Thomas Reid.

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

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Human Nature." He agrees perfectly
with the Bishop, " That all general ideas
are nothing but particular ones annexed to
a certain term, which gives them a more
extensive signification, and makes them
recall, upon occasion, other individuals which
are similar to them. [488] A particular



[essay v.

idea becomes general, by being annexed to
a general term ; that is, to a term, which,
from a customary conjunction, has a rela-
tion to many other particular ideas, and
readily recalls them in the imagination.
Abstract ideas are therefore in themselves
individual, however they may become general
in their representation. The image in the
mind is only that of a particular object,
though the application of it in our reason-
ing be the same as if it was universal."

Although Mr Hume looks upon this to
be one of the greatest and most valuable
discoveries that has been made of late years
in the republic of letters, it appears to be
no other than the opinion of the nominal-
ists, about which so much dispute was
held from the beginning of the twelfth
century down to the Reformation, and
which was afterwards supported by Mr
Hobbes. I shall briefly consider the argu-
ments by which Mr Hume hopes to have
put it beyond all doubt and controversy.

First, He endeavours to prove, by three
arguments, that it is utterly impossible to
conceive any quantity or quality, without
forming a precise notion of its degrees;

This is indeed a great undertaking ; but,
if he could prove it, it is not sufficient for
his purpose — for two reasons.

First, Because there are many attributes
of things, besides quantity and quality ; and
it is incumbent upon him to prove that it
is impossible to conceive any attribute,
without forming a precise notion of its
degree. Each of the ten categories of
Aristotle is a genus, and may be an attri-
bute. And, if he should prove of two of
them — to wit, quantity and quality — that
there can be no general conception of them ;
there remain eight behind, of which this
must be proved. [489J

The other reason is, because, though it
were impossible to conceive any quantity
or quality, without forming a precise notion
of its degree, it does not follow that it is
impossible to have a general conception
even of quantity and quality. The con-
ception of a pound troy is the conception
of a quantity, and of the precise degree of
that quantity ; but it is an abstract general
conception notwithstanding, because it may
be the attribute of many individual bodies,
and of many kinds of bodies. He ought,
therefore, to have proved that we cannot
conceive quantity or quality, or any other
attribute, without joining it inseparably to
some individual subject.

This remains to be proved, which will be
found no easy matter. For instance, I
conceive what is meant by a Japanese as
distinctly as what is meant by an English-
man or a Frenchman. It is true, a Japan-
ese is neither quantity nor quality, but it
is an attribute common to every individual

of a populous nation. I never saw an in-
dividual of that nation ; and, if I can trust
my consciousness, the general term does
not lead me to imagine one individual of
the sort as a representative of all others.

Though Mr Hume, therefore, undertakes
much, yet, if he could prove all he under-
takes to prove, it would by no means be
sufficient to shew that we have no abstract
general conceptions.

Passing this, let us attend to his argu-
ments for proving this extraordinary posi-
tion, that it is impossible to conceive any
quantity or quality, without forming a pre-
cise notion of its degree.

The first argument is, that it is impossi-
ble to distinguish things that are not ac-
tually separable. " The precise length of
a line is not different or distinguishable
from the line." [490]

I have before endeavoured to shew, that
things inseparable in their nature may be-
distinguished in our conception. And we
need go no farther to be convinced of this,
than the instance here brought to prove
the contrary. The precise length of a line,
he says, is not distinguishable from the
line. When I say, This is a line, I say and
mean one thing. When I say, It is a line
of three inches, I say and mean another
thing. If this be not to distinguish the
precise length of the line from the line, I
know not what it is to distinguish.

Second argument " Every object of

sense — that is, every impression — is an in-
dividual, having its determinate degrees of
quantity and quality. But whatever is
true of the impression is true of the idea,
as they differ in nothing but their strength
and vivacity."

