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Title: Thomas Reid
Author: Fraser, Alexander Campbell
Language: English
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THOMAS REID



FAMOUS SCOTS SERIES

_The following Volumes are now ready_:—


    THOMAS CARLYLE. By HECTOR C. MACPHERSON.
    ALLAN RAMSAY. By OLIPHANT SMEATON.
    HUGH MILLER. By W. KEITH LEASK.
    JOHN KNOX. By A. TAYLOR INNES.
    ROBERT BURNS. By GABRIEL SETOUN.
    THE BALLADISTS. By JOHN GEDDIE.
    RICHARD CAMERON. By Professor HERKLESS.
    SIR JAMES Y. SIMPSON. By EVE BLANTYRE SIMPSON.
    THOMAS CHALMERS. By Professor W. GARDEN BLAIKIE.
    JAMES BOSWELL. By W. KEITH LEASK.
    TOBIAS SMOLLETT. By OLIPHANT SMEATON.
    FLETCHER OF SALTOUN. By G. W. T. OMOND.
    THE BLACKWOOD GROUP. By Sir GEORGE DOUGLAS.
    NORMAN MACLEOD. By JOHN WELLWOOD.
    SIR WALTER SCOTT. By Professor SAINTSBURY.
    KIRKCALDY OF GRANGE. By LOUIS A. BARBÉ.
    ROBERT FERGUSSON. By A. B. GROSART.
    JAMES THOMSON. By WILLIAM BAYNE.
    MUNGO PARK. By T. BANKS MACLACHLAN.
    DAVID HUME. By Professor CALDERWOOD.
    THOMAS REID. By Professor CAMPBELL FRASER.



[Illustration:

    THOMAS
    REID

    BY
    A:CAMPBELL
    FRASER ::

    FAMOUS
    SCOTS:
    SERIES

    PUBLISHED BY
    OLIPHANT ANDERSON
    & FERRIER · EDINBVRGH
    AND LONDON
]



The designs and ornaments of this volume are by Mr. Joseph Brown, and the
printing from the press of Messrs. T. and A. Constable, Edinburgh.



PREFACE


This little book is an attempt to present Reid in a fresh light, and in
his relations to present-day thought. It deals with the Scottish chapter
in that enduring alternation between agnostic despair and endeavour
after perfect insight which seems to be a law of the philosophic
progress of mankind. Thomas Reid, home-bred and self-contained, is the
national representative, in the eighteenth century, of the _via media_
between these extremes. In the concluding chapter I have looked at the
philosophical appeal to inspired data of Common Sense, in the wider light
of the theistic philosophy of the universe, and not merely as part of an
inductive science of the human mind. This connects the theistic postulate
of spiritual reason, as the foundation of human experience, with Reid’s
appeal to the ultimate but often dormant necessities of human nature, a
subject treated more fully in my _Philosophy of Theism_ (1896).

For valuable unpublished material—more indeed than I could avail
myself of within narrow limits—I am indebted to Miss Hilda Paterson,
the guardian of manuscript remains and other relics of her ancestor,
preserved at Birkwood, in Reid’s native country of the Dee. I also owe
much to Mr. R. S. Rait, now of New College, Oxford, the historian of the
Universities of Aberdeen, whose research has done much to illustrate
his _alma mater_ in the North. And I am indebted to Dr. Davidson, the
Professor of Logic, and to Mr. Anderson, the Librarian, of the University
of Aberdeen, for documents to which the space at my disposal forbids more
than an occasional reference.

Those who desire to study further the chapter in the history of European
philosophy in which Reid’s name is prominent, may be referred to
Cousin’s critical appreciation in his _Philosophie Écossaise_ (1857),
and to Professor Andrew Seth’s Balfour Lectures on ‘Scottish Philosophy’
(1885), in which the Scottish and German answers to Hume are compared.
The industry of the late Dr. M’Cosh has collected, in his _Scottish
Philosophy_ (1875), interesting particulars regarding our national
philosophers from Hutcheson to Hamilton.

                                                                 A. C. F.

UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH, _21st February 1898_.



CONTENTS


                                                                      PAGE

                                CHAPTER I

  BOYHOOD AND ANCESTRY: STRACHAN AND THE VALLEY OF THE DEE, 1710-1722    9

                               CHAPTER II

  AT MARISCHAL COLLEGE, 1722-1737                                       18

                               CHAPTER III

  NEW MACHAR AND DAVID HUME, 1737-1751                                  30

                               CHAPTER IV

  OLD ABERDEEN: A REGENT IN KING’S COLLEGE, 1751-1764                   43

                                CHAPTER V

  UNIVERSAL SCEPTICISM VERSUS INSPIRED COMMON SENSE: AN ‘INQUIRY
    INTO THE HUMAN MIND ON THE PRINCIPLES OF COMMON SENSE,’ 1764        56

                               CHAPTER VI

  GLASGOW COLLEGE: THE PROFESSOR OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY, 1764-1780         72

                               CHAPTER VII

  IN PHILOSOPHICAL RETIREMENT: AUTHORSHIP IN OLD AGE, 1780-1795        103

                              CHAPTER VIII

  INSPIRED COMMON SENSE AND CAUSATION: ACTIVE OR MORAL POWER IN MAN    118

                               CHAPTER IX

  THE END, 1796                                                        126

                                CHAPTER X

  RETROSPECTIVE AND CRITICAL                                           133

                               CHAPTER XI

  REID IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: DEVELOPMENT OF THE COMMON SENSE
    PHILOSOPHY: REID IN FRANCE: REID AND HAMILTON: REID AND
    SCOTO-HEGELIAN IDEALISM: ETHICAL OR THEISTIC FINAL FAITH           144



THOMAS REID



CHAPTER I

BOYHOOD AND ANCESTRY: STRACHAN AND THE VALLEY OF THE DEE

1710-1722


Thomas Reid makes his first appearance as a boy in the manse of Strachan
in Kincardineshire, where he entered this world of sense on the 26th of
April 1710. His father, the Rev. Lewis Reid, was minister of the parish
for fifty-eight years, from 1704 until his death in 1762. The mother,
Margaret Gregory, was the eldest daughter, by his second marriage, of
David Gregory, laird of Kinairdy in Banffshire. An elder son, David,
born in 1705, and two daughters, Isobel and Jane, with Thomas, formed
the family at the manse when Thomas was a boy. David was twice married,
and died about 1780, without issue; the elder daughter, Isobel, died
unmarried, in her stepmother’s house at Aberdeen, in 1770; and the
younger, Jane, after a _mésalliance_, died without issue after the middle
of the century. Their mother, Margaret Gregory, died in 1732, when the
manse was still the home of Thomas. In 1735, Mr. Lewis Reid married his
second wife, Janet, daughter of Fraser of Phopachy in the county of
Inverness. Two sons and five daughters were the issue of the second
marriage. The eldest son died when a student at Marischal College, in
1758, and the younger, who studied medicine, died in London about ten
years later. Of the daughters, one died in infancy, and two others,
Elizabeth and Mary, died unmarried—the former in Edinburgh in 1772,
and the latter in Aberdeen in 1771. Of the other two, Margaret became
in 1763 the wife of the Rev. Alexander Leslie, minister of Fordoun in
Kincardineshire, and Grace married the Rev. John Rose, minister of Udny
in Aberdeenshire. Mrs. Rose died in 1793, and Mrs. Leslie in 1829, the
last survivor of the Reid family circle at Strachan.[1]

It is recorded of the father of this large family that he was respected
for piety, prudence, and benevolence, inheriting from his ancestors
simplicity of manners, and literary tastes which, without attracting the
notice of the world, engaged his leisure and dignified his rural life. Of
the two wives, the second survived her stepson, the philosopher.

The remote parish of Strachan is formed by the romantic valley
through which the Feugh finds its way from the Grampians to the Dee
at Banchory-Ternan—a breezy upland region, redolent of heather and
bog-myrtle, apt in its solitude to educate reflective individuality in
one so disposed. In those days the road to the south over the Cairn o’
Mount passed through Glen Dye, under the shadow of Clochnaben, a road
two centuries ago frequented by robbers, and invested with a halo of
romance by tales of marvellous adventures. But Glen Dye has an interest
of another kind. Centuries ago it was the home and property of the family
of Cant, from whom Andrew Cant, the noted Covenanting preacher, was
descended,[2] and with whom the more widely celebrated Immanuel Kant,
chief factor in the philosophical thought of modern Europe, claimed
connection. Strachan is thus associated in imagination with two of
the most illustrious thinkers of the eighteenth century. Thomas Reid
is in this way connected locally with his famous German philosophical
contemporary, as well as by parallels in their lives which appear in the
sequel, and by spiritual analogies in their philosophy. They are moreover
united by their common antagonism to the scepticism of David Hume, who
also through them is associated with the moorland valley of the Feugh,
making it suggest to fancy three memorable intellectual figures. In
Scotland David Hume and Thomas Reid are the two greatest names of their
century in philosophy.

Imagination is our only guide when we try to picture the boyhood of
Thomas Reid in the homely surroundings at Strachan. The one recorded fact
about him is, that in his tenth year the home education of the manse
was followed by two years spent in the neighbouring parish school of
Kincardine O’Neil. Thus far no signal signs of future eminence appeared.
He was, it seems, an unprecocious youth, remarked for modesty and patient
industry. The insight of the schoolmaster is said to have found in him
the rudiments of a man of ‘good and well-wearing parts.’ I wish that some
further record could be found of this sagacious prophet of his pupil’s
steady mental concentration, and I have not discovered why the boy was
placed in the Kincardine school. This dim picture is our only one in the
first twelve years of his life.

The lack of personal incident in those years is in a manner compensated
by the interest of an illustrious ancestry—Reids and Gregories. He
inherited mind through his father, but much more through his mother,
with whom he shared the unique celebrity of a family which in successive
generations shed lustre on the valley of the Dee—a memorable example of
inherited intellect.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the end of the fourteenth century certain lands of Pitfodels,
between the bridge of Dee at Aberdeen and the Den of Cults, became the
property of William Reid, a kinsman of the former owner, Alexander
Moray, ‘lord of Culboyne.’ The lands remained in the Reid family
until the beginning of the sixteenth century, when Marion, heiress
of Alexander, the last Reid of Pitfodels, married Thomas, the eldest
son of Gilbert Menzies, a burgess of Aberdeen, whose family was known
thereafter for three centuries as Menzies of Pitfodels. James Reid,
the first minister of Banchory-Ternan after the Reformation, was, it
seems, grandson of a younger brother of this Alexander of Pitfodels;
and Lewis Reid, the minister of Strachan, was in direct descent from
the minister of Banchory. It is told of James Reid that he was ‘a man
of notable head-piece for witte, and the most of his children were men
of extraordinary qualifications.’ His eldest son, Robert, noted for
good sense, succeeded him at Banchory. The second son, Thomas, was one
of the numerous Scots famed for learning, who migrated to the Continent
in the end of the fifteenth century and after. He was educated partly
at Marischal College, Aberdeen, where he was made regent about 1602.
He was afterwards in residence at Oxford and abroad: he defended a
thesis ‘_De objecto Metaphysicæ_’ at Rostock in 1610. After his return
to Britain he became Greek and Latin Secretary to King James, some of
whose works he translated into Latin. Verses of his may be found in the
‘_Delitiæ Poetarum Scotorum_.’ Alexander, the next brother, was physician
to Charles I., and author of works in physiology well considered at
that time. John, a brother of the minister of Banchory, translated
into ‘the Scottishe tunge’ Buchanan’s _History of Scotland_, and this
unpublished version is in the College of Glasgow. A second Robert,
grandson of the eldest of these four sons, became minister of Banchory
at the Restoration; he was a member of the first Episcopal Synod at
Aberdeen in the restored Establishment (the Covenanting Alexander Cant
was his immediate predecessor); he died in 1682. Thomas, the second son,
‘wadsetter of Eslie in Banchorie,’ was father of the Rev. Lewis Reid of
Strachan, by his wife, Jane, a niece of Sir Thomas Burnett of Leys; and
thus young Thomas Reid at Strachan was related to the family from which
the historian Bishop Burnet was descended. These Reids of Banchory rest
in the old burial-ground there, ‘not farre from the banke of the river
Dee, expecting the general resurrection, and the glorious appearing of
Jesus Christ there Redemier.’

But the Gregory connection of Thomas Reid through his mother is, as I
have said, more significant than the Reid succession. During the Civil
Wars of the seventeenth century, the minister of the rural parish of
Drumoak, on the north side of the Dee, between Banchory and Pitfodels,
was the Rev. John Gregory, son of an Aberdeen merchant, whose father was
a M’Gregor from Glenlyon. The Gregories of Deeside were thus descendants
of the clan Gregor of Glenlyon and Glenstrae, a circumstance referred
to by Sir Walter Scott in the Introduction to _Rob Roy_. The minister
of Drumoak married a lady named Anderson, one of a family reputed for
mathematical ability in successive generations. She inherited the genius
of her family, and transmitted it to her sons. Her husband at Drumoak
seems to have steered his cause skilfully in that troubled time, for he
bought the good estate of Kinairdy, part of the heritage of the lordly
house of Creighton Viscount Frendraught. Alexander, the eldest son of the
Rev. John Gregory of Kinairdy, was killed by one of the Creightons in a
fray in 1663, and the homicide was the occasion of a _cause célèbre_.
David, the second son, succeeded his murdered brother in the lands of
Kinairdy, and shared in the mathematical inheritance of the Gregories.
For some reason he sold Kinairdy and became an energetic merchant,
spending part of his life in Holland. This David of Kinairdy was twice
married, and father of twenty-nine children, which perhaps explains the
sale. The wife of the Rev. Lewis Reid of Strachan was a daughter of
the second marriage. Three of her brothers were eminent Professors of
Mathematics in British Universities—namely, David, first at Edinburgh,
and then at Oxford, the friend of Newton; James, the successor of David
in Edinburgh; and Charles, who professed mathematics at St. Andrews.
David’s son was Professor of History at Oxford from 1724 till 1767, and
Dean of Christ Church; and his cousin David succeeded to the chair of
Mathematics at St. Andrews. Two other Professors were sons of two of
‘Kinairdy’s’ daughters—namely, our Thomas Reid, and Alexander Innes,
who professed Philosophy in Marischal College. These all traced their
birth to the minister of Drumoak and his mathematical wife—through
their son David. But James, the third son of the Drumoak manse, was not
less illustrious in himself and in his descendants. He was Professor
of Mathematics, first at St. Andrews and then at Edinburgh, inventor
of the reflecting telescope, also Newton’s friend and correspondent,
who introduced the science of Newton into the Universities of Scotland.
It is of him that Whiston writes from Cambridge:—‘He had already
caused several of his students to keep acts upon several branches of
the Newtonian philosophy; while we at Cambridge, poor wretches, were
ignominiously studying the fictitious hypotheses of the Cartesian.’
His son James became in 1725 Professor of Medicine in King’s College,
Aberdeen, a considerable local figure. He had two sons: James, who
succeeded his father, and John, a regent of philosophy in his father’s
college, afterwards Professor of Medicine in Edinburgh, and remembered
as the author of _A Comparative View of Man and the Animal World_, and
_A Father’s Legacy_, books full of good sense. Dr. John Gregory’s son,
James, was Professor of Medicine in Edinburgh from 1776 till 1821, a
physician and a metaphysician—in the sequel, the intimate friend and
correspondent of Thomas Reid, and the patron of Thomas Brown. Of his
family, one son held the Chair of Chemistry in King’s College, and
afterwards in Edinburgh till his death in 1858; another, Donald, was an
eminent archæologist, author of the _History of the Western Highlands
and Islands_; a third died in high mathematical repute at Cambridge,
returning to the original bent of this extraordinary family, in which
the disposition to mathematics had latterly been overborne by medicine
and moral philosophy. Even this long list of names omits scientific
celebrities who were descended from the minister of Drumoak and his wife,
Margaret Anderson, more remotely still from the wild clan Gregor of
Glenlyon and Glenorchy.

