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Reid also made influential contributions to philosophical topics including ethics, aesthetics and the philosophy of mind. The legacy of Thomas Reid's philosophical work is found in contemporary theories of perception, free will, philosophy of religion, and widely in epistemology. Although this was his only published work, he was given a professorship at King's College Aberdeen in Later he received a prestigious professorship at the University of Glasgow.

These three books, along with four additional books composed of papers, essays and more, have been recently republished in the Edinburgh Edition of Thomas Reid. In the Inquiry , a methodologically pioneering work due to its extensive and rigorous use of observational data to justify claims about perception, Reid examines each of the five senses and discusses the ways in which we achieve knowledge of the world by employing them.

Intellectual Powers expands his system beyond the apprehension of the world through the senses to consideration of memory, imagination, knowledge, the nature of judgment, reasoning and taste. The Active Powers examines a collection of topics concerning ethics, the nature of agency generally, and the distinctive features of human agency.

This reputation owes less to the philosophical uses Reid makes of common sense than to fellow Scotsman James Beattie, who popularized common sense in his very widely read An Essay on The Nature and Immutability of Truth In Opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism Even today it is easy to overestimate and to misunderstand the role of common sense in Thomas Reid's philosophical system.

Here it refers to a select set of intuitive judgments. Common sense first principles are identifiable because they typically possess a suite of additional traits traits, note, not necessary conditions as follows. Denial of a common sense principle is not only false but absurd EIP 6. Common sense principles are common sense because, but not only because, they are common to humanity. Reid's account of common sense does not itself approach the status of a philosophical or psychological theory.

Though his commitment to common sense forms a key component in his philosophical method, a deeper methodological principle clearly underlies his appeal to common sense. Reid attempts to build his fallibilist, foundationalist account of empirical knowledge while working under an empiricist constraint that prohibits speculative use of a priori reason.

As a result, Reid's reference to beliefs held in common across time and place, across culture and religion, functions as an empirically justified generalization about species-typical features of human cognition. Though this marks a point commonly neglected in the interpretation of Reid, one can often find, in his discussion of common sense, emphasis on empirical generalizations from observable data about what people believe and how they behave.

Laying stress upon his claim about the universality of certain beliefs across our species has opened Reid up to tiresome criticism that began in his lifetime and continues to the present of the following sort: Reid's appeals to common sense are little more than affirmations of majority opinion or appeals to the masses, but these are fallacious, so his inferences from such principles are defeated. Reid corrects this misunderstanding by emphasizing the fact that his first principles are psychological generalizations about belief formation applicable to most of our species EIP 6.

Reid often appeals to the structure of languages as evidence for generalizations about human cognition, belief, and descriptive metaphysics. Language, being something so widely shared, offers an abundance of data for observation. Reid finds many commonalities across languages. The connection between ordinary language and common sense that Reid espouses was of great influence on such later philosophers as G.

Moore and J. Reid does not believe, however, that every feature of ordinary language is indicative of some important tenet of common sense EIP 1. All languages distinguish between qualities of things and the things themselves EIP 6. This suggests that certain universal features of the syntactic structure of languages inform us of a common sense cognitive commitment, even if it is implicit. Such common sense first principles are intended to be more than merely generalizations about how humans across cultures form beliefs.

Reid intends these general principles to provide evidence for particular beliefs. Thus Principle 5 issues in the self-evident belief, for example, that I perceive a computer before me Van Cleve As a result, Reid's philosophical method accords with common sense insofar as everyday perceptual beliefs are evident or self-evident.

An implication of Reid's application of his common sense method to first principles is that Reid is not concerned to answer questions of justification that appear pressing to contemporary epistemologists. He is not, for instance, interested in providing a refutation of skepticism about the external world by appeal to first principles.

Reid believes he can refute skeptical hypotheses--such as Descartes's hypothesis of an evil demon who makes us believe that the world is the way we take it to be when it is really vastly different--simply by showing that such a hypothesis is no more likely to be true than the common-sensical belief that the world is much the way we perceive it to be.

Since the belief in the external world is a dictate of common sense, it is, Reid thinks, as justified as it needs to be when it is shown to be on the same footing as any alternative. Justification, therefore, does not necessarily require providing positive reasons in favor of common-sensical beliefs; common sense beliefs could be adequately justified simply by undermining the force of the reasons in favor of alternatives to common sense. In fact, as we move through this entry, we will witness Reid's repeated deployment of this strategy in the form of burden-of-proof arguments against his major foil, the Way of Ideas.

Common sense constrains, rather than dictates, acceptable philosophical positions. A number of additional problems remain in accounting for Reid's appeal to common sense and in his treatment of first principles. For example, a number of comments Reid makes indicate that he appears to have a psychological conception of evidence whereby what is evident forces assent. The relations between one's first principles, the perceived aims—and limits—of natural philosophy, and one's religious background came together in eighteenth-century Great Britain to issue in a number of different philosophical stances.