The conclusion in this argument is, in-
deed, justly drawn from the premises. If
it be true that ideas differ in nothing from
objects of sense, but in strength and viva-
city, as it must be granted that all the ob-
jects of sense are individuals, it will cer-
tainly follow that all ideas are individuals.
Granting, therefore, the justness of this
conclusion, I beg leave to draw two other
conclusions from the same premises, which
will follow no less necessarily.

First, If ideas differ from the objects of
sense only in strength and vivacity, it will
follow, that the idea of a lion is a lion of
less strength and vivacity. And hence may
arise a very important question, Whether
the idea of a lion may not tear in pieces,
and devour the ideas of sheep, oxen, and
horses, and even of men, women, and
children ?

Secondly, If ideas differ only in strength
and vivacity from the objects of sense, it
will follow that objects merely conceived,
are not ideas ; for such objects differ from
the objects of sense in respects of a very
[489. 490"




different nature from strength and vivacity.
[49 1 ] Every object of sense must have a
real existence, and time and place. But
things merely conceived may neither have
existence, nor time nor place ; and, there-
fore, though there should be no abstract
ideas, it does not follow that things abstract
and general may not be conceived.

The third argument is this : — " It is a
principle generally received in philosophy,
that everything in nature is individual ; and
that it is utterly absurd to suppose a tri-
angle really existent which has no precise
proportion of sides and angles. If this,
therefore, be absurd in fact and reality, it
must be absurd in idea, since nothing of
which we can form a clear and distinct
idea is absurd or impossible."

I acknowledge it to be impossible that a
triangle should really exist which has no
precise proportion of sides and angles ; and
impossible that any being should exist
which is not an individual being ; for, I
think, a being and an individual being
mean the same thing : but that there can
be no attributes common to many indivi-
duals I do not acknowledge. Thus, to
many figures that really exist it may be
common that they are triangles ; and to
many bodies that exist it may be common
that they are fluid. Triangle and fluid are
not beings, thgy are attributes of beings.

As to the principle here assumed, that
nothing of which we can form a clear and
distinct idea is absurd or impossible, I refer
to what was said upon it, chap. 3, Essay
1 V. It is evident that, in every mathema-
tical demonstration, ad absurdum, of which
kind almost one-half of mathematics con-
sists, we are required to suppose, and, con-
sequently, to conceive, a thing that is im-
possible. From that supposition we reason,
until we come to a conclusion that is not
only impossible but absurd. From this we
infer that the proposition supposed at first
is impossible, and, therefore, that its con-
tradictory is true. [492]

As this is the nature of all demonstra-
tions, ad a'osurdum, it is evident, (I do not
say that we can have a clear and distinct
idea,) but that we can clearly and distinctly
conceive things impossible.

The rest of Mr Hume's discourse upon
this subject is employed in explaining how
an individual idea, annexed to a general
term, may serve all the purposes in reason-
ing which have been ascribed to abstract
general ideas.

" When we have found a resemblance
among several objects that often occur to
us, we apply the same name to all of them,
whatever differences we may observe in the
degrees of their quantity and quality, and
whatever other differences may appear
among them. After we have acquired a

custom of this kind, the hearing of that
name revives the idea of one of these ob-
jects, and makes the imagination conceive
it, with all its circumstances and propor-
tions." But, along with this idea, there is
a readiness to survey any other of the indi-
viduals to which the name belongs, and to
observe that no conclusion be formed con-
trary to any of them. If any such conclu-
sion is formed, those individual ideas which
contradict it immediately crowd in upon us,
and make us perceive the falsehood of the
proposition. If the mind suggests not al-
ways these ideas upon occasion, it proceeds
from some imperfection in its faculties ;
and such a one as is often the source of
false reasoning and sophistry.