But the life of romantic adventure did not descend to young Thomas
Reid at Strachan. A disposition to look at the world on its moral and
religious side, perhaps inherited from the Reids, with a strong bent
to mathematics and the scientific side of things, inherited from the
Gregories, along with his own patient, concentrated reflection, was the
inheritance of the boy ‘of good and well-wearing parts’ who left the
Kincardine school in 1722. The long life that followed presents none
of the outward incidents that readily touch the popular fancy; but to
those awake to the higher problems of human life it touches thought
and imagination in another fashion. It has been said that a human life
should resemble a well-ordered poem: the exordium should be simple and
should promise little. This condition is fulfilled in the life of Thomas
Reid, which, to the end, was modestly spent in learned retirement,
indifferent to vulgar fame. Its chief interest lies in the spectacle
of penetrating sagacity, independent and sincere, steadily devoted to
the invisible world of thought and belief, in quest of the ultimate
foundations and guarantees of human knowledge. It should attract those
who, in an age of sceptical criticism, seek to assure themselves of
the final trustworthiness of the experience into which, at birth, they
were admitted as strangers, ignorant of what the whole means, like the
agnostic in Pascal. Who has sent me into this life, I know not; what
the world around me is, I know not; nor what I am myself. I find myself
chained to one little planet, but without understanding why I am here
rather than there; and why this period of time was given me to live in
rather than any other in the unbeginning and endless duration. Life with
its memories and forecasts looks like a blind venture. The sum of my
knowledge seems to be that I must die; but what I am most ignorant of
is the meaning of death. One is drawn to Reid by an interest in final
questions like these, which the agnostic spirit is now forcing upon
us. It was the sceptical disintegration of human knowledge and belief
that was going on in his own time that led Reid, with the patience and
persistency revealed in his boyhood, to devote a long life to testing
in his own sincere fashion man’s intellectual and moral footing in that
world of sense which, all strange to it, he entered in the valley of the
Feugh.



CHAPTER II

AT MARISCHAL COLLEGE

1722-1737


At the age of twelve Reid emerges out of the obscurity in which his
boyhood lies concealed from us. In one of his letters to his cousin,
Dr. James Gregory, written in his old age, he mentions ‘April 1722’
as the date of his first visit to Aberdeen, then a town of some eight
thousand inhabitants, and twenty miles distant from the moorland valley
in which he was born. He tells how he was taken to see his grandmother,
who was living in Aberdeen, the second wife and widow of David Gregory
of Kinairdy. ‘I found her,’ he says, ‘old and bedridden, but I never
saw a more ladylike woman. I was now and then called into her room,
when she sat upon her bed, or entertained me with sweetmeats and grave
advices. Her daughters that assisted her often, as well as one who lived
with her, treated her as if she had been of a superior rank; and indeed
her appearance and manner commanded respect. She and all her children
were zealous Presbyterians: the first wife’s children were Tories and
Episcopalians.’ This picture of the boy in Aberdeen we owe to his
movement from the country school in the valley of the Dee to the higher
sphere of the Aberdeen Grammar School, which he seems to have entered
in that April, encouraged perhaps by the prognostic of the Kincardine
schoolmaster. The Grammar School Register tells that in ‘October 1722’
Thomas Reid left it to enter Marischal College, where his name appears
in the list of those matriculated that autumn. It was an early age for
University life according to later ideas, but not at variance with the
custom of Scotland in those days. Burnet, afterwards Bishop of Salisbury,
another eminent Aberdonian, entered Marischal College when he was only
nine, and graduated when he was thirteen; and Burnet’s contemporary,
Reid’s granduncle, James Gregory, graduated when he was not older than
Burnet.

The uncouth and dilapidated structure in which the University of the
Earls Marischal was housed when young Reid was spending his undergraduate
years in it, bore no resemblance to the stately College on the same site
which now adorns the prosperous city of Bon Accord. The process of decay
was so rapid, and the case was so urgent, that a few years later the
regents suspended their official claim to a part of the scanty funds of
the College, and also asked help from the community, ‘to preserve from
ruin an university from whence so many accomplished men have gone forth
as ornaments of their country in every age since its foundation.’ The
troubles of 1715 had further reduced its resources. Its Chancellor, the
tenth Earl Marischal, concerned in the rising of Mar, then forfeited
his title and the official connection of his family with the academical
foundation of his ancestor. The Principal and most of the authorities had
been removed or suspended by a commission of visitation in 1717. During
the two years which followed the adventure of Mar the doors of Marischal
College were closed, so that, when public instruction was resumed in
1717, a new race of teachers was in possession, and, as it happened, an
era of intellectual activity was inaugurated.

Notwithstanding the humble accommodation which it offered, and the
social revolution through which it had lately passed, Marischal College
could then boast of at least three eminent teachers, imbued with the
spirit of the ‘new philosophy,’ and of the reviving literary taste in
Scotland. The Professor of Mathematics was Colin M’Laurin, brother of the
eloquent Presbyterian preacher, himself among the foremost of British
mathematicians, a friend and correspondent of the aged Newton, who,
along with Reid’s inherited disposition, attracted the young student to
the study in which the teacher was a master. And about the time when
Reid entered College, Thomas Blackwell, a critic of Homer, and author of
_Memoirs of the Court of Augustus_, prominent among his countrymen who
were anxious to write good English, became Professor of Greek, and for a
generation encouraged classical taste and love of literature in the north
of Scotland. But the teacher who chiefly influenced Reid’s undergraduate
life was George Turnbull, a copious author, though his books are little
remembered now. He was Reid’s guide for three years; for the College was
then under a system of ‘regents’ which intrusted the student to the same
teacher in all the three years given to ‘philosophy’—natural as well as
moral.

Reid was fortunate in entering Marischal College when it was inspired by
M’Laurin, Blackwell, and Turnbull, each a leader in the scientific and
literary awakening of the time. The Aberdeen of 1725 was no longer the
Aberdeen of the ministers of whom Gordon in his _Scots Affairs_ tells
that they shrieked, ‘downe with learning and up with Christ.’ Their
religion was in alliance with culture and progressive intelligence,
anticipating in the North the intellectual enlargement associated in the
West with the University of Glasgow under Hutcheson, Leechman, and Adam
Smith.

George Turnbull is little known now, but he is too important a factor in
the making of Thomas Reid to be lightly passed over. He was an Edinburgh
graduate, born in 1698, and like Reid a son of the manse. He became a
regent of philosophy in Marischal College at the age of twenty-three. The
College record informs us that on the 14th of April 1726 he presented
for graduation a band of thirty-nine students: the name of Thomas Reid
appears last in the list. Turnbull’s lectures when he was regent were
in 1740 embodied in his _Principles of Moral Philosophy_. His leading
arguments are illustrated and vindicated by quotations from Berkeley’s
_Theory of Vision_ and _Principles of Human Knowledge_, also by the
_Inquiry_ of Francis Hutcheson and the _Sermons_ of Bishop Butler. The
influence of Berkeley is evident.

The mottoes on the title-page of Turnbull’s book express his method
of inquiry. One of them is the precept of Pope—‘Account for moral as
for natural things’; the other expresses in the words of Newton the
consequence which may be expected to follow—‘If Natural Philosophy, in
all its parts, by pursuing this method, shall at length be perfected, the
bounds of Moral Philosophy will also be enlarged.’ Turnbull was among
the first in Scotland to substitute, in mental philosophy, tentative
study of the facts of human nature for logical deduction from abstract
dogmas. ‘If a fact be actually found, either in the outer world of
sensible things, or in the inner and invisible world of mind, there is
no room for reasoning against it. Every reasoning, however subtle, if
it be repugnant in its conclusion to the actual fact of the case, must
be sophistical.’ Turnbull is fond of repeating that facts presented to
the senses are not the only, nor yet the most important, facts which the
universe contains. The invisible facts which take the form of beliefs
and feelings and volitions are the deepest facts of all: spirit and not
matter at last regulates life. Then he refers to what he calls ‘common
sense’ as the final arbiter in all questions. ‘Common sense is sufficient
to teach those who think of the matter with seriousness and attention all
the duties of common life; all our obligations to God and our fellow-men;
all that is morally fit and binding.’ In a word, spiritual facts of mind
are not to be crushed out of existence by tangible and visible facts of
matter. That mind in the form of will is the only known active power is
another prominent lesson in Turnbull’s teaching. ‘It is will alone that
manifests power or productive energy. To speak of any other active power
in the universe is to speak without meaning; because experience, the
source of all the materials of our knowledge, does not lead us to any
other conception of power.’ Turnbull’s conception of the material world
is very like Berkeley’s. Matter is the established or natural order in
which sense ideas present themselves. ‘Properly speaking, what we call
matter and space are only sensible ideas, produced in us, according to an
established or natural order, by some external cause; for when we speak
of material things, we can only mean certain sensible perceptions that
arise in our minds, according to a fixed order, but which are experienced
to be absolutely inert or passive, having in themselves no productive
force.’ It was in this philosophy that Turnbull’s most famous pupil was
educated at Marischal College.

Turnbull’s official connection with the College lasted only six years.
After inaugurating moral philosophy in the modern spirit in Scotland, he
resigned in the spring of 1727, and, after some residence abroad, lived
in London, producing books in excess of the demand for them. He ended by
taking orders in the Irish branch of the Anglican Church, finding the
communion of Jeremy Taylor and Berkeley more suited to his temper than
the fervid Presbyterianism to which he was accustomed in his youth. In
search of health, he died at the Hague in 1749.

I have enlarged on Turnbull, because by him Reid was first attracted
to the study of the human mind. But Blackwell, the Professor of Greek,
must not be forgotten. Blackwell, as well as Turnbull, was connected
with Berkeley. It was when Reid was at Marischal College that Berkeley
was engaged in the most romantic missionary enterprise of that age, for
spreading Christian civilisation in America by a College in the Bermudas.
Curiously, Blackwell was one of those whom he asked to join the little
party of missionaries who embarked with him at Gravesend in September
1728, after he had surrendered high preferment in Ireland in order
to devote his life to a more cosmopolitan philanthropy. The Aberdeen
regent was not prepared for the sacrifice. He refers thus to Berkeley’s
adventure:—

    ‘In this respect I would with pleasure do justice to the
    memory of a very great though singular sort of man, known as
    a philosopher, and intended founder of a University in the
    Bermudas or Summer Islands. An inclination to carry me out
    with him on that expedition, as one of the young professors
    on his new foundation, having brought us often together, I
    scarce remember to have conversed with him on that art, liberal
    or mechanic, of which he knew not more than the ordinary
    practitioners. With the widest views, he descended to the most
    minute detail, and begrudged neither pains nor expense for
    the means of information. I enter not into his peculiarities,
    either religious or personal, but admire the extensive genius
    of the man, and think it a loss to the Western world that
    his noble and exalted plan of an American University was not
    carried into execution.’—_Memoirs of the Court of Augustus._

The fact that Berkeley was so much in evidence at Marischal College in
those days, through Turnbull and Blackwell, is significant of much in the
life of Reid.

