" This collection proves otherwise, for the letters illuminate virtually every aspect of Reid's life and career and, in some instances, provide us with invaluable evidence about activities otherwise undocumented in his manuscripts or ...
The inspiration for this paper came rather unexpectedly. In February 2006, I made the long trip from my home in Sioux City, Iowa, to Torino, Italy in order to witness the Olympic Winter Games. Barely a month later, I found myself in California at the newly-renovated Getty Villa, home to one of the world's great collections of Greco-Roman antiquities. At the Villa I attended a talk about a Roman mosaic depicting a boxing scene from Virgil's Aeneid. The tiny tiles showed (...) not only two boxers, but a wobbly looking ox. ‘What is wrong with this ox?’ asked the docent. ‘Why is he there at the match?’ The answer, of course, is that he is the prize. And the reason he is wobbly is because the victor has just sacrificed this prize to the gods in thanksgiving, by punching him between the eyes. A light went on in my head; I turned to my husband and whispered, ‘Just like Joey Cheek in Torino.’ My husband smiled indulgently, but my mind was already racing. I realized that by donating his victory bonus to charity, Cheek had tapped into one of the oldest and most venerable traditions in sport: individual sacrifice for the benefit of the larger community. It is a tradition that derives from the religious function of the ancient Olympic Games and it deserves to be revived the modern world. (shrink)
Reid said little in his published writings about his contemporary Joseph Priestley, but his unpublished work is largely devoted to the latter. Much of Priestley's philosophical thought- his materialism, his determinism, his Lockean scientific realism- was as antithetical to Reid's as was Hume's philosophy in a very different way. Neither Reid nor Priestley formulated a full response to the other. Priestley's response to Reid came very early in his career, and is marked by haste and immaturity. (...) In his last decade Reid worried much about Priestley's materialism, but that concern never reached publication. I document Reid's unpublished response to Priestley, and also view Reid's response from Priestley's perspective, as deduced from his published works. Both thinkers attempted to base their arguments on Newtonian method. Reid's position is the more puzzling of the two, since he nowhere makes clear how Newtonian method favours mind-body dualism over materialism, which is the central debate between them. (shrink)
In his last great philosophical essay, 'Of Power', Reid makes the plausible claim that 'our first exertions are instinctive' and made 'without any distinct conception of the event that is to follow'. According to Reid, these instinctive exertions allow us to form beliefs about correlations between exertions and consequential events. Such instinctive exertions also explain the origin of our conception of power. In this paper, I argue that we can use the notion of instinctive exertions to address several (...) objections that have been raised concerning Reid's rejection of the claim that sensations possess spatial content. (shrink)
Reid argues that Hume’s claim that justice is an artificial virtue is inconsistent with the fact that gratitude is a natural sentiment. This chapter shows that Reid’s argument succeeds only given a philosophy of mind and action that Hume rejects. Among other things, Reid assumes that one can conceive of one of a pair of contradictories only if one can conceive of the other—a claim that Hume denies. So, in the case of justice, the disagreement between Hume (...) and Reid is, at bottom, a disagreement over their respective conceptions of how the human mind works at its most fundamental level. (shrink)
Thomas Reid’s influence on continental and especially on French philosophy at the beginning of the 19th century has to be considered against the background of the crisis of the philosophical project of the moderns. This project, which is intimately related to the rise of the modern scientific world image, has one of its major tenets in the so called “theory of ideas” introduced by Descartes and developed further by Locke. By emphasizing the role of our active faculties in the (...) formulation of judgements, Reid rejects this theory. One of the consequences of this rejection is the distinction Reid makes between sensations, which are passive, and perceptions, which are active. Maine de Biran picks up Reid’s emphasis on our active powers but reinterprets it on the light of his theory of the “primitive fact” that external objects resist our efforts to move them, thus providing a unifying principle for Reid’s “principles of common sense”. (shrink)
