occupies the mind both in our vacant and
in our more serious hours. As far, there-
fore, as the direction of our thoughts is in
our power, (and that it is so in a great
measure, cannot be doubted) it is of the last
importance to give them that direction which
is most subservient to those valuable pur-

What employment can he have worthy
of a man, whose imagination is occupied
only about things low and base, and grovels
in a narrow field of mean, unanimating, and
uninteresting objects, insensible to those
finer and more delicate sentiments, and
blind to those more enlarged and nobler
views which elevate the soul, and make it
conscious of its dignity.

How different from him whose imagina-
tion, like an eagle in her flight, takes a wide
prospect, and observes whatever it presents,
that is new or beautiful, grand or important ;
whose rapid wing varies the scene every
moment, carrying him sometimes through
the fair}' regions of wit and fancy, some-

times through the more regular and sober
walks of science and philosophy !

The various objects which he surveys,
according to their different degrees of beauty
and dignity, raise in him the lively and
agreeable emotions of taste. Illustrious
human characters, as they pass in review,
clothed with their moral qualities, touch his
heart still more deeply. They not only
awaken the sense of beauty, but excite the
sentiment of approbation, and kindle the
glow of virtue.

While he views what is truly great and
glorious in human conduct, his soul catches
the divine flame, and burns with desire to
emulate what it admires. [430]

The human imagination is an ample
theatre, upon which everything in human
life, good or bad, great or mean, laudable
or base, is acted.

In children, and in some frivolous minds,
it is a mere toy-shop. And in some, who
exercise their memory without their judg-
ment, its furniture is made up of old scraps
of knowledge, that are thread-bare and
worn out.

In some, this theatre is often occupied by
ghastly superstition, with all her train of
Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimtsras dire.
Sometimes it is haunted with all the infernal
demons, and made the forge of plots, and
rapine, and murder. Here everything that
is black and detestable is first contrived, and
a thousand wicked designs conceived that
are never executed. Here, too, the furies
act their part, taking a severe though secret
vengeance upon the self-condemned criminal.

How happy is that mind in which the light
of real knowledge dispels the phantoms of
superstition ; in which the belief and rever-
ence of a perfect all-governing mind casts
out all fear but the fear of acting wrong ;
in which serenity and cheerfulness, inno-
cence, humanity, and candour, guard the im-
agination against the entrance of every un-
hallowed intruder, and invite more.amiable
and worthier guests to dwell !

There shall the Muses, the Graces, and
the Virtues fix their abode ; for everything
that is great and worthy in human conduct
must have been conceived in the imagina-
tion before it was brought into act. And
many great and good designs have been
formed there, which, for want of power and
opportunity, have proved abortive.

The man whose imagination is occupied
by these guests, must be wise ; he must be
eood ; and he must be happy. [431]










The words we use in language are either
general words or proper names. Proper
names are intended to signify one individual
only. Such are the names of men, king-
doms, provinces, cities, rivers, and of every
other creature of God, or work of man,
which we choose to distinguish from all
others of the kind, by a name appropriated
to it. All the other words of language are
general words, not appropriated to signify
any one individual thing, but equally related
to many.

Under general words, therefore, I com-
prehend not only those which logicians call
general terms— that is, such general words
as may make the subject or the predicate
of a proposition, but likewise their auxiliaries
or accessories, as the learned Mr Harris
calls them ; such as prepositions, conjunc-
tions, articles, which are'all general words,
though they cannot properly be called gene-
ral terms.

In every language, rude or polished,
general words make the greatest part, and
proper names the least. Grammarians
have reduced all words to eight or nine
classes, which are called parts of speech.
Of these there is only one— to wit, that of
nouns — wherein proper names are found.
[432] All pronouns, verbs, participles, ad-
verbs, articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and
interjections, are general words. Of nouns,
all adjectives are general words, and the
greater part of substantives. Every sub-
stantive that has a plural number, is a gene-
ral word ; for no proper name can have a
plural number, because it signifies only one
individual. In all the fifteen books of
Euclid's Elements, there is not one word
that is not general ; and the same may be
said of many large volumes.