If Reid recorded his thoughts when he was a student at Marischal College,
the record has been lost. A commonplace book like Berkeley’s, when
Berkeley was an undergraduate in Dublin, would have cast welcome light on
this part of his mental history. The only extant revelation of his inner
life in these years is contained in a letter written half a century after
to his kinsman William Gregory at Oxford. It relates to the period when
his year was divided between town and country—the winters at Aberdeen and
the long summer days at the manse of Strachan:—

    ‘About the age of fourteen I was,’ he says, ‘almost every
    night unhappy in my sleep from frightful dreams: sometimes
    hanging over a dreadful precipice, and just ready to drop down;
    sometimes pursued for my life and stopped by a wall, or by a
    sudden loss of strength; sometimes ready to be devoured by a
    wild beast. How long I was plagued with such dreams I do not
    recollect. I believe it was for a year or two at least; and I
    think they had left me before I was fifteen. In those days I
    was much given to what Mr. Addison in one of his “Spectators”
    calls _castle-building_; and in my evening solitary walk (which
    was generally all the exercise I took), my thoughts would hurry
    me into some active scene, where I generally acquitted myself
    much to my own satisfaction, and in those scenes of imagination
    I performed many a gallant exploit. At the same time, in my
    dreams I found myself the most arrant coward. Not only my
    courage but my strength failed me in every danger; and I often
    rose from my bed in the morning in such a panic that it took
    some time to get the better of it. I wished much to get free of
    these uneasy dreams, which not only made me unhappy in sleep,
    but left a disagreeable impression on my mind for some part of
    the following day. I thought it was worth trying whether it
    was possible to recollect while I was dreaming that it _was_
    all a dream, and that I was in no danger. Accordingly, I often
    went to sleep with my mind as strongly impressed as I could
    with this thought—that I never in my lifetime had been in any
    real danger, and that every fright I had was a dream. After
    many fruitless endeavours to recollect this when the danger
    appeared, I effected it at last, and have often, when I was
    sliding down a precipice into the abyss, recollected that it
    was all a dream, and boldly jumped down. The effect of this
    commonly was that I immediately awoke; but I awoke calm and
    intrepid, which I thought a great acquisition. After this my
    dreams were never very uneasy; and in a short time I dreamed
    not at all. During all this time I was in perfect health; but
    whether my ceasing to dream was the effect of the recollection
    above mentioned, or of any change in the habit of my body,
    which is usual about that period of life, I cannot tell. I
    think it may more probably be imputed to the last. However, the
    fact was that for at least forty years after I dreamt none,
    to the best of my remembrance; and finding from the testimony
    of others that this is somewhat uncommon, I have often as I
    awoke endeavoured to recollect, without being able to recollect
    anything that passed in my sleep. The only distinct dream I
    ever had since I was about sixteen, as far as I remember, was
    about two years ago (1777). I had got my head blistered for a
    fall. A plaster which was put upon it after the blister pained
    me excessively for a whole night. In the morning I slept a
    little, and dreamed very distinctly that I had fallen into the
    hands of a party of Indians and was scalped. I am apt to think
    that, as there is a state of sleep and a state wherein we are
    awake, so there is an intermediate state which partakes of the
    other two. I have slept on horseback, but so as to preserve my
    balance; and if the horse stumbled, I could make the exertion
    necessary to save me from a fall, as if I was awake.’

In all this one detects the disposition to sober introspection, which
ripened as life advanced.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the ten years that followed the graduation in April 1726 we have
only faint traces of Reid. In the following winter he began to study
theology, and in 1731 he had completed the course required by the Church,
under the direction of Professor James Chalmers, father of the founder of
the _Aberdeen Journal_. This is another parallel between Reid and Kant:
both, it seems, were theologically trained.

Reid’s name first appears in the books of the Presbytery of Kincardine
O’Neil when he was in his nineteenth year. Extracts from the minutes with
which I have been favoured record his progress with a quaint simplicity
not without interest, as part of the history of a philosopher:—

    ‘On the 17th of July, 1728, James Lumsden, John Beaton, Thomas
    Reid, and David Ross, students in divinity, residing within the
    bounds of the presbytery, being now present, the presbytery
    thought fit to appoint each of them to be in readiness to
    deliver a homily against the next meeting, and accordingly
    appointed Mr. Reid to deliver a homily on John i. 29.—18
    September 1728. This day Mr. Thomas Reid delivered his homily,
    with which the presbytery being satisfied, the moderator
    encouraged him to go on with his studies.—8th June 1731. The
    presbytery considering that Mr. Thomas Reid had been allowed by
    the Synod to enter upon tryal, and he, being upon the place,
    did undergo questioning tryal, wherein he was approved, and
    the presbytery appointed him to be in readyness to deliver a
    lecture on Ps. ii., and an exegesis on that common head. _Num
    detur peccatum originale inherens._—22nd September 1731. This
    day Mr. Thomas Reid underwent a questioning tryal and was
    approved. And the presbytery taking into consideration that he,
    having passed his course in Arts at the College, and thereafter
    having studied Divinity for the space of [3] years, as also
    having resided for the whole of this time within the bounds
    of this presbytery; and they looking upon him as a person fit
    to be entered upon tryals, and also having had sufficient
    testimonials from the professors of divinity with whom he
    studied as to his proficiency in his studys and good behaviour,
    he was admitted to the usual tryals appointed by the Acts of
    the General Assembly of this Church, and having passed through
    all the parts thereof, he was licensed by the said presbytery
    to preach the Gospel of Christ, and exercise his gifts as a
    probationer for the holy ministry.’

On the 2nd of August 1732, ‘the Presbytery chose Mr. Thomas Reid to be
their Clerk.’ On the 5th of October in the same year, ‘the Presbytery
appointed Mr. Thomas Reid to supply at Lumphanan the second Sabbath after
Mr. Gordon’s removal.’ On the 8th of November, ‘Mr. Thomas Reid was
continued Clerk till the next meeting of the provincial Synod,’ in April
1733.

In July 1733 Reid re-appears, this time not engaged in ecclesiastical
ministration, but as the librarian of Marischal College. It was an office
with which he had a family connection. ‘The most outstanding name in
the history of Marischal College Library,’ says Mr. Rait, ‘is that of
Thomas Reid, Latin secretary to James vi., son of James Reid, minister of
Banchory-Ternan. In 1624 he left to Marischal College his own library,
6000 merks to be invested in land, and a sum of money to provide a salary
for a librarian.’ The secretary’s brother, Alexander, also bequeathed
books of philosophy and divinity. And David Gregory of Kinairdy was for
some time librarian. It was an acceptable retreat for research, and a
mark of esteem from the College. Mr. Rose, Reid’s brother-in-law, says
that he then studied Newton’s _Principia_ and Locke’s _Essay_.[4] Again
a parallel between Reid and Kant. Some time after Kant had taken his
degree he was made librarian in the Schloss Library, with a yearly
stipend of about £10. This was nominally in excess of Reid’s modest
honorarium of £9 at Aberdeen, a pittance which was for a time suspended
by threatened litigation. He was in active service as librarian till
1736, and for two years more in possession, ‘on leave of absence, with a
substitute.’

The need for a ‘substitute’ in 1736 can be explained. In that year, for
the first time, Reid is found outside Scotland. He is making a tour
in England, with Stewart, the friend of his undergraduate years, and
now Professor of Mathematics in Marischal College. The record of their
movements in the South is scanty. Reid’s uncle, Dr. George Reid, then a
physician in London, provided a home for them in the metropolis; and as
David Gregory, Reid’s cousin, was Professor of History at Oxford, they
found another home on the Isis, with an easy introduction to the colleges
and social life of the great English University. The Gregory connection
also opened the way to interesting things and persons at Cambridge as
well as at Oxford and London. Reid, it seems, saw Bentley at Cambridge,
‘who delighted him with his learning and amused him with his vanity’:
here, too, he enjoyed the conversation of the blind mathematician
Saunderson, whose experience he afterwards turned to good account in
his inquiries regarding the sense of seeing. One would like to have had
Reid’s first impressions of England, its metropolis, its social and
church life, and its ancient colleges. It does not appear that the scenes
through which he moved awakened in him much historic sentiment; that,
like his contemporary Berkeley, Oxford would be the ideal home of his old
age; or that he was greatly moved by its academic splendour, associated
with what is noblest in English history, and by the soft repose of the
surrounding rural scenes. In one of his letters to Dr. James Gregory,
he speaks of the first time he was in ‘Dean Gregory’s house at Oxford,’
when the Dean told ‘the story of the watch very well to a large company
of Oxonians’; so we may infer that other visits followed in later life.
And the Oxford of his first visit was the degenerate Oxford described
by Adam Smith and Gibbon, who were in residence a few years after. Reid
is seldom again found out of Scotland. There is no sign that he ever
visited Ireland or the Continent in his retired, sedate, and methodical
life. In this, too, he was like Kant, who in all his eighty years is said
never to have travelled more than forty miles from his native Königsberg.
The stay-at-home disposition common to both is not unlike the character
reflected in their books.



CHAPTER III

NEW MACHAR AND DAVID HUME

1737-1751


Soon after Reid’s return to Marischal College from his English tour,
the young librarian was presented, by the professors of King’s College,
to the pastoral charge of New Machar, a parish some ten miles to the
north-west of Aberdeen. The fact that his kinsman, James Gregory, was
professor in King’s may perhaps explain this unwonted exercise of
patronage in favour of a graduate of the rival College.

The presentation, at any rate, raised a storm of opposition among the
parishioners. It was the occasion of one of those conflicts of Church
parties to which the law of patronage gave rise in Scotland in those
days. The incidents of Reid’s introduction to ecclesiastical office
form a characteristic picture. Rural prejudice was due in this case to
various circumstances. It was partly influenced by a sermon, preached
in the church of New Machar, on February 10, 1737, at the moderation of
the call, by the Rev. John Bisset, one of the ministers of Aberdeen. Mr.
Bisset had himself been minister of the parish ten years before. He was
now a noted preacher in the North, and one with whom express concurrence
of the congregation in an ecclesiastical settlement was a high article
of doctrine.[5] In his sermon he denounced aristocratic interference,
insinuated undue outside influence and personal favour, claimed a right
to a vote in the election of his minister for every Christian, the poor
man as much as the rich, and concluded with an appeal to his audience to
quit themselves like men, and to trust in God. The recent history of the
parish strengthened this appeal. The last presentation to New Machar was
inauspicious. In 1729 a ‘riding committee’ had introduced Mr. Bisset’s
successor. Soon after, the new minister was accused of ‘powdering his wig
on the Sabbath.’ Absolved by the Church courts, he was in 1736 deposed
for a graver offence. It was a time of ecclesiastical anarchy in New
Machar. The record of the parish is blank between the minute which tells
of the departure of Mr. Bisset in 1728, and that which registers ‘the
ordination of Mr. Thomas Reid’ in May 1737.

Reid was the innocent victim of the sermon and the scandal when he came
to be ordained on May 12, 1737. He had been violently attacked and
maltreated by persons in disguise, who, according to tradition, ducked
him in a horse-pond. It is also told that when he officiated for the
first time in the parish church, he was guarded in the pulpit by a drawn
sword.

For fifteen years New Machar manse was Reid’s home. Popular prejudice was
overcome by his mild, beneficent activity. Those who had been carried
into outrage by hasty judgment at the beginning, followed him on his
departure with blessings and tears. ‘We fought against Mr. Reid when
he came,’ they are reported as saying, ‘and we would have fought for
him when he went away.’ His marriage, in August 1740, to his cousin
Elizabeth, a daughter of his London uncle, Dr. George Reid, promoted
this change. The gracious manner and constant goodness of this companion
of his life for more than fifty years was long remembered in the
Aberdeenshire parish. Six daughters and three sons were the issue of the
marriage. Five daughters were born at New Machar, and one died there.
Reid’s family bible at Birkwood contains the following interesting record
in his handwriting:—

    ‘Mr. Thomas Reid was born at Strachan, April 26, 1710; married
    to Elizabeth Reid, August 12, 1740. The said Elizabeth was
    born August 3, 1724. Their children:—(1) Jean, born July 21,
    1741, died February 27, 1772, buried in College Churchyard,
    Glasgow; (2) Margaret, born October 20, 1742, died 1772,
    buried as above; (3) Martha, born August 22, 1744, married Dr.
    Patrick Carmichael; (4) Elizabeth, born February 21, 1746, died
    of smallpox in August 1746, buried in the Churchyard of New
    Machar; (5) Anna, born July 10, 1751, died of chin-cough May
    21, 1753, buried in the Isle of Old Machar; (6) George, born
    February 11, 1755, died at St. John’s, Newfoundland, February
    1780; (7) Lewis, born December 13, 1756, died of teething July
    19, 1758, buried in the Isle of Old Machar; (8) David, born
    February 26, 1762, died at Edinburgh August 30, 1782; (9)
    Elizabeth, born May 8, 1766, died June 1, 1767, of smallpox by
    inoculation, buried in the College Churchyard, Glasgow.’

The story of the fifteen years at New Machar, as we have it, is almost
empty of incidents, a dim picture. The scene does not warmly touch the
imagination. Undulating hills of moderate size, chill and tame; land
monotonously fertile, with scanty timber; yet pleasant prospects in the
distance of the valley of the Don, with Benachie and remoter Grampians in
the background; a population mostly agricultural; two or three country
mansions; the highroad from Aberdeen to Banff traversing the parish. New
Machar was wanting, on the whole, in the breezy highland charm of the
early home at Strachan. The social life was simple but intellectually
stagnant. Among the infrequent visitors at the manse I find incidental
mention in Reid’s letters of one. He tells that he made the acquaintance
of the well-known Jacobite, Mr. Hepburn of Keith, ‘by his lodging a night
in my house at New Machar,’ when he was in the Prince’s army, on his
way to Culloden; perhaps when he was in Lord George Murray’s division,
which retreated through Aberdeenshire in February 1746, or in one of
the detachments which were in motion around New Machar in the preceding
December.