Thomas Reid’s epistemological ambitions are decisively at the center of his work. However, if we take such ambitions to be the whole story, we are apt to overlook the theory of mind that Reid develops and deploys against the theory of ideas. Reid’s philosophy of mind is sophisticated and strikingly contemporary, and has, until recently, been lost in the shadow of his other philosophical accomplishments. Here I survey some aspects of Reid’s theory of mind that I (...) find most interesting. I examine whether Reid is a mysterian about the mind, whether Reid has a direct realist theory of perception, and whether Reid has a higher-order, or “inner-sense,” view of consciousness. Along the way I will mention portions of the secondary literature that examine these aspects and point out whether and to what degree I part ways with the interpretations present in the literature. (shrink)
In An Inquiry into the Human Mind and in Essays on Intellectual Powers, Thomas Reid discusses what kinds of things perceivers are related to in perception. Are these things qualities of bodies, the bodies themselves, or both? This question places him in a long tradition of philosophers concerned with understanding how human perception works in connecting us with the external world. It is still an open question in the philosophy of perception whether the human perceptual system is providing us (...) with representations as of bodies, or only as of their properties. My project in this article is to explain how, on Reid's view, we can have perceptual representations as of bodies. This, in turn, enables him to argue that we have a robust understanding of the world around us, an understanding that would be missing if our perceptual system only supplied us with representations as of free-floating properties of bodies. (shrink)
In his account of visual perception, Thomas Reid describes visible figure as both ‘real and external’ to the eye and as the ‘immediate object of sight’. These claims appear to conflict with Reid's direct realism, since if the ‘immediate’ object of vision is also its direct object, then sight would be perceptually indirect due to the role of visible figure as a perceptual intermediary. I argue that this apparent threat to Reid's direct realism may be resolved by (...) understanding visible figure as the set of geometrical properties that holds between an object's visible surfaces and some particular perspective or point of view. On this relational interpretation of visible figure, and once an ambiguity over the use of the term ‘object’ is resolved, Reid's account of vision is both epistemically and perceptually direct, as well as consistent with his account of the other senses and doctrine of signs. (shrink)
Thomas Reid is notorious for rejecting the orthodox theory of conception (OTC), according to which conceiving of an object involves a mental relationship to an idea of that object. In this paper, I examine the question of what this rejection amounts to, when we limit our attention to bare conception (rather than the more widely discussed case of perception). I present some of the purported advantages of OTC, and assess whether they provide a genuine basis for preferring OTC to (...) a Reidian alternative. I argue that Reid’s approach is no worse off than OTC at explaining intentionality of our conceptions, and suggest that OTC diverges less from Reid’s view than it would at first seem. (shrink)
Both Reid and Berkeley reject ‘representationalism’, an epistemological position whereby we perceive things in the world indirectly via ideas in our mind, on the grounds of anti-scepticism and common sense. My aim in this paper is to draw out the similarities between Reid and Berkeley's ‘anti-representationalist’ arguments, whilst also identifying the root of their disagreements on certain fundamental metaphysical issues. Reid famously rejects Berkeley's idealism, in which all that exists are ideas and minds, because it undermines the (...) dictates of common sense. Reid also charges Berkeley with not only accepting but furthering the progress of ‘the Way of Ideas’, a longstanding tradition which has drawn philosophy away from true science and common sense. From Berkeley's perspective, Reid is a ‘materialist’; that is, he dogmatically accepts that mind-independent things exist. I argue that these important differences can be explained by both thinkers’ construal of certain ‘philosophical prejudices’. Finally, I conclude that despite these differences, both ought to be characterised as ‘anti-representationalists’ in light of their shared epistemological concerns. (shrink)
Thomas Reid believed that the human mind is well equipped, from infancy, to acquire knowledge of the external world, with all its objects, persons and events. There are three main faculties that are involved in the acquisition of knowledge: (original) perception, memory, and imagination. It is thought that we cannot understand how exactly perception works, unless we have a good grasp on Reid’s notion of perceptual conception (i.e., of the conception employed in perception). The present paper argues that (...) the same is true of memory, and it offers an answer to the question: what type of conception does it employ? (shrink)
An introduction to Thomas Reid’s theoretical philosophy, written for the Italian translation of the essay on memory, from the “Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man”. I discuss Reid’s most important views about perception, knowledge, and philosophical methodology.