Typically these stances are framed as various commitments to Newton and Newtonianism. Hume and MacLaurin believe the mind's operations are to be studied with broadly observational Newtonian methods, though this leads them to forms of local skepticism. Priestley and Hartley apply Newtonianism not only to the operations of the mind but to the mind's substance via materialist commitments.

Reid's teacher George Turnbull adopted Newtonianism and was led to Berkeleyan idealism by many of Berkeley's own common-sense commitments. Wanting both the world and knowledge of it in his philosophical system, Reid was at pains to articulate his account of both common sense and Newtonianism. Unlike most British Empiricists, Reid read, understood, and taught Newton's writings. First, Reid is committed to the positive role of mathematics in stating and testing theories. Newton's greatness lies in part due to the fact that he places physics upon firm mathematical ground, in sharp contrast to Cartesian physics, its leading competitor of the time.

Second, Reid says that issues about causation are not issues physics should attempt to resolve. Not only this, efficient causes are only ever agents EAP 1. Causation and Free Will , below. Reid attributes this position to Newton. Reid mentions on many occasions, and with a certain pride, that Newtonian science does not permit knowledge of causes of phenomena, for example, the motion of the compass needle or the attraction of two bodies. More often, however, Reid urges readers to think of scientific explanation in terms of laws, as Newton had done. Laws are true general propositions used to explain appearances Thomas Reid on the Animate Creation , Physics does not aim to find efficient causes.

By dispensing with causes and amplifying the explanatory value and empirical justification of statements of laws, Reid's account is regarded as a forerunner to a deductive-nomological model of explanation. Third, related, when one event produces another event, e. One event may be constantly conjoined to another event, but it is a mistake to believe that this forms any necessity. Fourth, unlike nearly all other Early Modern philosophers traditionally taught in the canon, Reid was an avowed experimentalist, made so by borrowing Newton's methods in Opticks , and conducted experiments to provide evidence for his claims about the nature of the mind, perception and agency.

Reid was active in his community, bringing his penchant for knowledge through experimentation to meetings in Aberdeenshire in which experimental techniques in farming were debated. Fifth, Reid understands Newtonian physics to offer partial confirmation to some beliefs about God and God's relation to the world. Newtonian natural science's role in this connection is to provide evidence for belief that our solar system is orderly and well-governed. See 8. Philosophy of Religion below. Stating central features of Reid's commitment to Newtonianism goes a long way to understanding Reid's empiricism and science since Reid attributes most of his own views about these matters to Newton.

Despite the fact that with a few notable exceptions Reid scholars have neglected issues in his philosophy of science, a few key controversies have emerged and merit brief mention. First, Reid was embroiled in clashes with other thinkers and correspondents about the scope of Newton's Regulae Philosophandi. Interpretations differed considerably, as did the translations and restatements of the rules themselves. Given that after Bacon's work, Newton's Regulae formed the most important statement on method in natural philosophy to be found in the Early Modern period, Reid was quick to defend his interpretation of these rules against alternate uses by Priestley and others.

Occurring in the introductory portion of his Essays on Intellectual Powers , he would go on to use and reuse it countless times in what followed. Proponents of the Way of Ideas fail to abide by Newton's first rule when they endorse the existence of ideas because the existence of ideas is an hypothesis and lacks evidence. Another area of controversy in Reid's empiricism involves the grounding of his belief to the effect that ether does not exist.

Ether appears to represent just the sort of posit originally by Descartes in Principles of Philosophy that Newtonians often enjoyed sweeping into the trash. Lacking any observational evidence for ether, Descartes posits ether as a medium through which forces can act on bodies that are not in direct contact. But does Reid reject ether theory on the grounds that it is unobservable and therefore does not belong in a Newtonian science, or does he reject ether theory because scientists as yet lack justificatory observations on its behalf?

The first rule does not entail that unobservables like ether, subtile fluids, or forces do not or cannot have explanatory force, let alone that unobservables do not exist. Reid is explicit that questions about the existence of ether were open questions that were not settled by a priori EIP 2.

This has two corollaries of considerable importance for understanding Reid's methods. First, the fact that Reid admits that these forces of attraction—unobservable, immaterial forces—may be physical implies that he is comfortable with a physical explanation of gravitation that does not entail the existence of God. Second, physical forces will not yield their secrets to an impoverished Cartesian science. This criticism is made on the grounds that Cartesians were attempting to understand gravitational attraction in terms of only extension, figure and motion—for Reid, a catastrophic mistake.

Reid's theory of conception is at the heart of his philosophical system and his faculty psychology. While faculty psychology appears to be an obvious way to scientifically study the senses, Reid's study of intellectual powers—memory, judgment, abstraction—under the umbrella of faculty psychology was not obvious. Reid would face pointed criticism for multiplying faculties, but this consequence was more than outweighed by the explanatory utility of separating mental powers—their inputs, their operations, and their outputs—from one another.

The most ubiquitous mental power is that of conception. Our suite of intellectual faculties supports a wide variety of mental events. Acts of conceiving are embedded in most of them. Whether judging that there is a tree before me, imagining there is a tree before me, or reasoning to a generalization that all trees have roots, these mental events employ the faculty of conception.