The Thomas Reid who is revealed to us in his books does not promise
pulpit eloquence likely to interest this rustic population. Like Bishop
Butler when he was in his remote rectory at Stanhope a few years
before, he was pondering the chief intellectual work of his life in
exile from intellectual society. None of Reid’s sermons are found among
his manuscripts. Indeed, it appears that his characteristic modesty
and diffidence, combined, it is said, with some neglect of literary
culture in his early education, induced him at first to read to his
rustic audience the sermons of eminent Anglican preachers, instead of
compositions of his own—thus adopting a practice afterwards recommended
by Paley, by which, with fit selection, many audiences might benefit
in this age of social pressure. ‘As to preaching,’ says Paley, ‘if
your situation requires a sermon every Sunday, make one and find
five.’ Tillotson and the Nonconformist Evans are mentioned as Reid’s
favourites, and something is said about Samuel Clarke. The luminous good
sense of Tillotson, and the reverential temper of Evans, and the lucid
reasoning of Clarke, would naturally attract Reid. But emotion as well
as moral ideal was not wanting in his religious life. It is said that
in a Communion Service tears fell from his eyes when he enlarged on the
divine beauty of the character of Jesus. The following expression of
religious feeling during an illness of his young wife appears among his
manuscripts, dated March 30, 1746:—

    ‘O God, I desire humbly to supplicate Thy Divine Majesty in
    behalf of my distressed wife, who is by Thy hand brought very
    low, and in imminent danger of death, if Thou, who alone doest
    wonders, do not in mercy interpose Thy almighty arm, and bring
    her back from the gate of death. I deserve justly, O Lord,
    that Thou shouldst deprive me of the greatest comfort of my
    life, because I have not been so thankful to Thee as I ought
    for giving me such a kind and affectionate wife. I have forgot
    Thy goodness in bringing us happily together by an unforeseen
    and undesigned train of events, and blessing us with so much
    love and harmony of affection, and so many of the comforts and
    conveniences of life. I have not been so careful as I ought
    to have been to stir her up to piety and Christian virtues.
    I have not taken that pains with my children and servants
    and relatives as I ought. Alas! I have been too negligent of
    my pastoral duty and my private devotions, too much given to
    the pleasures and satisfactions of this world, and too little
    influenced by the promises and the hope of a future state. I
    have employed my studies, reading, and conversation rather to
    please myself than to edify myself and others. I have sinned
    greatly in neglecting many opportunities of making private
    applications to my flock and family in the affairs of their
    souls, and in using too slight preparation for my public
    exercises. I have thrown away too much of my time in sloth and
    sleep, and have not done so much for the relief of the poor and
    destitute as I might have done. The means that Providence has
    afforded me of correcting my evil inclinations I have abused to
    pamper and feed them in various instances. For these and many
    other sins which have escaped my memory Thou mightst justly
    inflict so great a chastisement on me, as to make my children
    motherless and deprive me of my dear wife. O Lord, accept of
    my humble and penitent confession of these my offences, which
    I desire to acknowledge with shame and sorrow, and am resolved
    by Thy grace to amend. If Thou art pleased to hearken to the
    voice of my supplications, and grant my request on behalf of my
    dear wife in restoring her to health, I do promise and covenant
    through grace to turn from these backslidings, to express my
    thankfulness by a vigorous discharge of my duty as a Christian,
    a minister, and master of a family, and by an alms of ten
    pounds sterling to the poor in meat and money. Lord, pardon
    if there is anything in this presumptuous, or unbecoming a
    humble penitent sinner; and, Lord, accept of what is sincerely
    designed as a new bond upon my soul to my duty, through Jesus
    Christ, my Lord and Saviour.’

This fervid expression of devotion reveals an intensity of purpose which
worked beneath the outwardly placid and discreet life. Mrs. Reid survived
this critical illness for nearly half a century.

Much of Reid’s time at New Machar, according to his brother-in-law
Mr. Rose, was spent in meditative thought, with an attention to the
activities of his own mind of which few men are capable. Traditions of
solitary walks immersed in study were long in circulation. He found
his chief recreation, we are told, in the manse garden or in botanical
observations. His society attracted his neighbours. With Sir Archibald
Grant of Monymusk he maintained a lifelong intimacy. He never forgot New
Machar, and long after, in times of distress, anonymous gifts were traced
to his thoughtful but modest beneficence.

Three years before Reid left New Machar, when he was in his thirty-eighth
year, he made his first appearance in print, in a short paper contributed
to the Royal Society, which appeared in their _Transactions_ in October
1748. It is called ‘An Essay on Quantity.’ It was occasioned by a book
published more than twenty years before, the _Inquiry into the Original
of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue_, by Francis Hutcheson, afterwards the
celebrated Professor of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow. In this tract simple
and compound ratios are applied, in forms of mathematical reasoning,
to solve problems of moral philosophy. It illustrates in some degree
the bent of Reid’s thoughts at this time, and his inherited interest in
mathematical reasonings. But it also shows bent of thought in another
direction, and recognition of other scientific methods than mathematical
demonstration, which had been favoured as of universal application by
philosophers like Descartes and Spinoza. Reid argued, in the spirit of
his master Turnbull, that genuine ethical inquiry is concerned with a
class of facts which are under a higher category, and refuse to submit to
geometrical measurement.

It is a curious circumstance in the evolution of philosophy in Scotland
that Reid’s first publication should thus be adverse criticism of
Hutcheson, the father of Modern Philosophy in Scotland. It is also
curious that this juvenile performance presents another of the parallels
between Reid and Kant. For it happened that in the preceding year Kant
had made his first appearance, on a question concerned with mathematics,
and, like Reid’s, in an argument against conclusions maintained by
Leibnitz.

But this mathematical _brochure_ imperfectly represents the ‘intense
study’ at New Machar. For an event happened soon after Reid’s settlement
there which determined the direction of his thoughts for the remainder of
his life. In January 1739, a book made an almost unnoticed appearance in
London, which in the end became the chief factor in shaping the course of
European thought. Its author was David Hume, then a young man, unknown
to fame, not thirty years of age, the younger son of a Berwickshire
laird. Hume was younger than Reid by one year: both were born on the
26th of April. His name is popularly connected with the _History of
England_; but this _Treatise of Human Nature_, which somehow found its
way into the manse of New Machar, represents his most significant work.
It has contributed perhaps as much as any single book to the subsequent
progress of philosophy in Europe. Hume indeed penetrates into regions
which the ordinary reader fails to connect with everyday interests of
life, or with the hopes and fears of human beings. Accordingly, as he
tells, the _Treatise_ ‘fell dead-born from the press, without attaining
such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots.’ In a
letter to his friend Henry Home, afterwards Lord Kames, written soon
after this explosive mixture had been applied, its author announces that
the issue was ‘but indifferent, if I may judge by the sale of the book,
and if I may believe my bookseller. I am now out of humour with myself;
but doubt not in a little time to be out of humour with the world, like
other unsuccessful authors. After all, I am sensible of my folly in
entertaining any discontent, much more despair, on this account, since
I could not expect any better from such abstract reasoning.’ This book,
which professes to explain ‘human nature’ as a fact in the universe,
conducts to a final paralysis of human intelligence in universal doubt.

This threatened paralysis awoke Reid into his characteristic intellectual
life. He was among the first in Europe to see the far-reaching meaning of
Hume’s account of man’s condition. He found in it the deep-lying seeds
of modern agnosticism. Its rashness was confessed by its author. ‘I
acknowledge a very great mistake in conduct in publishing my _Treatise
of Human Nature_, a book which pretended to innovate in all the sublimest
parts of philosophy, and which I composed before I was five-and-twenty.
But what success the same doctrines better illustrated and expressed
may meet with _adhuc sub judice lis est_. I wish I had always confined
myself to the more easy parts of erudition.’ Accordingly, about ten
years after, Hume presented his ‘sceptical doubts’ in a milder form, and
accompanied by a ‘sceptical solution’ of them, in an _Inquiry Concerning
Human Understanding_; but it was Hume in the original _Treatise_, not as
recast in the _Inquiry_, that moved Reid. Kant, like Reid, was awakened
from what he calls his ‘dogmatic slumber’ by David Hume; but it was
the _Inquiry_, not the _Treatise_, of which last he appears ignorant,
that roused Kant. Reid grappled with the more open and all-pervading
uncertainties of the earlier work.

Let us look into the book which appalled the young minister of New Machar
by the spectre of a meaningless universe and illusory human nature.
Its author seemed to be indulging in ‘a peculiar strain of humour when
he set out in his introduction by promising with a grave face no less
than a complete system of the sciences upon a foundation entirely new,
namely, human nature, while the intention of the whole work is to show
that there is neither human nature nor science in the world. He surely
believed, against his principles, that he should be read, and that he
should retain his personal identity till he reaped the reputation justly
due to his metaphysical acumen.’ Reid found him taking for granted as his
fundamental maxim, that nothing can be admitted as true which cannot be
logically deduced from impressions of sense. Hume found the impressions
of sense to be transitory, and distinguished in their succession by
degrees of intensity,—sensations when in their highest intensity,
memories when in an abated degree, and mere fancies when the intensity
is at a minimum. His maxim forbade recognition of more reality in the
universe than a momentary reality of isolated perceptions, in their
different degrees of intensity, but without any reasonable retrospective
memory, or any reasonable expectation with its hopes or fears. What
we call ‘existence’ was resolved into an unintelligible chaos of felt
impressions—a purposeless procession, in which the percipient loses his
very selfhood and all besides. The Past, the Distant, the Future, are
all illusions. ‘Things’ and ‘persons’ are only unconnected transitory
feelings, without any permanent person to feel them. The word ‘identity’
is meaningless. A person cannot be more than a momentary idea. ‘I never
catch _self_ except in the form of a passing feeling.’ Present feeling
alone exists.

It is impossible without contradiction to express a philosophy which
destroys intelligible expression; virtually dismissing as absurdities
all personal pronouns, all substantive nouns, and all verbs; leaving
abstract adjectives as the only parts of speech;—and, as such adjectives
are really unintelligible, leaving us the speechless and motionless
victims of philosophical suicide. When I start with the preliminary maxim
of Hume, I literally lose ‘myself’ at last in a radically untrustworthy
universe, or I find myself suspended over a bottomless abyss. Here are
the last words of this intellectual suicide at the end of his destructive
analysis:—

    ‘I am affrighted and confounded with the forlorn solitude in
    which I am placed by my philosophy. When we trace up the human
    understanding to its first principles, we find it to lead us
    into such sentiments as seem to turn into ridicule all our
    past pains and industry, and to discourage us from all future
    inquiries. Nothing is more curiously inquired after by the
    mind of man than the _causes_ of phenomena; nor are we content
    with knowing the immediate causes, but push on our inquiries
    till we arrive at the original and ultimate principle. This
    is our aim in all our studies and reflections. And now we
    must be disappointed when we learn that this tie lies merely
    in ourselves, and is nothing but that determination which is
    acquired by custom. Such a discovery not only cuts off all
    hope of ever attaining satisfaction, but even prevents our
    very wishes; since it appears that when we desire to know the
    ultimate and operating principle or something which resides
    in the external object, we only contradict ourselves, or talk
    without a meaning.... The intense view of these manifold
    contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought
    upon me and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all
    belief and reasoning, and can look at no opinion even as more
    probable or likely than another. All who believe anything, on
    any subject, with certainty, must be fools.’

This is the issue of the _Treatise of Human Nature_ when the logical
understanding is finally resolved into transitory and isolated feelings,
without permitted final postulates of reason, in the form of faith or in
any other form, to connect and interpret them.

It was this issue that Reid took seriously. He set himself, at first for
his own satisfaction only, to consider the ground he had for trusting
experience, when Hume reported that experience dissolved into sensational
atoms. Accordingly he spent much of his time at New Machar in reflecting
first of all on his perceptions through the senses. He began with these,
because it seemed that even as the foundations of abstract mathematics
lie in the mathematical axioms and definitions, so the foundations of
all concrete reasoning are to be found in the rational constitution of
perception through the five senses. ‘In the tree of human knowledge,
perception is the root, common understanding is the trunk, and the
sciences are the branches.’ Here is his own account of his state of mind
when he was engaged in these New Machar wrestlings:—

    ‘If my mind is indeed what the _Treatise of Human Nature_ makes
    it, I find that I have been only in an enchanted castle, when
    I seemed to be living in a well-ordered universe. I have been
    imposed upon by spectres and apparitions. I blush inwardly
    to think how I have been deluded. I am ashamed of my frame,
    and can hardly forbear expostulating with my destiny. I see
    myself, and the whole frame of Nature, shrink into fleeting
    ideas, which, like Epicurus’s atoms, dance about in emptiness.
    Descartes no sooner began to dig in this mine than scepticism
    was ready to break in upon him. He did what he could to keep
    it out. Malebranche and Locke, who dug deeper, found the
    difficulty of keeping out the enemy still to increase; but they
    laboured honestly in the design. Then Berkeley, who carried on
    the work, despairing of securing all, bethought himself of an
    expedient. By giving up the material world, which he thought
    might be spared without loss, and even with advantage, he hoped
    by an impregnable position to secure the world of spirits.
    But, alas! the _Treatise of Human Nature_ wantonly sapped the
    foundation of this partition, and drowned all in one universal
    deluge.’

Nearly forty years after he left New Machar, Reid says[6] that in early
life he ‘believed the whole of Berkeley’s system’—till Hume opened his
eyes to ‘consequences’ that follow from the philosophy of Descartes
and his successors, ‘which gave me more uneasiness than the want of a
material world. So it came into my mind more than forty years ago’ to
question its foundation. Hume accordingly made Reid revise critically the
philosophy in which he had been educated by George Turnbull. The issue
appeared after he left New Machar.

Reid was now to be placed in a condition more favourable to intense and
persistent thought. On November 22, 1751, he was admitted to King’s
College, Aberdeen, as one of its regent masters, in succession to Mr.
Alexander Rait. The patronage was vested in the College, and the minute
which records his election suggests the reputation which the rural pastor
had now secured among the cultured few, notwithstanding his modest and
retired life.

It was not without reluctance that Reid left New Machar. Ramsay of
Ochtertyre, who knew him well, tells that when the deputation from King’s
College came to invite him to become a regent, ‘he at first declined,
explaining that he desired to live in retirement till he should complete
some literary projects which engaged him. Mrs. Reid, however, having
discovered the errand of the visitors, urged her husband to accept the
offer, being less fond of retirement, and having no objection to a
better income and better society. When her learned guests repeated their
proposal after dinner, she seconded them with such cogent arguments that
Mr. Reid was beat out of all his objections.’—_Scotland and Scotsmen._



CHAPTER IV

OLD ABERDEEN: A REGENT IN KING’S COLLEGE

1751-1764


Reid’s movement from New Machar to the academic home opened for him in
Old Aberdeen placed him and his young family amidst surroundings that
touch imagination by their natural beauty and historic associations.
For centuries the College, founded by Bishop Elphinstone, and at first
presided over by Hector Boece, with its chapel and crowned tower, in the

                    old university town,
    Between the Don and the Dee,
    Looking over the grey sand dunes,
    Looking out on the cold North Sea,

has shed intellectual light over the North of Scotland, especially among
the Celts in the Highlands. At King’s College one sees a miniature Oxford
almost under the shadow of the Grampians. Perhaps Reid’s temperament was
too prosaic to contemplate his new surroundings with the sentiment which
the city at the mouth of the Don afterwards called forth in Thackeray,
who, in ‘a delightful tour in the north, was charmed with Inverness, and
fell in love with Old Aberdeen—an elderly decayed mouldering old beauty
who lives quietly on the seashore, near her grand new granite sister of
a city.’ The affectionate recollection with which Sir James Mackintosh
recalled his student days at King’s College, and the companionship
there of Robert Hall, is another testimony to its charms. The arena in
which these two, called by their fellow-students ‘Plato and Herodotus,’
encountered one another most frequently was in morals and metaphysics.
‘After having sharpened their weapons by reading, they often repaired to
the spacious sands upon the seashore, and still more to the picturesque
scenery on the banks of the Don above the old town and the Brig of
Balgownie, to discuss with eagerness the problems of existence. There was
scarcely an important position in Berkeley’s _Minute Philosopher_, in
Butler’s _Analogy_, or in _Edwards on the Will_, over which they did not
debate with the utmost intensity.’ From these discussions in the environs
of the ‘old university town,’ Mackintosh was wont to say that he ‘learned
more than from all the books he ever read.’