I argue that some of the most prominent interpretations of Reid's response to skepticism marginalize a crucial aspect of his thought: namely, that our common sense beliefs meet whatever normative standards of rationality the skeptic might fairly demand of them. This should be seen as supplementary to reliabilist or proper functionalist interpretations of Reid, which often ignore this half of the story. I also show how Reid defends the rationality of believing first principles by appealing to their (...) naturalness and irresistibility. The resulting interpretation supplies Reid with a more satisfying and formidable response to the skeptic than interpretations currently offer. (shrink)
How is it that, as fiction readers, we are nonplussed by J. K. Rowling's prescription to imagine Ronan, Bane, and Magorian, three different centaurs of the Forbidden Forrest at Hogwarts? It is usually held in the philosophical literature on fictional discourse that singular imaginings of fictional objects are impossible, given the blatant nonexistence of such objects. In this paper, I have a dual purpose: on the one hand, to show that, without being committed to Meinongeanism, we can explain the phenomenon (...) of singular imaginings of different nonexistents of the same kind; while, at the same time, to attribute this position to Thomas Reid, thus correcting some misunderstandings of his view on imagination. (shrink)
The sense of balance remains a Cinderella among our senses. Although the vestibular apparatus and the apprehension of motion, equilibrium and orientation which it serves has now been studied extensively and descriptions abound in textbooks on perceptual psychology, its key role in our agency remains neglected in philosophical accounts of perception. Popularly received wisdom on the senses also largely ignores balance and it has recently even been called 'the lost sense'. -/- Recognition for the discovery of this sense should probably (...) be accorded to Thomas Reid and his contemporary William Charles Wells. Both made crucial observations before the close of the eighteenth century. Since there is now a tendency to emphasize the role of the agent, brain plasticity, and the development of motor skills in all perceptual tasks, some of Reid's comments in particular strike us as remarkably modern. Reid also differs from many authorities in crediting the sense with specific sensations, as would be expected given the role of sensations in his epistemological scheme. -/- In this paper some of the fascinating facts about the sense of balance are reviewed so that Reid's remarks can be evaluated in a modern context. Similarities and differences in the approaches of Wells and Reid are considered and the value that Reid's insights have even now in understanding perceptual processes is explored. It is suggested that Reid should indeed be counted among the hitherto unacknowledged discoverers of this fundamental sense. (shrink)
Reid offers an under-appreciated account of the primary/secondary quality distinction. He gives sound reasons for rejecting the views of Locke, Boyle, Galileo and others, and presents a better alternative, according to which the distinction is epistemic rather than metaphysical. Primary qualities, for Reid, are qualities whose intrinsic natures can be known through sensation. Secondary qualities, on the other hand, are unknown causes of sensations. Some may object that Reid's view is internally inconsistent, or unacceptably relativistic. However, a (...) deeper understanding shows that it is consistent, and relative only to normal humans. To acquire this deeper understanding, one must also explore the nature of dispositions, Reid's rejection of the theory of ideas, his distinction between sensation and perception, and his distinction between natural and acquired perceptions. (shrink)
The goal of this paper is show how an initially appealing objection to David Hume's account of judgment can only be put forward by philosophers who accept an account of judgment that has its own sizable share of problems. To demonstrate this, I situate the views of John Locke, David Hume, and Thomas Reid with respect to each other, so as to illustrate how the appealing objection is linked to unappealing features of Locke's account of judgment.
The subject of this investigation is the role of conventions in the formulation of Thomas Reid’s theory of the geometry of vision, which he calls the ‘geometry of visibles’. In particular, we will examine the work of N. Daniels and R. Angell who have alleged that, respectively, Reid’s ‘geometry of visibles’ and the geometry of the visual field are non-Euclidean. As will be demonstrated, however, the construction of any geometry of vision is subject to a choice of conventions (...) regarding the construction and assignment of its various properties, especially metric properties, and this fact undermines the claim for a unique non-Euclidean status for the geometry of vision. Finally, a suggestion is offered for trying to reconcile Reid’s direct realist theory of perception with his geometry of visibles.While Thomas Reid is well-known as the leading exponent of the Scottish ‘common-sense’ school of philosophy, his role in the history of geometry has only recently been drawing the attention of the scholarly community. In particular, several influential works, by N. Daniels and R. B. Angell, have claimed Reid as the discoverer of non-Euclidean geometry; an achievement, moreover, that pre-dates the geometries of Lobachevsky, Bolyai, and Gauss by over a half century. Reid’s alleged discovery appears within the context of his analysis of the geometry of the visual field, which he dubs the ‘geometry of visibles’. In summarizing the importance of Reid’s philosophy in this area, Daniels is led to conclude that ‘there can remain little doubt that Reid intends the geometry of visibles to be an alternative to Euclidean geometry’;1 while Angell, similarly inspired by Reid, draws a much stronger inference: ‘The geometry which precisely and naturally fits the actual configurations of the visual field is a non-Euclidean, two-dimensional, elliptical geometry. In substance, this thesis was advanced by Thomas Reid in 1764...’, 2 The significance of these findings