Instead, simple apprehension—the basic form of conception—is bundled within typical acts of perception. The model of conception received from the Way of Ideas marks its first long step into two types of skepticism. Reid regards the Way of Ideas as founded on a flawed, anti-Newtonian methodology, is unscientific, and he argues that it has highly undesirable consequences. Reid distinguishes between several functions of conception. In order to believe, or remember or perceive, I must perform an act of simple apprehension in order to get something in mind.

We explain Reidian conception by contrast with the Way of Ideas. First, Reid presupposes that the mind has an irreducible capacity for intentional conception in which our mental states are uniquely about specific objects. This faculty cannot be explained in terms of further non-intentional states. How intentional conception can be explained is mysterious—Reid is well aware of this. In a contrasting methodological move, Hume suggests that intentional content through ideas is built up from the operation of the laws of association—contiguity in time and space, resemblance and perceived causation—working upon impressions and images in the mind see Treatise 1.

Conception takes as its intentional objects items with varied ontologies, including physical objects and propositions EIP 1. Note that, according to Reid, the Way of Ideas fails to adopt a proper faculty psychology since all mental powers—memory, perception, abstraction, etc. Considerable work in the secondary literature has been devoted to determine just what the content of conceptions are or can be.

Hume uses these valences to determine which faculty is at work conceiving the idea. If I perceive an idea of a tree, my conception is lively and vivacious. If I remember the same idea of a tree, my conception is faint. Instead, Reid offers an account of a distinct faculty—conception—whose objects are embedded in other acts of the intellectual powers.

Reid's is an act-based theory of conception, in contrast to the Way of Ideas' object-based theory. Conceptions are ways of being aware of objects.


To conceive of an object is to be aware of that object as the bearer of some particular property. Being tall and being female are different properties, and their difference signals something important about Reidian conception. Being tall is a relational property since height is a trait that is assessed relative to some further thing or standard. To foreshadow, this subtle feature of conception will become important for Reid in his discussion of vision, especially his discussion of the relational property of visible figure.

Reid affirms human beings know what are the intentional contents of their thoughts. If I think about a tree, then I am defeasibly justified that I am thinking about a tree. But the Way of Ideas jeopardizes Reid's commitment to the obviousness of our introspective ability to identify what we are thinking about. Like the more familiar veil of perception created by the representational role of ideas see 3. One event follows another; but we never can observe any tie between them.

They seem conjoined, but never connected. Hume's causal explanation of reverberating impacts on impressions in the mind does not explain the content of our thoughts. Hume describes his theory of thought as corpuscular because impressions are atomic and separable mental states without any determinate intentional link to anything else. Note that Hume appears to be led to this position by way of his attempt to repurpose Newtonian mechanics, as it applies to bodies, to formulate a science of the mind.

Troubled by the statement from Hume, Reid constructs a reductio argument against Hume's theory of thought that plays upon the implications just noted. Reid presents this argument about the intentionality of thought through an analogy about the meaning of language, specifically, about someone who is blind to the meaning of the language in a book. Suppose I see unfamiliar ink marks on paper.

I neither know what they mean nor even that they are meaningful to anyone. The meanings of these words are not intrinsic to the representations of the words , whether those representations are on paper or are sound waves, just like the intentional content of ideas is not intrinsic to the ideas themselves. Reid writes:. Uninterpreted impressions are syntactic and purportedly representational. The resulting veil of conception implies that my impressions risk having no meaning for me.

As a result, I do not know the contents of my own thoughts. Since this is absurd, Reid rejects the Way of Ideas' premise that leads to it. Reid's reductio of the Way of Ideas' theory of thought is intended to buttress Reid's claims that conceiving is irreducibly intentional and that, because of this, we have knowledge of the contents of our thoughts. Hume refrains from this claim in part because he sees no plausible metaphysics to support it. That is, if intentionality is endemic to thought, then the mind must not be what we think it is—a part of nature whose ideas operate on impact principles familiar from Newtonian mechanics.

Reid is aware of this problem and prepares to bite the bullet. In an effort to explicate this mysterious conceptual ability, Reid examines theories of thought of Aristotle and medieval philosophers. These theories posit substantial forms that conjoin thoughts to their intentional objects Philosophical Orations , Reid , 38 and Reid , He withholds further speculation about the metaphysics that must undergird the claim that intentionality is primitive. This move illustrates a feature of Reid's philosophical method: common sense and knowledge are conceptually and explanatorily prior to metaphysical commitments.

Reid is a nominalist about universals, which means that Reid does not believe that universals exist independently of the set of individual things that instantiate the shared property. A universal is a property shared by many individuals, each of which instantiates the universal. In addition to opposing arguments for universals, he also opposes the form of nominalism advocated by Berkeley and Hume.

Reid concludes that universals are general terms, not abstract or general ideas. As usual, Reid builds his theory by learning from mistakes of earlier theories. Medieval philosophers argued, by Reid's account, that a universal exists independently of individual things. Some of these philosophers argued that the independent existence of a universal was existence as a form , a venerable philosophical term.