This is, in substance, the way in which
he accounts for what he calls " the fore-
going paradox, that some ideas are parti-
cular in their nature, but general in their
representation." Upon this account I shall
make some remarks. [493]

1. He allows that we find a resemblance
among several objects, and such a resem-
blance as leads us to apply the same name
to all of them. This concession is suffi-
cient to shew that we have general concep-
tions. There can be no resemblance in
objects that have " no common attribute ;
and, if there be attributes belonging in com-
mon to several objects, and in man a fa-
culty to observe and conceive these, and to
give names to them, this is to have general

I believe, indeed, we may have an indis-
tinct perception of resemblance without
knowing wherein it lies. Thus, I may see
a resemblance between one face and an-
other, when I cannot distinctly say in what
feature they resemble ; but, by analysing
the two faces, and comparing feature with
feature, I may form a distinct notion of
that which is common to both. A painter,
being accustomed to an analysis of this kind,
would have formed a distinct notion of this
resemblance at first sight ; to another man
it may require some attention.

There is, therefore, an indistinct notion
of resemblance when we compare the obj ects
only in gross : and this I believe brute ani-
mals may have. There is also a distinct
notion of resemblance when we analyse the
objects into their different attributes, and
perceive them to agree in some while they
differ in others. It is in this case only that
we give a name to the attributes wherein
they agree, which must be a common name,
because the thing signified by it is common.
Thus, when I compare cubes of different
matter, I perceive them to have this attri-
bute in common, that they are compre-
hended under six equal squares, and this
attribute only is signified by applying the
name of cube to them all. When I com-



[essaV V*.

pare clean linen with snow, I perceive them
to agree in colour ; and when I apply the
name of white to both, this name signifies
neither snow nor clean linen, but the attri-
bute which is common to both.

2. The author says, that when we have
found a resemblance among several objects,
we apply the same name to all of them.

It must here be observed, that there are
two kinds of names which the author seems
to confound, though they are very different
in nature, and in the power they have in
language. There are proper names, and
there are common names or appellatives.
The first are the names of individuals. The
same proper name is never applied to
several individuals on account of their simi-
litude, because the very intention of a pro-
per name is to distinguish one individual
from all others ; and hence it is a maxim
in grammar that proper names have no
plural number. A proper name signifies
nothing but the individual whose name it
is ; and, when we apply it to the individual,
we neither affirm nor deny anything con-
cerning him.

A common name or appellative is not the
name of any individual, but a general term,
signifying something that is or may be
common to several individuals. Common
names, therefore, signify common attri-
butes. Thus, when I apply the name of
son or brother to several persons, this sig-
nifies and affirms that this attribute is
common to all of them.

From this, it is evident that the apply-
ing the same name to several individuals
on account of their resemblance, can, in
consistence with grammar and common
sense, mean nothing else than the express-
ing, by a general term, something that is
common to those individuals, and which,
therefore, may be truly affirmed of them all.

3. The author says, " It is certain that
we form the idea of individuals whenever
we use any general term. The word raises
up an individual idea, and makes the ima-
gination conceive it, with all its particular
circumstances and proportions."

This fact he takes a great deal of pains to
account for, from the effect of custom.

But the fact should be ascertained before
we take pains to account for it. I can see
no reason to believe the fact ; and I think
a farmer can talk of his sheep and his black
cattle, without conceiving, in his imagina-
tion, one individual, with all its circum-
stances and proportions. If this be true,
the whole of his theory of general ideas falls

to the ground. To me it appears, that
when a general term is well understood, it is
only by accident if it suggest some indi-
vidual of the kind ; but this effect is by no
means constant.

I understand perfectly what mathemati-
cians call a line of the fifth order ; yet I
never conceived in my imagination any one
of the kind in all its circumstances and pro-
portions. Sir Isaac Newton first formed a
distinct general conception of lines of the
third order ; and afterwards, by great labour
and deep penetration, found out and de-
scribed the particular species comprehended
under that general term. According to Mr
Hume's theory, he must first have been
acquainted with the particulars, and then
have learned by custom to apply one
general name to all of them.

