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Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared

Thomas Reid (1710–1796) — professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow. “There is an external world whose laws do not change.”

Thomas Reid

Thomas Reid, the Scottish philosopher of common sense.

Quotes from Thomas Reid: sources – Web Search,

Every man feels that perception gives him an invincible belief of the existence of that which he perceives; and that this belief is not the effect of reasoning, but the immediate consequence of perception. When philosophers have wearied themselves and their readers with their speculations upon this subject, they can neither strengthen this belief, nor weaken it; nor can they shew how it is produced. It puts the philosopher and the peasant upon a level; and neither of them can give any other reason for believing his senses, than that he finds it impossible for him to do otherwise.

If no other test or measure of the strength of motives can be found but their prevailing, then this boasted principle will be only an identical proposition, and signify only that the strongest motive is the strongest motive, and the motive that prevails is the motive that prevails – which proves nothing.

It is a question of fact, whether the influence of motives be fixed by laws of nature, so that they shall always have the same effect in the same circumstances.

However much our late fatalists have boasted of this principle as of a law of nature… I am persuaded that, whenever they shall be pleased to give us any measure of the strength of motives distinct from their prevalence, it will appear, from experience, that the strongest motive does not always prevail.

But I have never seen any proof that there are such laws of nature, far less any proof that the strongest motive always prevails.

The laws of nature are the rules according to which the effects are produced; but there must be a cause which operates according to these rules. The laws of navigation never navigated a ship. The rules of architecture never built a house.

When, therefore, in common language, we speak of having an idea of anything, we mean no more by that expression, but thinking of it.

But when, in the first setting out, he takes it for granted without proof, that distinctions found in the structure of all languages, have no foundation in nature; this surely is too fastidious a way of treating the common sense of mankind.

The idea is in the mind itself, and can have no existence but in a mind that thinks; but the remote or mediate object may be something external, as the sun or moon; it may be something past or future; it may be something which never existed

There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words.

This is the philosophical meaning of the word idea; and we may observe that this meaning of that word is built upon a philosophical opinion: for, if philosophers had not believed that there are such immediate objects of all our thoughts in the mind, they would never have used the word idea to express them.

Every indication of wisdom, taken from the effect, is equally an indication of power to execute what wisdom planned.

In the strict and proper sense, I take an efficient cause to be a being who had power to produce the effect, and exerted that power for that purpose.

The laws of nature are the rules according to which the effects are produced; but there must be a cause which operates according to these rules.

If there is anything that can be called genius, it consists chiefly in the ability to give that attention to a subject which keeps it steadily in the mind, till we have surveyed it accurately on all sides.

As beauty is not a quality of the object, but a certain feeling of the spectator, so virtue and vice are not qualities are not qualities in the persons to whom language ascribes them, but feelings of the spectator.

As there is no quality, common to good and bad men, more esteemed than courage, nor any thing in a man more the object of contempt than cowardice ; hence every man desires to be thought a man of courage ; and the reputation of cowardice is worse than death. How many have died to avoid being thought cowards? How many, for the same reason, have done what made them unhappy to the end of their lives.

How happy is that mind, in which the light of real knowledge dispels the phantoms of superstition ; in which the belief and reverence of a perfect, all governing Mind casts out all fear but the fear of acting wrong ; in which serenity and cheerfulness, innocence, humanity, and candor, guard the imagination against the entrance of every unhallowed intruder, and invite more amiable and worthier guests to dwell.

We must acknowledge, that to act properly is much more valuable than to think justly or reason acutely.


COMMENTS:

Thomas Reid seems to delve into “common sense” and stoic philosophy and he doesn’t read like a modern philosopher, and yet back at the time when Adam Smith retired from his professorship of philosophy at University of Glasgow, Reid got his job. His philosophy, “Every man feels that perception gives him an invincible belief of the existence of that which he perceives; and that this belief is not the effect of reasoning, but the immediate consequence of perception,” seems like a long winded sentence rationalizing a child’s thoughts. It is difficult to imagine listening to a profound lecture delivered by his friends Adam Smith or David Hume, and then going to one from Reid and not walking out, and yet he was popular and influential. Smith and Hume laid the foundations of much of the modern world, in economics, morality and the basic ideas of evolution of the fittest, but Reid seems, to my understanding, to have only sophisticated common thoughts. Possibly some of these were underlying later theories that challenged the reliance on the definitions of words, like those of A. J. Ayer. Reid seems to come from the latter day Scholastic tradition of hair-splitting word play. He argued against John Locke, René Descartes, and the other early modern philosophers and it appeared that he was striving to return to the Dark Ages of people’s lives being controlled by prescribed doctrines as promoted by Saint Anselm. He was a very popular philosopher with the 18th-century public and is a foundation of modern word theory. Wikipedia gives a much more balanced view of Thomas Reid.

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