The principal philosophical error that led to the reification of universal properties as independent existents is the conflation of the objects of conception with the objects of perception EIP 4. The metaphysics required to undergird the existence of universals is anathema to Reid's commonsense commitments and his empirical method.

Next Reid considers a theory he associates with Locke, namely that universals do not exist as metaphysical forms but rather universals are abstract ideas. Abstract ideas arise through a process in which facts about time and space are stripped away from particular members of a class of thing leaving the abstract idea that represents common characteristics EIP 3.

Reid argues that there can be no such abstract ideas and that abstract ideas cannot represent members of a class of particulars EIP 5. Reid recognizes his great debt to Berkeley's criticisms of Lockean abstract ideas in these connections. In effect, Reid arrives at his own theory by endorsing Berkeley's nominalism and attempting to remove from it reference to ideas.

General terms are the linguistic manifestation of general conceptions. General terms are general due to their referents, but they are particular token conceptions of individuals EIP 5. General terms refer to species or to attributes. This leads to Reid's explanation of how general conceptions are formed. Reid says this typically happens via induction through testimony and not via definitions EIP 5. For Reid, forming general conceptions is typically a public process and a product of social practices, in contrast to Locke, Berkeley and Hume, for whom forming abstract ideas is typically a private process.

Though we do not enter into discussion of the role of testimony and social knowledge anywhere in this entry, it is especially prominent in Reid. However, one may also form a general conception on one's own. In this case, in the first stage one analyses a subject into its attributes and names them, which Reid compares to a chemist analyzing a compound EIP 5.

Next one observes that similar token attributes are possessed by many objects. The name that results may be the same as the name for a particular attribute, e. This way of putting the point—that the general term whiteness may be predicated of everything that is white—has inspired a dispositional interpretation of Reidian general conceptions Castagnetto Reid's writing on general conceptions and abstraction are areas—like the next topic, conception of non-existent objects—that have not been given much attention.


Reid believes that we can conceive of non-existent objects. This does not appear to comport with his alleged common-sense philosophy, creating an interesting conundrum for Reid interpreters. The best approach to understanding why Reid says we can conceive of non-existent objects is to put this in the context of Reid's opposition to skepticism. This conception is an operation of the mind, of which I am conscious, and to which I can attend. Suppose when I think I am conceiving of a centaur, I am conceiving of something else, like an image of a centaur.

If so, then I do not know the contents of my thoughts. This yields skepticism about the contents of my thoughts, which Reid believes is false. So, by reductio he concludes that we are able to conceive of objects that do not exist. Representational theories of thought like the Way of Ideas imply in this case that I do not conceive of centaurs but rather I conceive of mental representations of centaurs —images of them or words about them EIP 4.

But Reid is asserting something different: I conceive of a centaur itself —not a mental representation of a centaur. Appreciating this point is necessary for understanding how strange Reid's theory appears to be. Perhaps he will say, that the idea is an image of the animal, and is the immediate object of my conception, and that the animal is the mediate or remote object. Second, the object of conception, he writes,. Even in difficult cases of thoughts about things like centaurs or circles EIP 4.

Reid presses this epistemological point into heavy service in the context of the conception of non-existent objects. As with Reid's appeal to the irreducible intentionality of conception, Reid's position regarding the conception of non-existent objects has proven challenging to explain and to defend, but starts have been made David —6; Nichols Though his commitment to the importance of self-knowledge and the transparency of thought is obvious, Reid jeopardizes his allegiance to common sense by asserting we think of non-existent objects directly and without thinking of a mental intermediary.

When discussing Reidian conception, we contrasted Reid's analysis of this faculty with the Way of Ideas'. Conceptions can be about a wide variety of thing: I can conceive of pain, a shooting pain Descartes' foot, penne, and fictional characters like Podrick Payne.

However, according to the Way of Ideas, I can conceive only of one type of thing: Ideas. According to the Way of Ideas, this holds true not only for conception but for all other faculties. If I tactilely perceive a pillow, my perceptual mental state is not about the pillow but rather it is about my idea or mental representation of the pillow. The basic structure of the representational theory of perception and conception, memory, etc.

We doubt that there is any other philosophical commitment that more exercised Reid's mind than this one, which he thought to be a source of ruin for many reasons.

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Both Reid and Richard Rorty see the Way of Ideas' representationalism as the key player in the story of Early Modern Western philosophy Rorty , which would continue as the story of contemporary analytic philosophy. Here are three possibilities: 1 we are aware of external objects directly by perceiving representations of them, ideas; 2 we infer the existence and nature of external objects by perceiving ideas of them; or 3 there is no distinction between external objects and ideas, and, thus, when we perceive ideas we are perceiving external objects.

On option 1 , the representationalist would need to offer an explanation of what it is that is so special about ideas that makes it the case that whenever we are perceiving an idea, we are directly aware of that which it represents. If this burden can be discharged, then it is possible to say that we are aware of external objects and remain consistent with the representational theory. In the history of philosophy Reid documents a series of failed efforts to explain how it is that perception of something in the mind could amount to any direct perception or awareness of some external object.