It was in the canonist’s manse, pleasantly placed nearly in front of the
College, immediately north of the Snow Church, at the entrance to Powis
House, that Reid found himself in the winter of 1751.[7] It was rented
by him from the University. The quaint manse, nestled among trees, with
its low thatched roof,[8] has disappeared, and with it other picturesque
old houses, which added charm to the neighbourhood when Reid taught in
King’s College nearly a hundred and fifty years ago. The crown tower
of the College chapel rose almost in front of the manse, the rival of
St. Giles’s at Edinburgh and of St. Nicholas’s at Newcastle, unique in
Scottish academical architecture. Eastwards in the quadrangle was the
Hall in which the students dined, a memorial of Bishop Elphinstone, and
the dormitories of the students, which were of later date. General Monk’s
tower stood in the eastern corner; behind the Hall was the kitchen, and
near it the College well, whence the links stretched to the shore, ‘the
grey sand dunes’ in those days unbroken by tame streets and modern villas.

       *       *       *       *       *

The professorial system of divided work, which assigns special
departments of learning to supposed experts, had not superseded in King’s
College the method of regency which prevailed in the early history of all
the universities of Scotland. The regent was intrusted with the education
of his pupils from the first matriculation to graduation; or when Latin,
Greek, and pure mathematics were each provided for professorially,
regents in philosophy each taught in successive sessions the various
branches of natural and physical science, and of moral and metaphysical
philosophy. This system was followed in all the Scottish universities
until last century. It was modified by the Commission of 1690, which
ordained that, besides a separate professor of Latin, one of the four
regents should profess Greek only, and take charge of undergraduates in
their first year. By about the middle of the century ‘regenting’ was
wholly abolished in four of the five Universities—in Edinburgh in 1708,
in Glasgow in 1727, in St. Andrews in 1747, and in Marischal College
and University in 1753. But in King’s College the various branches of
Philosophy, natural and moral, were still regented when Reid began to
teach. He was thus required to teach mathematics and the sciences of
matter, as well as psychology and moral philosophy. He thus gave lectures
on the philosophy of mind only every third year. One of the other two
years was given to natural history and the easier parts of physical
science; the second to mathematics and natural philosophy.

During 1751-52, which was his first session, Reid as regent taught
natural philosophy to undergraduates of the third year; in the following
winter the same students, in their fourth year, were still in his
charge. His full sequence, accordingly, did not commence till 1753-54,
when for the first time he took the second class, consisting of those
beginning philosophical studies. So his successive three years courses
ran thus:—1753-56, 1756-59, 1759-62. In the last year of each course,
as ‘promoter,’ he presented his undergraduates to receive the Master’s
degree, and also delivered a graduation thesis. His theses (still extant
in manuscript at Birkwood) were in Latin; they deal chiefly with the
methods and human conditions of philosophical inquiry.

Two-thirds of Reid’s lectures at King’s College were in this way
concerned with natural history and applied mathematics: only one-third
was given to the central object of his intellectual interest at New
Machar. I have examined a manuscript volume of notes of the lectures in
‘Natural Philosophy’ which he gave in 1757-58. They comprehend, after an
introductory exposition of the province and methods of physics, the laws
of motion, astronomy, optics, electricity, and hydrostatics. The notes
show that Reid was well abreast of the physical science of his time.

At the time of Reid’s appointment as a regent of philosophy in King’s
College, the alternative of regency or professoriate was discussed in
the University. He entered readily into this and other questions of
University reform, and prevailed on his colleagues to make some important
changes. Largely through his influence the teaching session was extended
from five to seven months; the Humanity or Latin class was better
organised; the bursary endowments were redistributed for competition;
and in the order of undergraduate study, the sciences concerned with the
outward world were made to precede psychology and ethics, which were
reserved for the last year, as more consistent with the development
of the human mind in its natural ascent from external observation to
reflection. An account of the changes was published in 1754.

It is curious that it was through Reid’s influence that the regency
system was retained in King’s College, in preference to the professorial,
which, in order to secure division of labour among the teachers,
under the growth of knowledge, had been already adopted in the other
Universities. His hand may be traced in the following statement of
reasons for this conservative policy:—‘Every professor of philosophy
in this University is also tutor to those who study under him; and it
seems to be generally agreed that it must be detrimental to a student to
change his every session. And though it be allowed that a professor who
has only one branch of philosophy for his province may have more leisure
to make improvements in it for the benefit of the learned world, yet it
does not seem extravagant to suppose that a [regent] professor ought
to be sufficiently qualified to teach all that his pupils can learn in
philosophy [natural and moral] in the course of three sessions.’ Half
a century later the higher academical ideal implied in a professoriate
prevailed, according to which the professor is responsible for promoting
his branch of human knowledge, as well as for the instruction of youth—in
educating influence more powerful, when he incites to study by the
vitality which original research is apt to communicate to his lectures.
The development of a university, it has been remarked, is prompt and
easy when each department of its cyclopædia is separately taught by
an able professor; whereas a university which abandons instruction to
regent-tutors must be content not only to teach little, and that little
ill, but to continue to teach what is elsewhere obsolete and exploded.

In a letter of Reid’s in 1755, an account is given of the reformed, if
somewhat officious, academical discipline which then prevailed:—

    ‘The students here,’ he says, ‘have lately been compelled to
    live within the College. We need but look out at our windows to
    see when they rise and when they go to bed. They are seen nine
    or ten times throughout the day statedly, by one or other of
    the Masters—at public prayers, school-hours, meals, in their
    rooms, besides occasional visits which we can make with little
    trouble to ourselves. They are shut up within walls at nine
    at night. This discipline hath indeed taken some pains and
    resolution, as well as some expense, to establish it. The board
    of the first table is 50 marks per quarter, _i.e._ 54s. 2d.,
    and the second 40. The rent of a room is from 7 shillings to 20
    shillings in the session. There is no furniture in their rooms
    but a bedstead, tables, chimney-grate, and fender; the rest
    they must buy for themselves. All other perquisites from 12 to
    17 shillings.’

This discipline was more or less in vogue during the remainder of last
century. Nearly twenty years after the date of Reid’s letter, when
Johnson and Boswell visited Aberdeen, Johnson says that ‘in King’s
College there is kept a public table, but the scholars in the Marischal
College are boarded in the town.’ ‘The abandonment of this custom,’
Mr. Rait tells us, ‘seems to have been a gradual process, and to have
taken place during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The
restraint of collegiate residence had become exceedingly irksome.’ With
the increasing age of entrants, schoolboy discipline might seem less
expedient.

Instruction in the art of dancing was, it seems, provided by the
University under the reformed regulations, to add manly grace to the rude
bodily vigour of the Scottish undergraduate. Reid in advocating this may
have remembered Locke’s advice in his _Thoughts on Education_: ‘Dancing
being that which gives graceful motions all the life, and above all
things manliness and a becoming confidence, I think it cannot be learned
too early. But you must be sure to have a good master, that knows and can
teach what is graceful and becoming, and that gives a freedom and ease to
all the motions of the body. One that teaches not this is worse than none
at all.’ How long this civilising art was cultivated in Reid’s College I
have not discovered.

In Aberdeen Reid found himself in the society of persons of more than
provincial eminence, destined, indeed, to leave their mark on the thought
and literature of Scotland. The Chair of Medicine in his College was
occupied by his cousin, Dr. John Gregory, a successful observer of
external nature and man. In Marischal College, Thomas Blackwell, the
Professor of Greek when Reid was an undergraduate, was now Principal;
soon followed by George Campbell, who became the philosophical theologian
of the Church of Scotland, by his criticism of Hume’s reasoning about
miracles, and a master in literary, biblical, and ecclesiastical
criticism,—in his _Philosophy of Rhetoric_, his Translation of the
Gospels, and his History of the development of the Christian Church.
Campbell was nine years younger than Reid, like him an alumnus of
Marischal College; he had been minister of Banchory-Ternan for nine
years before he was called to Aberdeen. He rivalled Reid himself in
analytic power and calm, candid, luminous reasoning. Alexander Gerard,
like Reid, a University reformer, and author of essays on ‘Taste’ and on
‘Genius,’ was Professor of Philosophy in Marischal College, and then of
Divinity there, and afterwards at King’s. There was William Duncan, too,
whose _Logic_ was for a time in vogue in Scottish Universities—a regent
in Marischal College when Reid began to teach philosophy at King’s; and
Reid’s lifelong friend Stewart was still in the Chair of Mathematics.
Perhaps the most widely known Aberdonian when he lived was James Beattie,
poet more than philosopher, Professor of Logic and Moral Philosophy
in Marischal College, whose essay on ‘Truth’ gave him a name in the
intellectual world, while the grace and pathos of the ‘Minstrel’ and the
‘Hermit’ appealed to a wider class, and secured a popular reputation.
Aberdeen and its neighbourhood were then the home also of accomplished
physicians and naturalists and scholars—Skenes and Ogilvies, Dunbars and
Gordons.

As I have said, Reid’s first years at King’s College were much given
to academical reform. His later years there were distinguished by his
connection with a Society for philosophical inquiry, then quickened in
Scotland by the fashionable scepticism of David Hume. Reid and Gregory
originated this ‘Aberdeen Philosophical Society,’ or ‘Wise Club,’ as it
was called. It was the parent of some of the most remarkable books in
Scottish philosophical literature in the latter part of last century.
The first meeting was on January 12, 1758, and the last was in February
1773. The original members were Dr. John Gregory, Dr. David Skene,
Professor John Stewart, Mr. Robert Trail, the Rev. George Campbell, and
Mr. Thomas Reid; to whom in the same year were added the Rev. Alexander
Gerard, the Rev. John Farquhar, Mr. Charles Gordon, and Mr. John Kerr.
James Beattie joined them in 1760, Dr. George Skene and Mr. William
Ogilvie in 1763, Mr. James Dunbar in 1765, and Mr. William Trail in 1766.
Reid was secretary of the Society, and the minutes for many years are
in his handwriting. It met once a fortnight on the second and fourth
Wednesdays of each month. ‘The members,’ Sir W. Forbes tells us in his
_Life of Beattie_, ‘met at five o’clock in the evening—for in those days
at Aberdeen it was the custom to dine early—when one of the members,
as president, took the chair, and left it at half an hour after eight,
when they partook of a slight and inexpensive collation, and at ten
o’clock they separated.’ At these meetings it appears that part of the
evening’s entertainment was the reading of a short essay, composed by
one of the members in his turn. Besides these discourses, a literary or
philosophical question was proposed each night, for discussion at the
next meeting. And it was the duty of the proposer of the question to open
the discussion; by him, also, the opinions of the members who took a part
in it were digested into an abstract, which was engrossed in the album
of the Society. I am told that the _Lion Inn_, on the Spital Hill near
Reid’s manse, and sometimes the _Lemon Tree Inn_, in the new town, were
the usual places of meeting. The common attendance was five or six. One
of the rules enjoined moderation and forbade toasts.

The meetings were given partly to essays by the members, and partly to
oral discussions of proposed questions. ‘Philosophy,’ according to the
rules, ‘comprehends every principle of science which may be deduced by
just or lawful induction from the phenomena either of the human mind or
of the material world.’ Perhaps no society of the kind in this country
has fulfilled its end so well. The ‘Rankenian Club’ and the ‘Select
Society’ in Edinburgh lasted longer, or enrolled more members, but
neither of them was the parent of so much good literature. The ‘Inquiry’
of Reid, Beattie’s essay on ‘Truth,’ Gerard on ‘Taste’ and on ‘Genius,’
and Campbell’s books on ‘Miracles’ and on ‘Rhetoric’ appear in fragments
or in germ in the minutes of the ‘Wise Club’ of Aberdeen. Its vitality
was sustained and stimulated by the sceptical speculations of Hume, which
were much in touch with educated opinion in the third quarter of last
century, when spiritual philosophy was languid in Britain and throughout
the world. The tone of those engaged in the philosophical vindication of
belief appears in one of Reid’s letters, who writes thus to David Hume in
1763:—

    ‘Your friendly adversaries, Drs. Campbell and Gerard, as well
    as Dr. Gregory, return their compliments to you respectfully.
    A little Philosophical Society here, of which all three are
    members, is much indebted to you for its entertainment. Your
    company, although we are all good Christians, would be more
    acceptable than that of Athanasius; and since we cannot have
    you upon the bench, you are brought oftener than any other man
    to the bar; accused and defended with great zeal, but without
    bitterness. If you write no more in morals, politics, and
    metaphysics, I am afraid we shall be at a loss for subjects.’