The author observes, " That the idea of
an equilateral triangle of an inch perpen-
dicular, may serve us in talking of a figure,
a rectilinear figure, a regular figure, a tri-
angle, and an equilateral triangle. 1 '

I answer, the man that uses these general
terms either understands their meaning,
or he does not. If he does not understand
their meaning, all his talk about them will
be found only without sense, and the par-
ticular idea mentioned cannot enable him
to speak of them with understanding. If
he understands the meaning^of the general
terms, he will find no use for the particular

4. He tells us gravely, " That in a globe
of white marble the figure and the colour
are undistinguishable, and are in effect the
same." [496] How foolish have mankind
been to give different names, in all ages
andin all languages, to things undistinguish-
able, and hi effect the same ? Henceforth,
in all books of science and of entertainment,
we may substitute figure for colour, and
colour for figure. By this we shall make
numberless curious discoveries, without
danger of error." [497]

* The whole controversy of Nominalism and Con.
ceptualism is founded on the ambiguity of the terms
employed. The opposite parties are substantially at
one. Had our British philosophers been aware of
the Leibnitzian distinction of Intuitive and Symboli-
cal knowledge ; and had we, like the Germans,
different terms, like Beariff uniAmchauung, to de.
note different kinds of thought, there would have
been as little difference of opinion in regard to the
nature of general notions in this country as in the
Empire. v\ ith us, Idea, Notion, Conception, He
are confounded, or applied by different philosophers
in different senses. I must put the reader on his
guard against Dr Thomas Brown's speculations on
this subject. His own doctrine of universals, in so
far as it is peculiar, is self-contradictory; and nothing
can be more erroneous than his statement of the doc-
trine held by others, especially by the Nominalists.
— H.


r.uAf. i.]







Judging is an operation of the mind so
familiar to every man who hath understand-
ing, and its name is so common and so well
understood, that it needs no definition.

As it is impossible by a definition to give
a notion of colour to a man who never saw
colours ; so it is impossible by any defini-
tion to give a distinct notion of judgment to
a man who has not often judged, and who
is not capable of reflecting attentively upon
this act of his mind. The best use of a de-
finition is to prompt him to that reflection ;
and without it the best definition will be apt
to mislead him.

The definition commonly given of judg-
ment, by the more ancient writers in logic,
was, that it is an act of the mind, whereby
one- thing is affirmed or denied of another.
I believe this is as good a definition of it as
can be given. Why I prefer it to some
later definitions, will afterwards appear.
Without pretending to give any other, I
shall make two remarks upon it, and then
offer some general observations on this
subject. [498]

1. It is true that it is by affirmation or
denial that we express our judgments ; but
there may be judgment which is not ex-
pressed. It is a solitary act of the mind,
and the expression of it by affirmation or
denial is not at all essential to it. It may
be tacit, and not expressed. Nay, it is
well known that men may judge contrary
to what they affirm or deny ; the definition
therefore must be understood of mental af-
firmation or denial, which indeed is only
another name for judgment.

2. Affirmation and denial is very often
the expression of testimony, which is a dif-
ferent act of the mind, and ought to be
distinguished from judgment.

A judge asks of a witness what he knows
of such a matter to which he was an eye
or ear-witness. He answers, by affirming
or denying something But his answer
does not express his judgment; it is his
testimony. Again, I ask a man his opinion
in a matter of science or of criticism. His
answer is not testimony ; it is the expres-
sion of his judgment.

Testimony is a social act, and it is essen
[4.98, 499]

tial to it to be expressed by words or signs.
A tacit testimony is a contradiction : but
there is no contradiction in a tacit judgment ;
it is complete without being expressed.

In testimony a man pledges his veracity
for what he affirms ; so that a false testi-
mony is a lie : but a wrong judgment is not
a lie ; it is only an error.