These attempts make the mistake, he thinks, of giving unexplained and unexplainable powers to ideas: how could they possibly, all by themselves, attach our minds to objects whenever they are perceived? This question cannot be answered, so he thinks. As to 2 , Reid thinks that nobody who has absorbed Hume's lessons regarding causation would think that we can avoid skepticism about the external world while insisting that we infer its nature from the features of directly perceived ideas.

On the representational model, external objects are the causes of our ideas.

But if Hume is right about causation then we can only infer the nature of a particular unobserved cause of a particular observed effect when we have had repeated experience of conjunction of similar causes with similar effects. But according to the Way of Ideas we have never in fact had any experience of the relevant causes, namely physical objects and their qualities; we have only experienced their effects on our minds, ideas.

Therefore, we can infer nothing about external objects by examination of the ideas which they cause in us. Option 2 appears to give skepticism a foothold. As to 3 , Reid believes that it amounts to an endorsement of idealism. Reid finds this theory implausible on its own, and in violation of a host of common sense principles, despite the fact that he admires Berkeley's efforts to pursue its full implications. Reid's arguments against representationalist attempts to recover the awareness of the external world through perception via options 1 , 2 and 3 are by no means all of his arguments against the representationalist theory of perception or the Way of Ideas.

We now introduce a few additional considerations for which Reid rejects that theory. First, note that proponents of the Way of Ideas commit themselves not only to the existence of ideas but to pressing ideas into a number of functional roles in the mental lives of human beings. But, according to Reid, the underlying rationale for these commitments is typically not even stated by proponents of the Way of Ideas; it is most often taken for granted, or supported with demonstrably weak arguments.

As a result, the rationale for commitments to an ontology of ideas and to their functional roles in the mind does not confer upon that commitment much epistemic justification. But this rejection appears to rest in the opinion of philosophers rather than in the entailment of some as yet unstated but decisive argument. As a result, the rationale for commitments to an ontology of ideas and to their functional roles in the mind appears to Reid to be as dubious, if not more, than the man on the street's original commitment to a direct form of perception.

If Reid is correct, then this shifts the burden of proof back upon the advocate of ideas. Second, in a structurally similar argument, Reid observes something important about the intended explanatory power of the representational theory of perception. That theory is intended to explain the fact that our mental states manage to connect to real objects, manage to be about real objects.

However, this fact about beliefs is only explained by the model if the model is less obscure than the phenomena to be explained by it. But, Reid observes, if we notice that we do not understand how it is that we manage to connect our minds to objects in the world, then it cannot help to say that we do this by first connecting our minds to mental representations unless we understand how it is that we manage to connect our minds to those mental representations. This consideration gives the following question its force: Why is the perception of a mental intermediary like an idea supposed to be more intelligible than the direct perception of a physical object?

If it is no more intelligible, then the representational theory is not serving to explain what it was intended to explain. See EIP 2. In addition to burden of proof arguments against the Way of Ideas and the representational theory of perception, Reid also deploys a number of detailed arguments against specific components of these theories and against commitments they presuppose to be true. Though these arguments are unsuitable for recapitulation in the format of an encyclopedia entry, we report one such argument in brief in an effort to offer a hint at the robust detail, nuanced reasoning, and attention to physiological facts in Reid's theory of perception.

This is perhaps the most compelling argument for the representational theory of perception. Reid responds to this argument with several objections. First, Reid's analysis of each of the senses in Inquiry convince him that some senses do not represent physical objects in the same way that all the others do. Touch IHM ch. The next of Reid's objections is more involved, requiring introduction of a key distinction Reid makes on the basis of his attention to the phenomenology of visual experience. The tangible or real figure of an object is measured by yards or inches, but the visible figure is not.

Instead, the visible figure depends for its geometric properties—the surface area that the table occupies in the visual field—upon properties of the tangible figure, including its shape and its distance from the eyes. The tangible figure is measured by different means, sensed by a different faculty, and is extended in three dimensions. A pressing question arises at this juncture: Hasn't Reid now adopted a position according to which there are perceptual intermediaries in the visual perception process? If so, doesn't this imply that Reid's theory will share many of the foibles with which he charges the Way of Ideas?

While Reid's theory of visual perception implies that visible figures are seen, visible figures are radically unlike ideas. Visible figure is not merely a representational intermediary; it is a relational property between physical objects and eyes of perceivers. Only because ideas lack these characteristics is Hume able to reason from the claim that mind-independent tables are not immediate objects of awareness to his stated conclusion above that we immediately perceive only ideas or representations. That is the first of two important points in response to the first question.

The second enters into Reid's development of a consistent geometry for visible space, perhaps the most technically brilliant piece of writing by any major British empiricist. This work allows Reid a crucial reply to advocates of representational theories. Reid discovered and mathematically described a law-like variation in the visible figure of an external object with intrinsic shape, size and extrinsic distance, angle of orientation properties of the tangible figure.

Reid summarizes his conclusion writing:. Hume assumes that the relationship between a visible figure and a tangible figure is subjective and mind-dependent. Not only is that erroneous, but, given Reid's work, the systematic variation of the visible figure with the tangible figure is in fact evidence for the objectivity of its independence from one's mind.