It is interesting to find in the records of the Society the subjects of
the dissertations contributed by Reid during the six years in which he
was its mainspring,[9] as well as the questions which he proposed for
debate. They signally illustrate the course of his thoughts in these
years. On May 24, 1758, ‘Mr. Reid intimat that he designed as the subject
of his discourse some Observations on the Philosophy of the Mind, and
particularly on the Perceptions we have by Sight.’ On June 17, 1758, he
read a paper ‘On the Difficulty of a just Philosophy of the Human Mind;
General Prejudices against D——d (_sic_) Hume’s System of the Mind; and
some Observations on the Perceptions we have by Sight.’ On March 14,
1759, he presented an ‘Analysis of the Sensations of Smell and Taste.’
On 26th February 1760 ‘Mr. Reid intimat that in his discourse he was
to continue his Analysis of the Senses’; and accordingly, on the 20th
of August in the same year, he gave notice of his intention of ‘taking
Dr. Gregory’s place and reading a paper on the Sense of Touch.’ In July
1761 he appears with a paper on the ‘Transit of Venus’ in that year;
and on the 26th January 1762 he gives a ‘Valedictory Address,’ as first
annual president of the Society (the members having previously taken the
chair by rotation)—on ‘Euclid’s Definitions and Axioms,’ in which he
returns to the favourite studies of his youth. In 1761 he had resumed
his investigation of the Senses, for in September he is credited with
another paper on the ‘Sense of Seeing.’ His last contribution, in October
1762, was on ‘Perception,’ which summed up his characteristic work in the
Society. And after reading this paper, ‘Mr. Reid declined to give it for
insertion in the Records, in regard that he proposed soon to send it to
the press, along with some other discourses which he had read before the
Society.’ A minute on 28th October 1764 announces that, ‘as Dr. Reid has
left this country, no discourse is to be expected from him.’

The following Questions for debate were proposed by Reid during the
six years of his membership:—1758, 13th and 26th July, ‘Are the Objects
of the Human Mind properly divided into Impressions and Ideas; and must
every Idea be a copy of a preceding Impression?’ This closely touches the
fundamental assumption of the sceptical philosophy. Those which follow
suggest a disposition to ethical and social discussion. 12th June 1759,
‘Whether Mankind with regard to Morals always was and is the same?’ 1st
April 1760, ‘Whether it is proper to educate Children without instilling
Principles into them of any kind whatever?’ (Beattie’s celebrated
experiment in the education of his son may be connected with this.) 15th
April 1761, ‘Whether Moral Character consists in Affections in which the
Will is not concerned, or in fixed, habitual, and constant Purposes?’ 8th
January 1762, ‘Whether by the encouragement of proper Laws the Number
of Births in Great Britain might be nearly doubled, or at least greatly
increased?’ Here we have a sort of inverted Malthusianism suggested. 22nd
November 1763, ‘Whether every Action deserving Moral Approbation must be
done from a persuasion of its being morally good?’

Beattie, in one of his letters to Sir W. Forbes, thus refers to the
Society and to his own philosophical relation to Reid:—

    ‘I have of late been much engaged in metaphysics; at least,
    I have been labouring with all my might to overturn that
    visionary science. I am a member of a club in this town who
    style themselves the Philosophical Society. I hope you will not
    think the worse of this Society when I tell you, that to it
    the world is indebted for a _Comparative View of the Faculties
    of Man_, and an _Inquiry into Human Nature on the Principles
    of Common Sense_. I have shown that all genuine reasoning does
    ultimately terminate in principles which it is impossible to
    disbelieve, and as impossible to prove; that, therefore, the
    ultimate standard of truth to us is Common Sense, or that
    instinctive conviction into which all true reasoning does
    resolve itself; that therefore what contradicts Common Sense is
    in itself absurd, however subtle the arguments which support
    it. My principles in the main are not essentially different
    from Dr. Reid’s; but they seem to offer a more compendious
    method of destroying scepticism. I intend to show (and have
    already in part shown) that all sophistical reasoning is
    marked by certain characters which distinguish it from true
    investigation; and thus I flatter myself I shall be able to
    discover a method of detecting sophistry, even when one is not
    able to give a logical confutation of its arguments.’

Beattie argued more in the temper of a partisan than Reid, who criticised
Hume in the spirit of a free and candid inquirer after truth.

On the 18th of January 1762 the honorary Doctorate of Divinity was
conferred on Reid by Marischal College.

His fame was now more than local. In December 1763 he accepted the
invitation of the University of Glasgow to fill the Chair of Moral
Philosophy which Adam Smith had resigned. Before he entered on this new
career he had given to the world an _Inquiry into the Human Mind on
the Principles of Common Sense_. This classic work embodies the result
of twenty years of steady reflection at New Machar and Aberdeen, in
quest of the actual foundation of human knowledge. Before we follow
him to Glasgow, we must examine this issue of his intellectual life in
Aberdeenshire—due to the challenge of modern agnosticism in the person of
David Hume.



CHAPTER V

UNIVERSAL SCEPTICISM VERSUS INSPIRED COMMON SENSE: AN ‘INQUIRY INTO THE
HUMAN MIND ON THE PRINCIPLES OF COMMON SENSE’

1764


As early as October 1762, as we have seen, Reid had given signs of an
intention to offer the world some results of his meditations regarding
the foundations of belief. Accordingly, in the end of the following
year, he produced his first book, _An Inquiry into the Human Mind
on the Principles of Common Sense_. Its motto expresses its leading
argument—‘The inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.’
For it was to the inspirations, or revelations, of what he called the
‘common sense’ or ‘common judgment,’ regarded as the root of any human
understanding of man and his environment, that he made his final appeal
against the all-embracing doubt of Hume. This was the rock on which he
took his stand in the universal deluge.

Reid was now in his fifty-fourth year. Hitherto his modesty had concealed
his strength from all but a few friends. His book was concerned with
questions that were not likely to withdraw him rapidly from ‘the
obscurity of a learned retirement.’ The _Inquiry_, with its appeal to
the final reason latent in human nature, is not to be interpreted as an
appeal to popular opinion against theories of philosophers. In fact, its
implied argument is not obvious to popular intelligence, although it is
profoundly connected with all the chief interests of human life. Great
books of this sort attract only the few who think. His brother-in-law,
Mr. Rose, mentions that ‘Alexander Millar, the London bookseller, being
in Aberdeen at this time, and in company with Dr. Reid, protested against
books in metaphysics as bad bargains for publishers; by which he said he
had himself lost money, but never gained any. Notwithstanding, Dr. Reid,
having his _Inquiry_ ready for publication, sold it to Mr. Millar for
£50. When his friends bantered him upon the small sum he had received
for so valuable a performance, he jocosely replied, “I think it is well
sold.”’[10]

Another parallel here occurs between Reid and Kant. The _Kritik of Pure
Reason_, Kant’s first great work, appeared in 1781, when he was in his
fifty-seventh year. So, too, with Locke, who inaugurated the era of
modern thought in which Reid and Kant are chief figures. His _Essay_,
like Reid’s _Inquiry_, was the first fruit of twenty years of reflective
thought, and it too made its appearance when its author was in his
fifty-seventh year. It is curious to contrast the balanced caution and
moderation of these long pondered treatises with the more paradoxical
productions of others, whose intellectual ardour and impatience speedily
committed them to all-comprehensive systems. Descartes, at forty, with
his provisional doubt and reconstruction on a slender foundation;
Spinoza, younger still, with his rational evolution of the universe from
a single substance; Berkeley with his analysis of the material world
into significant ideas, delivered at the age of twenty-five with the
impetuous enthusiasm of Irish juvenile genius; and David Hume with his
universal disintegration of human knowledge and belief, planned before
he was one-and-twenty, composed before he was twenty-five, and eagerly
given to the world in his twenty-eighth year. Reid, with his ‘good
and well-wearing parts,’ characteristically represents the restrained
authorship of those who treat our short life on this planet as short
enough for well-weighed answers to the final questions about life and the
universe.

As Reid’s _Inquiry_ was really an appeal to human nature in arrest of
Hume’s intellectual suicide, he desired, before presenting it to the
world, to submit the argument privately to the Edinburgh sceptic. This
was done through their common friend Dr. Blair. After Hume had read
portions of the manuscript, he wrote this courteous letter to Reid on
Feb. 25, 1763:—

    ‘By Dr. Blair’s means I have been favoured with the perusal of
    your performance, which I have read with great pleasure and
    attention. It is certainly very rare that a piece so deeply
    philosophical is wrote with so much spirit, and affords so
    much entertainment to the reader, though I must still regret
    the disadvantages under which I read it, as I never had the
    whole performance at once before me, and could not be able
    to compare one part with another. To this reason chiefly I
    ascribe some obscurities which, in spite of your short analysis
    and abstract, seem to hang over your system; for I must do
    you the justice to own that when I enter into your ideas, no
    man appears to express himself with greater perspicuity than
    you do, a talent which above all others is requisite in that
    species of literature which you have cultivated. There are
    some objections which I would willingly propose to the chapter
    “Of Sight,” did I not suspect that they arise from my not
    sufficiently understanding it. I shall therefore forbear till
    the whole can lie before me, and shall not at present propose
    any further difficulties to your reasonings. I shall only say
    that if you have been able to clear up these abstruse and
    important subjects, instead of being mortified, I shall be so
    vain as to pretend to a share of the praise; and shall think
    that my errors, by having at least some coherence, have led you
    to make a more strict review of my principles, which were the
    common ones, and to perceive their futility.’

In his reply to this letter Reid recognises the debt which philosophy
owes to the sceptical criticism of Hume. He writes thus to Hume:—

                                 ‘KING’S COLLEGE, _18th March 1763_.

    ‘SIR,—On Monday last Mr. John Farquhar brought me your letter
    of February 25th, enclosed in one from Dr. Blair. I thought
    myself very happy in having the means of obtaining, at second
    hand, through the friendship of Dr. Blair, your opinion of
    my performance; and you have been pleased to communicate it
    directly in so polite and friendly a manner as merits great
    acknowledgments on my part.

    ‘In attempting to throw some light on these abstruse subjects,
    I wish to preserve the due mean between confidence and despair.
    But whether I have any success in this attempt or not, I shall
    always avow myself your disciple in metaphysics. I have learned
    more from your writings in this kind than from all others put
    together. Your system appears to me not only coherent in all
    its parts, but likewise justly deduced from principles commonly
    received among philosophers,—principles which I never thought
    of calling in question, until the conclusions you draw from
    them in the _Treatise of Human Nature_ made me suspect them.
    If these principles are solid your system must stand; and
    whether they are or not can better be judged after you have
    brought to light the whole system that grows out of them,
    than when the greater part of it was wrapped up in clouds and
    darkness. I agree with you therefore, that if this system shall
    ever be demolished, you have a just claim to a great share
    of the praise, both because you have made it a distinct and
    determinate mark to be aimed at, and have furnished proper
    artillery for the purpose. When you have seen the whole of my
    performance, I shall take it as a very great favour to have
    your opinion upon it, from which I make no doubt of receiving
    light, whether I receive conviction or no.’

Hume’s philosophy being the suicide of intelligence, can hardly be
spoken of as a ‘system.’ It is not constructive, but wholly destructive,
and therefore a negation of system, philosophic or other, in a finally
speechless and motionless agnostic doubt.

Hume’s letter to Reid was his only rejoinder to the _Inquiry_. In 1763
he had ceased to produce philosophical books. His recognition of the
‘deeply philosophical’ nature of Reid’s argument is a testimony to the
worth of the work on which Reid’s literary reputation chiefly rests.
The ‘share of the praise’ which Hume claims, Reid was ready to concede.
‘I hope,’ he says in the Dedication of the _Inquiry_, ‘I hope that the
author of this sceptical system wrote it in the belief that it would be
useful to mankind. And perhaps it may prove so at last. For I conceive
the sceptical writers to be a set of men whose business it is to pick
holes in the fabric of knowledge wherever it is weak and faulty; and
when those places are properly repaired, the whole building becomes more
firm and solid than it was formerly’. And, in fact, the intellectual
progress of mankind has been sustained by an alternation of sceptical and
conservative philosophies.

After prolonged cogitation, the ‘weak and faulty’ place in the ‘fabric’
of modern philosophy seemed to Reid to lie in an unproved assumption with
which modern philosophers set out in their speculations. For they took
for granted that only the sensations and ideas within each mind could be
perceived: yet we naturally ‘believe that we are seeing and handling the
very outward things themselves’ that make what is called the material
world. If the philosophers are right, we have no immediate revelation of
the qualities of outward things, and no evidence of their existence,
except the succession of changing sensations and ideas of sensations
which alone are presented to us. I can never directly encounter an
external object. What I suppose to be outward is all in my mind. With
a world thus imprisoned within me, is there any legitimate way through
which I can assure myself of realities outside my mind, including other
living persons who have their own sensations and ideas as much as I have
mine, but numerically different from my private stock? If not, grave
consequences seemed to follow: faith and hope must die out of human life.
So Reid argued.

The _Treatise of Human Nature_ was the scarecrow that warned Reid of the
destructive consequences of this assumption, that we are shut up among
our own ideas; as he had himself in youth been taught to believe, and
by which he had been led on to Berkeley’s conception of a wholly ideal
material world. He now began to see this ideal material world of Berkeley
in a new light. It seemed to leave him _alone_ in the universe of his
own mind. The ideal matter of Berkeley cannot, he argued, inform me of
the existence of other living persons: what I have supposed to be other
persons must be, like the rest, only some of my own ideas. If I allow
that my own sensations and ideas are my only possible original data, I
cannot from such transitory phantoms infer the real existence of other
persons. With this starting-point as my only one, the whole universe
naturally supposed to surround me—bodies and spirits, friends and
relations, all dead things and all living persons—acknowledged by common
judgment to have a permanent existence, whether I am having ideas of them
or not—vanish at once. My _private_ sensations and ideas can never really
signify to me the existence of other conscious beings; only what might
be called _public ideas_, common to other minds and to me, could do this.
And such objects are not properly called ‘ideas’—public or private; they
are dead things and living persons; they exist whether I individually
have sensations and ideas or not. In short, Reid could find nothing in
Berkeley’s philosophical theory—as he interpreted it[11]—which afforded
even probable ground for concluding that there were in existence other
intelligent beings—fathers, brothers, friends, or fellow-citizens. ‘I am
left alone,’ the only creature of God, in that forlorn state of egoism
into which it was said some of the disciples of Descartes were brought by
this same preliminary assumption of their master—a sufficient _reductio
ad absurdum_ of the favourite postulate which leads to it. To act upon
it would argue insanity in the agent; it must therefore be empty verbal
speculation. So Reid further argued.