At the same time, it must be acknowledged,
that all the objects we perceive are individ-
uals. Every object of sense, of memory,
or of consciousness, is an individual object.
All the good things we enjoy or desire, and
all the evils we feel or fear, must come from
individuals ; and I think we may venture to
say, that every creature which God has made,
in the heavens above, or in the earth be-
[432, 433]

neath, or in the waters under the earth, is
an individual.*

How comes it to pass, then, that, in all
languages, general words make the greatest
part of the language, and proper names but
a very small and inconsiderable part of it.

This seemingly strange phsenomenon may,
I think, be easily accounted for by the fol-
lowing observations : —

First, Though there be a few individuals
that are obvious to the notice of all men,
and, therefore, have proper names in all
languages — such as the sun and moon, the
earth and sea — yet the greatest part of the
things to which we think fit to give proper
names, are .local ; known perhaps to a vil-
lage or to a neighbourhood, but unknown to
the greater part of those who speak the
same language, and to all the rest of man-
kind. The names of such things being con-
fined to a corner, and having no names
answering to them in other languages, are
not accounted a part of the language, any
more than the customs of a particular ham-
let are accounted part of the law of the
nation. [433]

For this reason, there are but few proper
names that belong to a language. It is
next to be considered why there must be
many general words in every language.

Secondly, It may be observed, that every
individual object that falls within our view
has various attributes ; and it is by them
that it becomes useful or hurtful to us.
We know not the essence of any individual
object ; all the knowledge we can attain of
it, is the knowledge of its attributes — its
quantity, its various qualities, its various
relations to other things, its place, its
situation, and motions. It is by such attri-
butes of things only that we can communi-
cate our knowledge of them to others. By
their attributes, our hopes or fears for them
are regulated ; and it is only by attention
to their attributes that we can make them
subservient to our end3 ; and therefore we
give names to such attributes.

Now, all attributes must, from their
nature, be expressed by general words, and
are so expressed in all languages. In the
ancient philosophy, attributes in general
were called by two names which express

* This Boethius-has well expressed : — " Omn&quod
eat, eo quod est, singular* est." — H.




their nature. Thev were called universal!,
because they might belong equally to many
individuals, and are not confined to one.
They were also called predicables, because
whatever is predicated, that is, affirmed or
denied of one subject, may be of more, and
therefore is an universal, and expressed by
a general word. A predicable therefore
signifies the same thing as an attribute, with
this difference only, that the first is Latin,
the last English.* The attributes we find
either in the creatures of God or in the
works of men, are common to many indi-
duals. We either find it to be so, or pre-
sume it may be so, and give them the same
name in every subject to which they belong.

There are not only attributes belonging
to individual subjects, but there are likewise
attributes of attributes, which may be called
secondary attributes. Most attributes are
capable of different degrees and different
modifications, which must be expressed by
general words. [434]

Thus it is an attribute of many bodies to
oe moved ; but motion may be in an endless
variety of directions. It may be quick or
slow, rectilineal or curvilineal ; it may be
equable, or accelerated, or retarded.

As all attributes, therefore, whether pri-
mary or secondary, are expressed by general
words, it follows that, in every proposition
we express in language, what is affirmed or
denied of the subj ect of the proposition must
be expressed by general words : and that
the subject of the proposition may often be
a general word, will appear from the next

Thirdly, The same faculties by which we
distinguish the different attributes belong-
ing to the same subject, and give names
to them, enable us likewise to observe,
that many subjects agree in certain attri-
butes while they differ in others. By this
means we are enabled to reduce individuals
which are infinite, to a limited number of
classes, which are called kinds and sorts ;
and, in the scholastic language, genera and

Observing many individuals to agree in
certain attributes, we refer them all to one
class, and give a name to the class. This
name comprehends in its signification not
one attribute only, but all the attributes
which distinguish that class; and by affirm-
ing this name of any individual, we affirm
it to have all the attributes which charac-
terise the class : thus men, dogs, horset,
elephants, are so many different classes of
animals. In like manner we marshal other
substances, vegetable and inanimate, into

* They are both Latin, or both English. The only
difference is, that the one is of technical, the other
of popular application, and that the former expresses
33 potential. what the latter does aa actual H.

Nor is it only substances that we thus
form into classes. We do the same with
regard to qualities, relations, actions, affec-
tions, passions, and all other things.