Reid further argues that this objective relationship between, for example, seeing the visible figure of a coin and conceiving of the coin becomes automated over time through repeated experience. Perhaps the first time I saw a coin it was presented to me at an angle, its visible figure an ellipse. I might mistakenly form a perceptual belief about an elliptical object, even though the coin is circular. Over time, this process is habituated through a process that Reid describes with the help of a distinction between original and acquired perceptions. In short, my faculty of visual perception, if given experience, will successfully model the geometrically demonstrable relationship between visible figure and tangible figure.

This family of arguments has received considerable attention due to a number of its complexities. These involve attempts to answer questions including the following: As we have seen, through his science of perspectival shapes of objects Reid argues that they are geometrically equivalent to shapes projected onto surfaces of spheres.

What is Reid's formal proof for this, and is it valid Yaffe ? Does Reid offer the first recorded non-Euclidean geometry in the history of mathematics Daniels ? What is the bearing of Reid's repeated attempts to derive Euclid's parallel postulate from the axioms of incidence on an interpretation of the geometry of visible space as non-Euclidean Grandi ?

Where does Reid's theory of perception and geometry of visibles leave the ontology of visible figure Nichols , ch. In what ways is visible figure the object of visual perception, and in what ways not Yaffe ; Falkenstein and Grandi ? Does Reid's geometry of visible space jeopardize his theory's ability to avoid a representational theory of visual perception Van Cleve ? Does visible figure and awareness of it preclude non-inferential perceptual knowledge from vision, or rather, what is the relationship between original and acquired perceptions and visible figure Nichols , ch.

Now that we know how and why Reid argues against the Way of Ideas' representational theory of perception, we needn't address these questions in order to continue with a discussion of the components of Reid's own more direct theory of perception. Here we need to keep in mind the fact that, though contemporary philosophers write a priori about perception, sensation, and knowledge, Reid does not offer necessary and sufficient conditions for perception or for its component processes.

Consistent with his Newtonian empiricism, Reid is aiming for something else altogether: observations and accurate experiments that reduce to general rules EIP 1.

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Though operations of our intellectual powers are not definable or analyzable a priori, it is possible to describe the operations Reid has in mind. According to Reid, the perceptual process operates as follows. Individuals with functioning sensory organs and a developed brain interact with physical objects in the world. These objects cause sensory experiences in individuals.

These sensations function as natural signs for qualities of the objects. The experience of a sensation orients my cognition so as to form a conception of a quality of a mind-independent object. Sometimes, though rarely, an individual's perception of an object will not only cause a sensation but will also cause the person to become aware of the sensation—perhaps even at the exclusion of any further awareness of primary qualities of the object.

For example, when I get hit by a baseball thrown 90 mph I focus on my pain sensations, not the qualities of the ball. To perceive an object is to be aware of the object or its quality in a particular way, as the possessor of a particular quality, and , at the same time, to be convinced that the object exists and is as it is conceived it to be.

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To defend a common sensical theory of perception that is supported by observation and experiment, and that is capable of delivering knowledge of real objects, Reid thinks he needs to show that we are directly aware of real objects, in contrast to key features of the Way of Ideas' representational theory of perception just discussed. In addition to being a Newtonian empiricist, Reid is an expert phenomenologist, acutely aware to finely grained features of our experience, especially our sensory experience.

When we touch a table, while we conceive of it and often form beliefs about it, we also sense it. See 2. Sensations are always associated with a particular organ of sense; they are always distinctly of, for instance, touch or vision. Sensations are the feelings that are the immediate mental causal consequences of the influence of objects on us. We become aware of the qualities of objects following the sensations that those objects cause. However, for Reid, the conceptions of objects that follow from our sensations are not derived from our sensations since they do not bear any kind of resemblance to the qualities which cause them.

Awareness of sensations are not, for Reid, essential intermediaries for formation of perceptual beliefs. So what is the precise relationship between sensory experiences and conceptual content? This is a delicate question for Reid since the directness of his theory of perception depends upon advocacy of a physiologically and phenomenally real theory that accounts for our experience while avoiding theoretical pitfalls that risk dragging his theory much closer to a representational theory than Reid would like.

As we have often in this entry, we begin with historical context since Reid's theory of the relation between sensations and qualities will appear stranger than it is without background. According to the Way of Ideas, ideas and images are mental representations in an individual's mind, and my perceptual awareness of a table depends upon my prior awareness of these ideas of sensation. This veil of perception is why advocates of the Way of Ideas struggled to provide epistemic justification for beliefs about external, mind-independent, qualities of physical objects, and avoid skepticism.

But besides the epistemic problem, advocates of ideas faced a difficulty accounting for the origins of the contents of our very ideas of external objects. Though not easy to appreciate, this problem it is quite important. Reid argues that advocates of the Way of Ideas do not have a plausible solution to this problem. Think of a table. For Hume, your thought of a table is derivative and copied from a sensory impression that you have had of that very table. The explanation of the content of the idea of that table thus concerns the contents of your simple impression of the corresponding physical table.