has not gone unnoticed in mathematical and scientific circles, moreover, for Reid’s name is beginning to appear more frequently in historical surveys of the development of geometry and the theories of space., 3Implicit in the recent work on Reid’s ‘geometry of visibles’, or GOV, one can discern two closely related but distinct arguments: first, that Reid did in fact formulate a non-Euclidean geometry, and second, that the GOV is non-Euclidean. This essay will investigate mainly the latter claim, although a lengthy discussion will be accorded to the first. Overall, in contrast to the optimistic reports of a non-Euclidean GOV, it will be argued that there is a great deal of conceptual freedom in the construction of any geometry pertaining to the visual field. Rather than single out a non-Euclidean structure as the only geometry consistent with visual phenomena, an examination of Reid, Daniels, and Angell will reveal the crucial role of geometric ‘conventions’, especially of the metric sort, in the formulation of the GOV. Consequently, while a non-Euclidean geometry is consistent with Reid’s GOV, it is only one of many different geometrical structures that a GOV can possess. Angell’s theory that the GOV can only be construed as non-Euclidean, is thus incorrect. After an exploration of Reid’s theory and the alleged non-Euclidean nature of the GOV, in 1 and 2 respectively, the focus will turn to the tacit role of conventionalism in Daniels’ reconstruction of Reid’s GOV argument, and in the contemporary treatment of a non-Euclidean visual geometry offered by Angell. Finally, in the conclusion, a suggestion will be offered for a possible reconstruction of Reid’s GOV that does not violate his avowed ‘direct realist’ theory of perception, since this epistemological thesis largely prompted his formulation of the GOV. (shrink)
Reid’s discussion of Molyneux’s question has been neglected. The Inquiry discusses the question twice, offering opposing answers. The first discussion treats the underlying issue as concerning common perceptibles of touch and vision, and in particular whether in vision we originally perceive depth. Although it is tempting to treat the second discussion as doing the same, this would render pointless various novel features Reid introduces in reformulating Molyneux’s question. Rather, the issue now is whether the blind can form a (...) reasonable conception of visual appearances, a conception that would allow them to perform Molyneux’s task. In explaining why Reid thought they can, I draw on his account of primary quality concepts as independent of sensation; of concept possession as ability, not acquaintance with sensation; and of visual appearance itself as in key part a matter of the perception of a primary quality, visible figure. Thus the issue does not concern cross-modality, what vision has in common with touch; but how even what is central in vision is amodal, able to be grasped independently of any sensory mode. Reid’s second Molyneux discussion thereby forms a focus for the Inquiry’s central claims, and the rejection of the Ideal Theory they entail. (shrink)
In a recent article on Reid’s theory of single and double vision, James Van Cleve considers an argument against direct realism presented by Hume. Hume argues for the mind-dependent nature of the objects of our perception from the phenomenon of double vision. Reid does not address this particular argument, but Van Cleve considers possible answers Reid might have given to Hume. He finds fault with all these answers. Against Van Cleve, I argue that both appearances in double (...) vision could be considered visible figures of the object, and show how this solution might preserve Reid’s direct realism. However, this solution is not compatible with the single appearance of an object predicted by Reid’s theory of single and double vision. This consequence will appear evident once we consider the critique of Reid’s theory of single and double vision formulated by William Charles Wells (1757-1817). Wells argues that Reid’s theory is either incomplete or incompatible with other claims made by Reid. It is incomplete since it fails to specify the unique direction in which we the object in single vision; if it not incomplete and is compatible with the law of monocular direction given by Reid, then it is incompatible with Reid’s claim that we do not perceive immediately distance by sight. (shrink)
Drawing on work done by Helmholtz, I argue that Reid was in no position to infer that objects appear as if projected on the inner surface of a sphere, or that they have the geometric properties of such projections even though they do not look concave towards the eye. A careful consideration of the phenomena of visual experience, as further illuminated by the practice of visual artists, should have led him to conclude that the sides of visible appearances either (...) look straight, in which case their angles appear to approximate Euclidean measures, or their angles do not appear to approximate Euclidean measures for straight line figures, in which case their sides do not look straight. (shrink)
Reid rejects the image theory --the representative or indirect realist position--that memory-judgements are inferred from or otherwise justified by a present image or introspectible state. He also rejects the trace theory , which regards memories as essentially traces in the brain. In contrast he argues for a direct knowledge account in which personal memory yields unmediated knowledge of the past. He asserts the reliability of memory, not in currently fashionable terms as a reliable belief-forming process, but more elusively as (...) a principle of Commonsense. There remains a contemporary consensus against Reid's position. I argue that Reid's critique is essentially sound, and that the consensus is mistaken; personal memory judgements are spontaneous and non-inferential in the same way as perceptual judgements. But I question Reid's account of the connection between personal memory and personal identity. My primary concern is rationally reconstructive rather than scholarly, and downplays recent interpretations of Reid's faculty psychology as a precursor of functionalism and other scientific philosophies of mind. (shrink)