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Thomas Reid

(1710—1796) natural and moral philosopher

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Scottish philosopher of common sense. Reid was born near Aberdeen and educated at Marischal College. After a period as a Presbyterian minister, he was appointed in 1751 to King's College, Aberdeen. In 1764 he took the chair of moral philosophy at the university of Glasgow. Reid's three important books are the Enquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764), Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1785), and Essays on the Active Powers of Man (1788). Reid was the first serious philosopher to attack the British empiricist reliance on ‘ideas’ as satisfactory units on which to found a theory of knowledge and meaning. He regarded Berkeley, and especially Hume, as presenting a reductio ad absurdum of the approach to knowledge by the way of ideas. In his own approach, sensations of primary qualities of objects speak to us like words, affording us ‘natural signs’ of the qualities of things. The mind passes naturally over a word to consider what it signifies, and in like manner it passes over its own experience to consider directly the qualities they signify. This is so for ‘original perceptions’ of primary qualities; perceptions of secondary qualities have to be acquired. Reid's insight here has been recaptured in the 20th century in various kinds of direct realism. It enables him to defend the basic conceptual scheme of common sense against what he saw as the corrosive scepticism of Hume. For Reid, as for Moore later, the basic principles of common sense cannot be avoided or abandoned, although if we raise the question of their truth we can only appeal to divine harmony (he may not have been so far from Hume here as he supposed). Reid's influence persisted in the Scottish school of common-sense philosophy, and his phenomenological insights continue to attract modern attention.

http://www.phillwebb.net/History/Modern/Reid/Reid.htm A list of internet resources on Reid

http://www.abdn.ac.uk/philosophy/scottish/#c A searchable archive of Reid material held at the University of Aberdeen

Subjects: Philosophy

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