The Copy Principle is an exceedingly powerful tool on behalf of the Way of Ideas for a variety of reasons, but Reid is unimpressed with the evidence on its behalf, especially as presented by Hume in Treatise. Reid's Sensory Deprivation Argument proceeds as follows. First, Hume's stated justification for the Copy Principle is inductive: he challenges people to find an idea that is not derived from a sensory impression, after he says that it appears all his ideas are copied from sensory impressions.

But that, says Reid, is an exceedingly weak justification EAP 1. After those ground clearing moves, Reid begins the argument proper with a thought experiment. Exhibiting affinities with Condillac's remarkable Treatise on Sensations , Reid asks his readers to imagine a blind adult subject.

Reid's emphasis on tactile sensations is important to understand: he uses this running example because ideas of primary qualities are the most important for gaining knowledge of the world and are the ideas essential for any science. Once a handful of skin cells are stimulated for the briefest of moments by a pin, the subject has received a sensory impression—or in Reid's language, he has had a sensation—but, Reid argues, this does not equip the individual to formulate an idea of extension or figure, space or motion, all primary qualities of the pin.

For each subsequent iteration of tactile sensations, Reid argues that those sensations too are incapable of delivering to the subject ideas of extension, figure, space or motion. His conclusion has two parts. First, the Way of Ideas's story about the relation between sensations and the intentional contents of conceptions is mistaken. Second, with an eye toward developing his own theory of sensations, he writes,. But what is suggestion supposed to be? Whereas philosophers prefer necessities, Reid does not believe the messiness of the actual perceptual process contains any necessity at this juncture.

Second, suggestion is a pseudo-linguistic notion for Reid. Signs suggest conceptions of that which they signify. Blushing signifies one of a small number of mental states because blushing is caused by events of embarrassment, anger, or romantic stimulation. Blood rushing through the subcutaneous circulatory system in the face reliably occurs, across members of our species, in response to a small set of stimuli with apparent universality, making blushing a natural sign. We discover this relationship by observation and experience.

However, according to Reid, a subset of natural signs lead us to think of what they signify without any prior experience. Put your hand on a table, pause and experience the sensation of hardness. This tactile sensation leads us immediately to conceive of that which caused it as being hard, as having a certain resistive construction. But we are aware of the table's hardness, which caused the sensation, automatically. We do not understand why it is that we think of this special kind of physical constitution after having this kind of tactile sensation.

This is the defining feature of the kind of natural signs of which the tactile sensation of hardness is an instance: these signs lead us to conceive of what they signify simply because we are built in such a way as to have such conceptions on encountering such signs. Reid's approach to this relationship contrasts sharply with that taken by most advocates of the Way of Ideas, who attempted to posit a strong relationship between ideas of sensation and qualities of physical objects.

Placing my hand on a table, my tactile sensation immediately leads my mind to a conception or apprehension that I am touching a hard object. When does one's conception of an object as having a particular quality amount to a perception, a conception accompanied by a conviction of its accuracy? The answer is: when one comes to have that conception because one has encountered a natural sign which leads one to the conception, and that natural sign leads one to the conception merely because of one's constitution.

Conviction in the accuracy of a conception is bestowed on the conception, Reid thinks, just when the relevant conception comes about because of our nature or constitution. When we conceive of an object in a particular way merely because it is in our nature to conceive of the object that way, then the conception is non-optional, unavoidable, and is thus one that we cannot help but trust. Perceptions, then, are dictates of common sense: to be aware of an object in perception is to have a belief which you cannot give up given your constitution.

Essays On The Intellectual Powers Of Man

Reid believes that our minds come to be connected to the mind-independent world in something like the way that we come to grasp objects through a language designed for the purpose. However, when we come to be aware of objects through our senses, we do so by utilizing something like a language embedded in our constitutions: our sensations function like a language that nature has constructed. While it is in a sense only a metaphor to say that we know about the world because the world speaks to us, it is a metaphor that illuminates the facts as Reid sees them. Intertwined with Reid's arguments that we can be immediately aware of objects through their relational properties—such as their apparent magnitudes—are Reid's arguments regarding the distinction between primary and secondary qualities.

As we would expect, Reid approaches this distinction as a scientist of the mind rather than as a metaphysician, and, as we would also expect, Reid's entrance into this terrain is paved with references to earlier thinkers. However, according to Locke, our ideas of a variety of other qualities—colors, sounds, tastes and smells—do not.

Reid is deeply struck by Berkeley's attack on this distinction at Principles of Human Knowledge 1. He agrees with Berkeley that no mental state or object could possibly resemble anything that is not, itself, a mental state or object. Mental states and objects have only mental properties, but only something that is, itself, a mental state or object can have a mental property. Hence, nothing can resemble—that is, share a property in common with—a mental state or object other than another mental state or object.