I believe, in all languages, testimony and
judgment are expressed by the same form
of speech. A proposition affirmative or
negative, with a verb in what is called the
indicative mood, expresses both. To dis-
tinguish them by the form of speech, it
would be necessary that verbs should have
two indicative moods, one for testimony,
and another to express judgment. [499]
I know not that this is found in any lan-
guage. And the reason is — not surely that
the vulgar cannot distinguish the two, for
every man knows the difference between a
lie and an error of judgment — but that, from
the matter and circumstances, we can easily
see whether a man intends to give his tes-
timony, or barely to express his judgment
Although men must have judged in many
cases before tribunals of justice were
erected, yet it is very probable that there
were tribunals before men began to specu-
late about judgment, and that the word may
be borrowed from the practice of tribunals.
As a judge, after taking the proper evidence,
passes sentence in a cause, and that sent-
ence is called his judgment, so the mind,
with regard to whatever is true or false,
passes sentence, or determines according to
the evidence that appears. Some kinds of
evidence leave no room for doubt. Sent-
ence is passed immediately, without seek-
ing or hearing any contrary evidence,
because the thing is certain and notorious.
In other cases, there is room for weighing
evidence on both sides, before sentence is
passed. The analogy between a tribunal
of justice, and this inward tribunal of the
mind, is too obvious to escape the notice of
any man who ever appeared before a judge.
And it is probable that the word judgment,
as well asmany other words we use in speak-
ing of this operation of mind, are grounded
on this analogy.

Having premised these things, that it
may be clearly understood what I mean by
judgment, I proceed to make some general
observations concerning it.




First, Judgment is an act of the mind,
specifically different from simple apprehen-
sion, or the bare conception of a thing. *
It would be unnecessary to observe this, if
some philosophers had not been led by their
theories to a contrary opinion. [500]

Although there can be no judgment with-
out a conception of the things about which
we j udge, yet conception may be without any
judgment. -f Judgment can be expressed
by a proposition only, and a proposition is
a complete sentence ; but simple apprehen-
sion may be expressed by a word or words,
which make no complete sentence. When
simple apprehension is employed about a
proposition, every man knows that it is one
thing to apprehend a proposition — that is,
to conceive what it means — but it is quite
another thing to judge it to be true or false.

It is self-evident that every judgment
must be either true or falser but simple
apprehension, or conception, can neither be
true nor false, as was shewn before.

One judgment may be contradictory to
another ; and it is impossible for a man to
have two judgments at the same time, which
he perceives to be contradictory. But con-
tradictory propositions may be conceived^
at the same time without any difficulty.
That the sun is greater than the earth, and
that the sun is not greater than the earth,
are contradictory propositions. He that
apprehends the meaning of one, apprehends
the meaning of both. But it is impossible
for him to judge both to be true at the same
time. He knows that, if the one is true,
the other must be false. For these reasons,
I hold it to be certain that judgment and
simple apprehension are acts of the mind
specifically different.

Secondly, There are notions or ideas that
ought to be referred to the faculty of judg-
ment as their source ; because, if we had
not that faculty, they could not enter into
our minds; and to those that have that
faculty, and are capable of reflecting upon
its operations, they are obvious and familiar.

Among these we may reckon the notion
of judgment itself ; the notions of a propos-
ition—of its subject, predicate, and copula ;
of affirmation and negation, of true and
false ; of knowledge, belief, disbelief, opi-
nion, assent, evidence. From no source
could we acquire these notions, but from
reflecting upon our judgments. Eelations
of things make one great class of our notions
or ideas ; and we cannot have the idea of
any relation without some exercise of judg-
ment, as will appear afterwards. [501]

Thirdly, In persons come to years of

* Which, however, implies a judgment affirming
ts subjective reality— an existentialjudgment.— H.

t 6ee last note, and above, p. 243, a, note *, and n.
1 5, a, note f H.

% See above, p. 377, b, note.— H

understanding, judgment necessarily accom-
panies all sensation, perception by the
senses, consciousness, and memory, but not

I restrict this to persons come to the years
of understanding, because it may be a ques-
tion, whether infants, in the first period of
life, have any judgment or belief at all."
The same question may be put with regard
to brutes and some idiots. This question
is foreign to the present subject ; and I say
nothing here about it, but speak only of
persons who have the exercise of judg-

In them it is evident that a man who
feels pain, judges and believes that he is
really pained. The man who perceives an
object, believes that it exists, and is what
he distinctly perceives it to be ; nor is it in
his power to avoid such judgment. And

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 93 of 114)