But even this solitude is not the last issue of Reid’s _bête noire_.
The system in which I have been educated, he said, not only leaves me
absolutely alone; _it extinguishes me_, along with the external universe
of things and persons; it is at last literally suicidal. It transforms
persistent personal existence into a mere succession of unconnected
sensations and ideas. If the magic circle of sensations and ideas, within
a self that persists amidst perpetual changes, cannot be broken through,
then even this supposed ‘self’ must be an illusion, and the word self
must be meaningless. The personal pronoun ‘I,’ as well as the personal
pronoun ‘you,’ are both alike unmeaning. The universe resolves at last,
not merely into sensations that are all referable to myself, but into
sensations without any self—into isolated sensations—which seem indeed to
follow one another in an orderly way, but without any guarantee that the
seeming order is more than transitory, or that the illusory cosmos may
not at any moment become chaos.

Is there nothing within the resources of reason to arrest this
intellectual suicide? Has reason got anything to show in justification
of this preliminary sacrifice of a conviction on which men have to
act, whatever their theories may be? Must I surrender the conviction,
that when I am seeing or touching I am actually having revealed to me
something that is extended and solid, and that, _as such, must_ be more
and other than the private sensations and ideas of the person that is
seeing and touching? Must this conviction, and others like it, on which
human experience practically depends, be all sacrificed on the altar of
authority and conjecture?

This had been the question around which Reid’s thoughts were revolving
in the twenty years preceding the publication of his book. ‘For my own
satisfaction,’ he tells us, ‘I entered into a serious examination of
the principles upon which this sceptical system is built; and was not
a little surprised to find that it leans with its whole weight upon a
hypothesis which is ancient indeed, and hath been very generally received
by philosophers, but of which I could find no solid proof. The hypothesis
I mean is—that we do not really perceive things that are external, but
only certain images and pictures of them imprinted upon the mind, which
are called “impressions” and “ideas.” I thought it unreasonable, upon the
authority of philosophers, to admit an hypothesis which, in my opinion,
overturns all philosophy; all religion and virtue, and all common sense;
and I resolved to inquire into this subject anew, without regard to any
hypothesis.’

To _accept_ as a spiritual fact the judgment of human nature, which
assures me that when I am seeing or touching I am ‘face to face’ with a
reality that exists independently of my changing sensations or ideas,
instead of trying in vain by reasoning to _prove_ the existence of this
reality by means of intervening sensations and ideas,—this was the
alternative he adopted. I dismiss the unwarranted supposition that only
my own mind and its invisible contents can be immediately manifested
to me; and I fall back on the perception I have of something solid and
extended, and therefore more and other than a mere sensation or idea,
as what is present to me when I see and touch. Recognition of the fact
that our five senses somehow bring us into a consciousness of what is
neither a transitory sensation nor an idea of a sensation, but something
independent of me, and that would continue to exist after I individually
had ceased to exist—this recognition of external realities is Reid’s
key to sound philosophy. It is a displacement of the so-called ‘ideas’
of the philosophers, and of fallacious inferences founded upon them,
and a substitution of the common reasonable sense, or common judgment
of reason, which neither requires nor admits of logical proof. Reid
might say that what is most worth proving cannot be logically proved.
We all have a direct perception of external reality which cannot be
eradicated by reasoning. Abolition of the prejudice which interposed
_reasonings founded on unreal ideas_ between our perception and the solid
and extended reality, seemed to Reid, in virtue of its far-reaching
consequences, to be the chief good he had as a philosopher secured to
mankind. In his old age he writes thus to Dr. Gregory:—

    ‘The merit of what you are pleased to call _my philosophy_
    lies, I think, chiefly in having called in question the common
    theory of ideas, or images of things in the mind, being the
    only objects of thought—a theory founded on natural prejudices,
    and so universally received as to be interwoven with the
    structure of language. Yet, were I to give you a detail of what
    led me to call in question this theory, after I had long held
    it as self-evident and unquestionable, you would think, as I
    do, that there was much of chance in the matter. The discovery
    was the birth of time, not of genius; and Berkeley and Hume
    did more to bring it to light than the man that hit upon it.
    I think there is hardly anything that can be called _mine_ in
    the philosophy of mind which does not follow with ease from the
    detection of this prejudice.’

Yet Reid’s _Inquiry_ has been condemned as an unphilosophical appeal
from the thoughtful to vulgar intelligence, making the unreflecting many
supreme judges in questions intelligible only to the reflecting few. His
employment of ‘common sense’ to express the regulative principle of his
philosophy would put his book outside philosophical literature, if this
term were taken as a synonym for unreasoned opinion—the average judgments
of the man in the street. Reid’s own account of what he means by common
sense, not to speak of Hume’s recognition of the ‘deeply philosophical’
character of the argument in the _Inquiry_, should protect him against
this imputation. He describes the common sense to which he constantly
appeals as ‘the first degree of reason,’ and as having for its office ‘to
judge of things self-evident.’ As such, he contrasts it with reasoning,
or ‘the second degree of reason, which draws conclusions that are not
self-evident from the self-evident judgments of the common sense.’ This
distinction between the common rational sense, on which a knowledge
of the universe, like the human, which falls short of omniscience,
_must_ ultimately turn, and those judgments that are reached by logical
reasoning, corresponds to what the Greeks distinguished as noetic and
dianoetic power of reason in man. Reid’s genuine judgments of the common
sense may be regarded as the divinely inspired response to questions
which can be determined for man only by this ideal man latent in us
all—judgments verified by the insanity that is implied in resisting them
in our actions.

As obtrusive examples of judgments of the common sense, Reid takes
the logically undemonstrable convictions (1) of the existence of
things external to and independent of me and my perceptions; (2) of my
individual personal existence, and continuous personal identity; and (3)
of the uniformity, and therefore interpretability, of nature, implying
that I may form conclusions about what I have not experienced by what I
have experienced. I cannot demonstrate the truth of these judgments: I
can only justify them in reason by showing that human nature responds
to them, and forbids me to reject them in my actions, on pain of being
judged a lunatic, whatever I may say in my speculative theories. ‘Such
original and natural judgments,’ he says, ‘are part of the furniture
which _nature_ hath given to the human understanding. They are the
inspiration of the Almighty. They serve to direct us in the common
affairs of life, when our reasoning faculty would leave us in the dark;
they are part of our constitution; all the discoveries of our reason
are grounded upon them; they make up what is called _the common sense_
of mankind. A remarkable deviation from them, arising from a disorder
in the constitution, is what we call _lunacy_, as when a man believes
that he is made of glass. When a man suffers himself to be reasoned out
of the principles of common sense by metaphysical arguments, we call
it _metaphysical lunacy_, which differs from the other species of the
distemper in this, that it is not continued, but intermittent; it is apt
to seize the patient in solitary and speculative moments; but when he
enters into sanity, Common Sense recovers her authority.’

It is the first of these three examples of the common sense that is
the subject of the _Inquiry_—intended as preliminary to others which
may follow. ‘A clear enumeration and explication of the principles of
common sense’ was henceforward Reid’s ultimate aim; but thus far he
took those involved in our experience when we are tasting, or smelling,
or hearing, or touching, or seeing. As axioms and definitions are the
preliminaries of abstract mathematical reasonings, so our sensuous
perceptions through the five senses are the preliminaries to reasonings
about concrete realities in the world of change. The leading principle
of the _Inquiry_ is, that something extended, solid, and movable is
directly manifested in our sensuous experiences, equally with the direct
manifestations of our own sensations and other feelings when we are
conscious of them; and also that we are obliged by common sense to regard
extended, solid, and movable things as _other_ than mere transitory
sensation or idea. Extended things, large or small, refuse to be melted
down into sensations or states of one’s private consciousness. Take this
specimen of philosophical argument for accepting perceptions which cannot
be logically demonstrated, but which the common sense of human nature
refuses to reject:—

    ‘Suppose I am pricked with a pin, I ask, is the _pain_ I feel
    a sensation? Undoubtedly it is. There can be nothing that
    resembles pain in an inanimate thing: the pain must be in me,
    a living being. But I ask again, is the _pin_ a sensation? To
    this question I feel myself under a necessity of answering that
    the pin is not a sensation, nor can have the least resemblance
    to any sensation. The pin has length and thickness, figure and
    weight. A sensation can have none of these qualities. I am
    not more certain that the pain I feel _is_ a sensation than
    that the pin _is not_ a sensation. Yet the pin is an object
    of sense; and I am as certain that I perceive its figure and
    hardness by my senses as that I feel pain when I am pricked by
    it.’

This is to say that if, with the philosophers, I _call_ the pin as well
as the pain a sensation or an idea, I must mean by ‘sensation’ and
‘idea,’ when I apply those words to the pin, not a private self-contained
feeling or a fancy, in which I am only manifesting my conscious self,
but (so to speak) a _public_ sensation or idea—perceivable by other
persons as well as by me—a manifestation, in short, of what is _outside
my mind_—of something that exists permanently in _space_ and not
transitorily in _me_—and that is thus fit to be a medium of communication
between me and other living persons, informing me of their existence and
in some measure of their thoughts—all which (Reid takes for granted)
each person’s private feelings and fancies could not do. But to employ
the words ‘sensation’ and ‘idea’ in this new meaning, and to speak of
an idea as public or external, would be an abuse of language. We must
mark, always by appropriate words, distinctions which we are obliged to
acknowledge in fact. The inspirations or revelations of the common sense,
in and through which the Almighty Power gives us an understanding of the
life and world in which we find ourselves, inspirations in which all men
are believed more or less to participate, require us to distinguish the
solid and extended pin, as something public or outward, in contrast
to the private feeling of pain, of which no one except the person who
feels it is conscious. I am thus obliged to recognise more in existence
than my own sensations and ideas—as much obliged as I am to recognise
my sensations and ideas themselves when I am conscious of them. Only so
can I find myself living in an environment that is capable of signifying
the contemporaneous life, and some of the thoughts and feelings of other
persons. In all this I am only falling back on the divine revelations of
the common sense. They make me reject in conduct what is inconsistent
with them; although this natural obligation is all the reason I can give
in justification of my obedience.

It is thus that Reid recognises his right in reason to grasp realities
that are independent of his individual self; and he thinks that he
is doing this philosophically by getting rid of the unphilosophical
supposition, that he needs to work his way to them by logical reasoning,
founded on wholly inward impressions. The true philosophy of perception
with him is to discharge the medium, and at once take the bull by the
horns.

Some may think that the _Inquiry_ represents wasted labour—that the
‘metaphysical lunacy’ which abolishes personal pronouns as meaningless
words, and inconsistently reasons that all who reason must be fools, is
at the best the idle intellectual pastime of persons who pretend to be
universal sceptics—all which Reid has taken too seriously, and which
at any rate by its self-contradiction refutes itself. For it asserts
that assertion is impossible. It is an argument that concludes for the
rejection of the postulates without which it is impossible for human
beings to reason at all. It is a philosophy that destroys itself in
destroying all philosophy. The suicide does not need to be put to death.

Yet the suicide, doubly slain in the _Inquiry_, may be used as a warning
of the consequence of doing violence to the genuine common sense, or
ideal man that is latent in each man; especially on subjects in which
doubt is easier than in the case of outward things and persons. The
‘metaphysical lunacy’ of doubt about the existence of other persons
may be acknowledged, while the common sense, unawake in its moral
or spiritual elements, fails to protest against ethical atheism or
agnosticism. What Reid calls the common sense is alive consciously
in various degrees, in different persons, in different countries and
periods. A common sense of the existence of outward things and persons is
practically awake in all sane minds. But the spiritual convictions, of
which some are hardly conscious, may be rejected even practically without
obvious lunacy. And something is gained for those convictions, if it can
be shown, as a _reductio ad absurdum_, that their rejection involves
the moral sceptic too in the ‘lunacy’ of universal doubt and pessimist
despair.

That Reid lays much stress on ‘calling in question the common theory of
ideas or images in perception’ is explained by his assumption, that this
theory involves perversion of the common sense even in its preliminary
contact with outward things in sense, thus obviously discrediting it as
the final court of appeal in every other instance. It may in this way be
taken as a plea for a more faithful adherence on the part of philosophers
to the genuine common-sense judgments, which can be made to respond to an
adequate appeal, however dormant they may be in individuals. This final
appeal to human nature must, in short, be to human nature _as it is in
fact_, not to human nature _as distorted in hypothesis_.

For, after all, the root of the agnosticism which is found in history
alternating with the final faith of the common sense, lies deeper than
in mistaken hypotheses of philosophers about our perceptions in sense.
Reid’s substitution in philosophy of immediate for mediate perception of
matter is therefore an inadequate cure. The periodically returning doubt
concerns, not the outness or inwardness of what is revealed to sense,
but the meaning and character of the Power that is at work within the
universe of matter and mind, and with which we first come into contact
and collision in sense. Is it, in its final and pervading Power, a bad
or a good sort of universe that we open our eyes upon, when we begin to
exercise our senses? What are its final relations to me, and my final
relations to it? Nobody doubts the existence of things and persons, so
far as they are revealed to the senses. But what is our implied Common
Sense of the final meaning of the Whole? Am I to put an optimist or a
pessimist ultimate interpretation upon it all? The lurid mixture of pain
and pleasure, evil and good, presented by the animated world, combined
with spiritually dormant common sense in individual men,—is surely a more
potent factor of agnostic doubt than an erroneous account of perception
in circulation among persons who speculate.

Reid’s course of thought amidst new surroundings in Glasgow brought him
nearer to the source and corrective of the scepticism that is aroused by
the suspicious-looking universe of mingled good and evil, to which our
sense perceptions introduce us.



CHAPTER VI

GLASGOW COLLEGE: THE PROFESSOR OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY

1764-1780


In November 1764 we find Reid, now almost fifty-five years of age, in
the Chair of Moral Philosophy in the Old College in the High Street of
Glasgow. The Reid family lived then, and for two years after, not in the
Professors’ Court within the College, but a quarter of a mile away, in an
old-fashioned street called the Drygate.[12] The manuscript in the family
bible records that Reid was admitted to the Glasgow professorship on the
12th of June. He carried with him from the quaint manse in Aberdeen to
his new home in the Drygate, his wife, three daughters, all above twenty
years of age, and two boys; they left three infant children buried in
Aberdeenshire. The Glasgow Chair supplied an income, including fees,
somewhat in advance of the Aberdeen regency; and its duties required
concentrated study of intellectual and moral agency in man, instead of
the dispersion over a wide range of the phenomena and laws of matter
and mind which was necessary in King’s College. Yet it was ‘not without
reluctance,’ we are told, that he consented to tear himself from a spot
where he had so long been fastening his roots; and much as he loved the
society in which he passed the remainder of his days, the advantages of
the change hardly compensated for the sacrifice of feeling caused by the
break in his early habits and associations.