Berkeley took this point to show that no non-mental cause of an idea could resemble it, whether the relevant idea were an idea of a shape or a color. Berkeley concludes that Locke's distinction between primary and secondary qualities is a grand mistake. Reid accepts, for roughly Berkeley's reasons, that sensations cannot possibly resemble their causes—a fact that Reid deploys in his Sensory Deprivation Argument discussed above.

Further, he accepts Berkeley's objections to Locke, and takes them to show that no mental events or states, whether sensations or the conceptions of objects that follow them, could possibly resemble any non-mental object. Another reason that Reid cannot draw the distinction between primary and secondary qualities in the way that Locke did is that he denies that conceptions of objects which we have following sensory experiences are to be analyzed as perceptions of ideas.

Instead, these conceptions function to make us aware of qualities in objects that caused the sensations. All of this would make it seem that Reid would simply side with Berkeley and deny that there is any important difference between primary qualities and qualities like colors, sounds, tastes and smells. Instead, Reid defends the distinction between primary and secondary qualities on grounds quite different from Locke's, grounds that he takes to be immune to Berkeley's criticisms of the distinction.

Reid accepts that the qualities which we ordinarily conceive objects to have—whether shapes, sizes and motions, on the one hand, or colors, sounds, tastes and smells, on the other—are genuinely possessed by those objects barring illusions and disorders of various sorts, which are, incidentally, difficult for any direct theory of perception like Reid's to explain. He thinks that shapes, sizes and motions are intrinsic properties of objects while colors, sounds, tastes and smells are relational properties of objects. But neither secondary nor primary qualities resemble the sensory experiences that they immediately cause in us.

Colors, sounds, tastes and smells are powers to produce certain characteristic sensations in us in normal conditions. To believe that a rose has an agreeable smell or a red color is not to perceive any intrinsic qualities of the object, but is, rather, to perceive that the object bears a certain relation to something else—our minds. Reid writes,. Physical structures of the rose in front of me—the anther in the rose's stamen—produce pollen, which has a certain molecular composition that results in my sensation of its odor.

Other molecules in the petals of the rose reflect light at a certain wavelength which in turn causes in me a certain characteristic visual sensation of red. Ultimately, the rose possesses this relational property because of facts about its molecular structure that account for its producing this odor in a certain way, and facts about me that account for the fact that these pollen molecules enter my nasal cavity, eventually reaching the olfactory bulb, and cause certain sensations in my mind.

But when I am aware of the odor of the rose, I am aware of none of that; I am aware only of the fact that there is something about the rose that makes it cause in me certain sensations in normal conditions. Our conceptions of qualities such as smells and colors are to be contrasted with our conceptions of primary qualities or configurations of primary qualities, such as hardness.

Say I'm holding the rose's stem in my hand while I'm looking at it. I am having two importantly different sensations: a visual sensation of red, and a tactile sensation of hardness. For Reid, neither sensation resembles anything in the object; both give rise to conceptions of the object as possessing certain properties.

The visual sensation gives rise to a conception of the object as possessing a particular relational property: its power to produce certain sensations in me in normal conditions. The tactile sensation gives rise to a conception of the rose's stem as possessing a particular intrinsic property: the complex configuration of primary qualities that is hardness. For both Locke and Reid, we are aware of objects as they are intrinsically only when our awareness is caused by the primary qualities of objects.

But for Reid, and not for Locke, we are genuinely aware of objects as they are when our awareness results from the secondary qualities of objects; but we are aware of those objects only as they are relative to us, and not as they are in themselves. But of the secondary qualities, our senses give us only a relative and obscure notion.

They inform us only, that they are qualities that affect us in a certain manner—that is, produce in us a certain sensation; but as to what they are in themselves, our senses leave us in the dark. Secondary and primary qualities are characterized by their relations to the mind perceiving them and to the physical qualities in objects that they signify. This is not so for secondary qualities. It means, in my opinion no more than this plain simple observation upon human Nature which every Man, who has ever read a Treatise upon Morality, or conversd with the World or endeavord to estimate the comparative strength of the different springs of Action in his own Mind, must have often made, vist.

This which is no new Discovery, but has been many thousands of Years consid [ered] by thinking Men, seems to have given rise to the wisest and best of Governments which seems to be calculated on Purpose, to controul and counteract the Ruinous Tendency of this Imperfection in our Natures. Power is a Thing of infinite Danger and Delicacy, and was never yet confided to any Man or any Body of Men without turning their Heads.

Aware of this usurping and encroaching Nature of Power, our Constitution, has laid for its Basis, this Principle that, all such unnatural Powers, as those of Arms and those of Confessions and Absolution for sin, should always bow to the civil orders that Constitute the State. She has been as sensible of the Danger from civil as from military or casuistical Power, and has wisely provided against all.

Simple Monarchy will soon mould itself into Despotism, Aristocracy will soon commence an Oligarchy, and Democracy, will soon degenerate into an Anarchy, such an Anarchy that every Man will do what is right in his own Eyes, and no Mans life or Property or Reputation or Liberty will be secure and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral Virtues, and Intellectual Abilities, all the Powers of Wealth, Beauty, Wit, and Science, to the wanton Pleasures, the capricious Will, and the execrable Cruelty of one or a very few.

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