When a class is very large, it is divided
into subordinate classes in the same man-
ner. [435] The higher class is called a
genus or kind : the lower a species or sort
of the higher. Sometimes a species is still
subdivided into subordinate species ; and
this subdivision is carried on as far as is
found convenient for the purpose of language,
or for the improvement of knowledge.

In this distribution of things into genera
and species, it is evident that the name of
the species comprehends more attributes
than the name of the genus. The species
comprehends all that is in the genus, and
those attributes likewise which distinguish
that species from others belonging to the
same genus ; and the more subdivisions we
make, the names of the lower become still
the more comprehensive in their significa-
tion, but the less extensive in their appli-
cation to individuals.

Hence it is an axiom in logic — that the
more extensive any general term is, it is the
less comprehensive ; and, on the contrary,
the more comprehensive, the less extensive.
Thus, in the following series of subordinate
general terms— Animal — Man — French-
man — Parisian, every subsequent term com-
prehends in its signification all that is in
the preceding, and something more ; and
every antecedent term extends to more
individuals than the subsequent.

Such divisions and subdivisions of things
into genera and species with general names,
are not confined to the learned and polished
languages ; they are found in those of the
rudest tribes of mankind. From which we
learn, that the invention and the use of
general words, both to signify the attributes
of things, and to signify the genera and
species of things, is not a subtile invention
of philosophers, but an operation which all
men perform by the light of common sense.
Philosophers may speculate about this ope-
ration, and reduce it to canons and aphor-
isms ; but men of common understanding,
without knowing anything of the philosophy
of it, can put it in practice, in like manner
as they can see objects, and make good use
of their eyes, although they know nothing
of the structure of the eye, or of the theory
of vision. [436]

Every genus, and every species of things,
may be either the subject or the predicate
of a proposition — nay, of innumerable pro-
positions; for every attribute common to
the genus or species may be affirmed of it ;
and the genus may be affirmed of every
species, and both genus and species of every
individual to which it extends.

Thus, of man it maybe affirmed, that he




is an animal made up of body and mind ;
that he is of few days, and full of trouble ;
that he is capable of various improvements
in arts, in knowledge, and in virtue. In a
word, everything common to the species
may be affirmed of man ; and of all such
propositions, which are innumerable, man
is the subject.

Again, of every nation and tribe, and of
every individual of the human race that is,
or was, or shall be, it may be affirmed that
they are men. In all such propositions,
which are innumerable, man is the predi-
cate of the proposition.

We observed above an extension and a
comprehension in general terms ; and that,
in any subdivision of things, the name of
the lowest species is most comprehensive,
and that of the highest genus most exten-
sive. I would now observe, that, by means
of such general terms, there is also an ex-
tension and comprehension of propositions,
which is one of the noblest powers of lan-
guage, and fits it for expressing, with great
ease and expedition, the highest attainments
in knowledge, of which the human under-
standing is capable.

When the predicate is a genus or a species,
the proposition is more or less comprehen-
sive, according as the predicate is. Thus,
when I say that this seal is gold, by this
single proposition I affirm of it all the pro-
perties which that metal is known to have.
When I say of any man that he is a
mathematician, this appellation compre-
hends all the attributes that belong to
him as an animal, as a man, and as one
who has studied mathematics. When I
say that the orbit of the planet Mercury
is an ellipsis, I thereby affirm of that
orbit all the properties which Apollonius
and other geometricians have discovered,
or may discover, of that species of figure.

Again, when the subject of a proposition
is a genus or a species, the proposition is
more or less extensive, according as the
subject is. Thus, when I am taught that
the three angles of a plane triangle are
equal to two right angles, this properly ex-
tends to every species of plane triangle, and
to every individual plane triangle that did,
or does, or can exist.

It is by means of such extensive and
comprehensive propositions, that human
knowledge is condensed, as it were, into a
size adapted to the capacity of the human
mind, with great addition to its beauty,
and without any diminution of its distinct-
ness and perspicuity.

General propositions in science may be
compared to the seed of a plant, which,
according to some philosophers, has not
only the whole future plant inclosed within
it, but the seeds of that plant, and the plants

that shall spring from them through all
future generations.

But the similitude falls short in this re-
spect, that time and accidents, not in our
power, must concur to disclose the contents
of the seed, and bring them into our view ;
whereas the contents of a general proposi-

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 88 of 114)