Thomas Reid  

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"If there are certain principles, as I think there are, which the constitution of our nature leads us to believe, and which we are under a necessity to take for granted in the common concerns of life, without being able to give a reason for them--these are what we call the principles of common sense; and what is manifestly contrary to them, is what we call absurd." --Thomas Reid, Essays on the Active Powers of the Human Mind


"Thomas Reid's excellent book, Inquiry into the Human Mind... affords us a very thorough conviction of the inadequacy of the senses for producing the objective perception of things, and also of the non-empirical origin of the intuition of space and time. Reid refutes Locke's teaching that perception is a product of the senses. This he does by a thorough and acute demonstration that the collective sensations of the senses do not bear the least resemblance to the world known through perception, and in particular by showing that Locke's five primary qualities (extension, figure, solidity, movement, number) cannot possibly be supplied to us by any sensation of the senses..." --The World as Will and Representation

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Thomas Reid (7 May (26 April O.S.) 1710 – 7 October 1796), Scottish philosopher, and a contemporary of David Hume, was the founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense, and played an integral role in the Scottish Enlightenment. The early part of his life was spent in Aberdeen, Scotland, where he created the 'Wise Club' (a literary-philosophical association) and graduated from the University of Aberdeen. He was given a professorship at King's College, Aberdeen in 1752, where he wrote An Inquiry Into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (published in 1764). Shortly afterward he was given the prestigious Professorship of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow when he was called to replace Adam Smith. He resigned from this position in 1781.

Reid believed that common sense (in a special philosophical sense of sensus communis) is, or at least should be, at the foundation of all philosophical inquiry. He disagreed with Hume, who asserted that we can never know what an external world consists of as our knowledge is limited to the ideas in the mind, and George Berkeley, who asserted that the external world is merely ideas in the mind. By contrast, Reid claimed that the foundations upon which our sensus communis are built justify our belief that there is an external world.

In his day and for some years into the 19th century, he was regarded as more important than David Hume. He advocated direct realism, or common sense realism, and argued strongly against the Theory of Ideas advocated by John Locke, René Descartes, and (in varying forms) nearly all Early Modern philosophers who came after them. He had a great admiration for Hume and had a mutual friend send Hume an early manuscript of his (Reid's) Inquiry. Hume responded that the "deeply philosophical" work "is wrote in a lively and entertaining matter," but that "there seems to be some defect in method," and criticized Reid for implying the presence of innate ideas.

Influences

It has been claimed that his reputation waned after attacks on the Scottish School of Common Sense by Immanuel Kant (although Kant, only 14 years Reid's junior, also bestowed much praise on Scottish philosophy - Kant attacked the work of Reid, but admitted he had never actually read the works of Thomas Reid) and by John Stuart Mill. But Reid's was the philosophy taught in the colleges of North America during the 19th century and was championed by Victor Cousin, a French philosopher. Justus Buchler has shown that Reid was an important influence on the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, who shared Reid's concern to revalue common sense and whose work links Reid to pragmatism. To Peirce, conceptions of truth and the real involve the notion of a community without definite limits (and thus potentially self-correcting as far as needed), and capable of a definite increase of knowledge. Common sense is socially evolved, open to verification much like scientific method, and constantly evolving, as evidence, perception, and practice warrant, albeit with a slowness that Peirce came only in later years to see, at which point he owned his "adhesion, under inevitable modification, to the opinion of...Thomas Reid, in the matter of Common Sense" (Peirce called his version "critical common-sensism"). By contrast, on Reid's concept, the sensus communis is not a social evolutionary product but rather a precondition of the possibility that humans could reason with each other. The work of Thomas Reid influenced the work of Noah Porter and James McCosh in the 19th century United States and is based upon the claim of universal principles of objective truth, Pragmatism is not the development of the work of the Scottish "Common Sense" School - it is the negation of it. There are clear links between the work of the Scottish Common Sense School and the work of the Oxford Realist philosophers Harold Prichard and Sir William David Ross in the 20th century.

Reid's reputation has revived in the wake of the advocacy of common sense as a philosophical method or criterion by G. E. Moore early in the 20th century, and more recently because of the attention given to Reid by contemporary philosophers, in particular philosophers of religion in the school of Reformed epistemology such as William Alston, Alvin Plantinga, and Nicholas Wolterstorff, seeking to rebut charges that theistic belief is irrational where it has no doxastic foundations (that is, where that belief is not inferred from other adequately grounded beliefs).

He wrote a number of important philosophical works, including Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764, Glasgow & London), Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1785) and Essays on the Active Powers of Man (1788). In 1844, Schopenhauer praised Reid for explaining that the perception of external objects does not result from the raw data that is received through the five senses:

"Thomas Reid's excellent book, Inquiry into the Human Mind... affords us a very thorough conviction of the inadequacy of the senses for producing the objective perception of things, and also of the non-empirical origin of the intuition of space and time. Reid refutes Locke's teaching that perception is a product of the senses. This he does by a thorough and acute demonstration that the collective sensations of the senses do not bear the least resemblance to the world known through perception, and in particular by showing that Locke's five primary qualities (extension, figure, solidity, movement, number) cannot possibly be supplied to us by any sensation of the senses..." --The World as Will and Representation, Vol. II, Ch. 2

Reid's works




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