Glasgow in 1898 is even more changed from Glasgow in 1764 than Aberdeen
when Reid lived in it from Aberdeen as it is now. To-day Glasgow is the
second city in Britain, with nearly a million of people, the industrial
metropolis of the north, with all the stir of industrial life. It was
then a provincial town with hardly thirty thousand inhabitants, almost
inaccessible from the sea, surrounded by the cornfields and hedgerows and
orchards of Lanarkshire, its few streets converging on the Cathedral and
the College with their historic associations. ‘Glasgow,’ according to
_Humphrey Clinker_, ‘is the pride of Scotland. It is one of the prettiest
towns in Europe.’ Pennant describes it as ‘the best built of any
second-rate city I ever saw. The view from the Cross has an air of vast
magnificence.’ In 1764 it was only laying the foundations of its present
commercial fame. The tobacco trade with the American plantations, and
the sugar trade with the West Indies, had hardly altered its character
as an ancient Church and University town. ‘Jupiter Carlyle,’ referring
to Glasgow before the middle of last century, speaks of ‘a few families
of ancient citizens who pretended to be gentlemen; and a few others,
recently settled, who had obtained wealth and consideration in trade.
The rest were shopkeepers and mechanics, who occupied large warerooms to
furnish cargoes to Virginia. It was then usual for the sons of merchants
to attend the College for one or two years, and a few of them completed
their academical education.’

The College in the High Street, erected early in the seventeenth century,
seemed to Samuel Johnson in 1773 ‘without a sufficient share in the
magnificence of the place.’ Nevertheless he found ‘learning an object
of wide importance, and the habit of application much more general than
in the neighbouring University of Edinburgh.’ The two College squares,
connected with memories of many generations in the west of Scotland, have
been likened to those of Lincoln College in Oxford. About the middle
of last century from three to four hundred students gathered in those
curious old courts, almost all living in apartments in the town, a few
boarded in the houses of professors. They wore scarlet gowns, ‘most of
which,’ when Wesley visited Glasgow, ‘were very dirty, some very ragged,
and all of very coarse cloth.’ The houses of the professors formed a
square on the north side of the College, built early in the eighteenth
century. Eastward were the College gardens and the park, through which
the classic Molendinar found its way to the Clyde. It was a quaint and
curious old-world life that was then lived in the College, and in the
High Street, passing from the College to the Cathedral at one end and
from the College to the Cross at the other.

In the half-century before Reid was admitted to his Glasgow Chair, the
University had professors of more than Scottish reputation. Glasgow is
in fact associated with almost all the names that adorn the literature
of Philosophy in Scotland in the last century and in this. Adam Smith
was Reid’s immediate predecessor in the Chair of Morals. His _Theory
of Moral Sentiments_ had been for five years before the world when
he resigned his professorship to give to literature what Sir James
Mackintosh describes as ‘perhaps the only book which produced an
immediate, general, and irrevocable change in some of the most important
parts of the legislation of all civilised states’—fit to be ranked with
the classic works of Grotius, Locke, and Montesquieu—its author ‘the
first economical philosopher, and perhaps the most eloquent theoretical
moralist, of modern times.’ Smith’s predecessor was Francis Hutcheson,
author of that _Inquiry into our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue_ which gave
rise to Reid’s New Machar essay on ‘Quantity’ in 1748, the reputed father
of modern philosophy in Scotland;—and in the second quarter of last
century the most potent agent and pioneer of the liberal culture and
literary taste which made the intellectual moderation of the eighteenth
century in Scotland so remarkable a contrast to the less tolerant
spiritual fervour of the seventeenth. This influence was continued by
his friend and biographer, William Leechman, the Principal of Glasgow
College in 1764, still remembered as one of the philosophical theologians
of the Church of Scotland. ‘It was owing to Hutcheson and Leechman,’
says Carlyle, ‘that a new school was formed in the western provinces of
Scotland, where the clergy till that period were narrow and bigoted,
and had never ventured to range their minds beyond the bounds of strict
orthodoxy. For though neither of these professors taught any heresy,
yet they opened and enlarged the minds of the students, which soon gave
them a turn for inquiry; the result of which was candour and liberality
of sentiment. From experience this freedom of thought was not found so
dangerous as might at first be apprehended; for though the more daring
youth at first made excursions into the unbounded regions of metaphysical
perplexity, yet all the more judicious soon returned to the lower sphere
of long-established truths, which they found not only more subservient to
the good order of society, but necessary to fix their own minds in some
degree of stability.’ Gershom Carmichael, too, is not to be forgotten.
He was Hutcheson’s predecessor, with an intellectual and religious
influence not inconsiderable in the opening years of last century, author
of a Latin manual of logic which appeared in 1720, and a _Synopsis
Theologiæ Naturalis_, published shortly before his death in 1729, but
best known perhaps as editor of Puffendorff.

Reid thus entered Glasgow College when it was the centre of the reviving
philosophical and literary activity of Scotland in the modern spirit.
He met colleagues and fellow-citizens who were in sympathy with his own
sincere and independent scientific temper. The aged Simpson, restorer of
ancient geometry, who had lately retired from the mathematical chair,
which he had adorned for half a century, was a congenial mathematician of
European fame. Joseph Black, the most celebrated British chemist of his
generation, was illustrating his own discoveries in his College lectures,
and drawing the attention of the world to the phenomena of latent heat.
The vigour and acuteness of Millar were educating a new generation
in jurisprudence and statesmanship. Moore, the author of _Zeluco_,
an eminent Glasgow physician, was adding to its literary name. The
grandfather, and afterwards the father, of Sir William Hamilton held in
succession the Chair of Anatomy, both colleagues of Reid, who might have
been seen in the College Courts when his future editor and commentator
was there in his infancy.

Reid’s inaugural lecture as Professor of Moral Philosophy, delivered
on the 10th of October 1764, is among his unpublished manuscripts at
Birkwood. The opening sentences (deleted as irrelevant in after years)
are not without interest in the characteristic modesty and candour of the
reference to Adam Smith, his predecessor:—

    ‘Before entering upon the subject of my prelections, there
    are some things which I think proper to lay before you, and
    to which I beg your attention. I doubt not that you are
    all sensible of the loss which the University, and you in
    particular, sustain by the resignation of the learned and
    ingenious gentleman who last filled this chair. Those who
    knew him most and had most access to attend his prelections,
    and especially those who most profited by them, will be most
    sensible of their loss. I had not the happiness of his personal
    acquaintance, for want of opportunity; though I wished for it,
    and now wish for it far more than ever. But I could not be a
    stranger to his fame and reputation, nor to the respect with
    which his lectures from this chair were heard by a very crowded
    audience. I am much a stranger to his system, unless so far as
    he hath published it to the world. But a man of so great genius
    and penetration must have struck new light to the subjects
    which he treated, as well as have handled them in an excellent
    and instructive manner. I shall be much obliged to any of
    you, gentlemen, or to any others, who can furnish me with
    notes of his prelections, whether in morals, jurisprudence,
    politics, or rhetorick. I shall always be desirous to borrow
    light from every quarter, and to adopt what appears to me sound
    and solid in every system, and ready to change my opinions
    upon conviction, or to change my method and materials where I
    can do it to advantage. I desire to live no longer than this
    candour and ingenuity, this openness of mind to education and
    information, live with me.’

An apology follows for the imperfect preparation of a first course,
inadequately provided for by the miscellaneous lectures in physics and
metaphysics at Aberdeen. The past performance of Adam Smith, and the
high expectation associated with the new professor, the author of the
_Inquiry_, were doubtless fresh in the minds of the crowded audience
that met on that October morning in the faint light of the Old College
class-room. The audience, the new professor, and his predecessor, have
all now receded into the dim distance, and are seen under the cold
light of history. The lectures delivered in the years that followed
are preserved at Birkwood, in Reid’s valley of the Dee—lectures on
Pneumatology, Ethics, Jurisprudence, and Political Philosophy—for the
most part embodied in substance in the published _Essays_ of his old age.

Reid’s placid temperament and restrained imagination suggest sober
unadorned statement, and cautious inference founded on fact, not fervid
eloquence, as the character of his prelections. He was more likely slowly
to influence opinion by his books than to startle a youthful audience by
spoken words. This conjecture is confirmed by the account of Reid in the
Glasgow class-room given by Dugald Stewart, who was among his students
in 1772-73. ‘In his elocution and mode of instruction,’ Stewart says,
‘there was nothing peculiarly attractive. He seldom if ever indulged
in the warmth of extempore discourse; nor was his manner of reading
calculated to increase the effect of what he had committed to writing.
Such, however, was the simplicity and perspicuity of his style, such the
gravity and authority of his character, and such the general interest of
his young hearers in the doctrines which he taught, that by the numerous
audiences to which his instructions were addressed he was heard uniformly
with the most silent and respectful attention.’ And this delivery of deep
and patient thought, regarding the duties and relations of man, and the
foundation of his beliefs, was continued in the class-room for sixteen
years.

As we might expect from their mental affinities, Reid greatly esteemed
the works of Bishop Butler. Among the manuscripts at Birkwood is an
abstract of the _Analogy_; and Butler’s ethical writings were recommended
to his students as the best in the literature of moral philosophy, with
regret to see them superseded in England by the productions of inferior
moralists. In tone and method of inquiry Reid is the Butler of Scotland.
And Butler, too, is the Reid of England in his trustful appeals to what
Reid would call the common sense. When Butler asks himself whether we
may not be deceived in our natural sense of our continuous personal
identity, he replies, that ‘this question may be asked at the end of
any demonstration; because it is a question concerning the truth of
perception by memory. And he who can doubt whether perception by memory
can in this case be depended on, may doubt also whether perception, by
reasoning, or indeed whether any intuitive perception, can. Here then we
can go no further. For it is ridiculous to attempt to _prove_ the truth
of those perceptions, whose truth we can no otherwise prove than by other
perceptions which there is just the same ground to suspect; or to attempt
to prove the truth of our faculties, which can no otherwise be proved
than by these very suspected faculties themselves.’ This is the substance
of the argument that rests on the data of the sense or reason with which
human nature is inspired.

Reid’s homely letters to his Aberdeen friends, Andrew and David Skene,
give some interesting pictures of the details of the family’s life, in
the years which immediately followed the settlement in Glasgow. The
extracts that follow may help the reader to form the pictures.

In a letter to Dr. Andrew Skene, dated November 15, 1764, we see the
Moral Philosophy class-room on a winter morning a hundred and thirty
years ago, and life in the Drygate home a few weeks after the family
entered it:—

    ‘I must launch forth in the morning, so as to be at the College
    (which is a walk of eight minutes) half an hour after seven,
    when I speak for an hour without interruption to an audience
    of about a hundred. At eleven I examine for an hour upon my
    morning prelection; but my audience is a little more than a
    third part of what it was in the morning. In a week or two I
    must, for three days in the week, have a second prelection at
    twelve, upon a different subject, where my audience will be
    made up of those who hear me in the morning but do not attend
    at eleven. My hearers commonly attend my class two years at
    least. They pay fees for the first two years, and then they
    are _cives_ of the class, and may attend gratis as many years
    as they please. Many attend the moral philosophy class four
    or five years; so that I have many preachers and students
    of divinity and law of considerable standing, before whom I
    stand in awe to speak without more preparation than I have
    leisure for. I have a great inclination to attend some of the
    professors here, several of whom are very eminent in their way;
    but I cannot find leisure. Much time is consumed in our college
    meetings about business, of which we have commonly four or five
    in the week. We have a Literary Society once a week, consisting
    of the Masters and two or three more; where each of the members
    has a discourse once in the session.... Near a third part of
    our students are Irish. Thirty came over lately in one ship,
    besides three that went to Edinburgh. We have a good many
    English, and some foreigners. Many of the Irish, as well as
    Scotch, are poor, and come up late to save money; so that we
    are not yet fully convened, although I have been teaching ever
    since the 10th of October. Those who pretend to know, say that
    the number of students this year, when fully convened, will
    amount to 300.... By this time I am sure you have enough of
    the College; for you know as much as I can tell you of the
    fine houses of the Masters, of the Astronomical Observatory,
    of Robin Foulis’ collection of pictures and painting college,
    and of the foundry for types and printing-house. Therefore
    I will carry you home to my own house, which lyes among the
    middle of the weavers, like the back-wynd in Aberdeen. You
    go through a long, dark, abominably nasty entry, which leads
    you into a clean little close. You walk upstairs to a neat
    little dining-room, and find as many other little rooms as
    just accommodate my family; so scantily that my apartment is
    a closet of six feet by eight or nine off the dining-room. To
    balance these little inconveniences, the house is new and free
    of buggs; it has the best air and finest prospect in Glasgow;
    the privilege of a large garden, very airy, to walk in, which
    is not so nicely kept, but one may use freedom with it. A five
    minutes’ walk leads us up a rocky precipice into a large park,
    partly planted with firs, and partly open, which overlooks
    the town and all the country round, and gives a view of the
    windings of the Clyde for a great way. The ancient Cathedral
    stands at the foot of the rock, half of its height below you,
    and half above you; and indeed it is a very magnificent pile.
    When we came here, the street we live in (which is called the
    Drygate) was infested with the small-pox, which were very
    mortal. Two families in our neighbourhood lost all their
    children, being three each. Little David was seized with the
    infection, and had a very great eruption both on his face and
    over his whole body, which you will believe would discompose
    his mother.... Although my salary here be the same as Aberdeen,
    yet if the class does not fall off, nor my health, so as to
    disable me from teaching, I believe I shall be able to live as
    easily as at Aberdeen, notwithstanding the differences in the
    expense of living at the two places. I have touched about £70
    of fees, and may possibly make out the £100 this session....
    The common people here have a gloom in their countenance, which
    I am at a loss whether to ascribe to their religion or to the
    air and climate. There is certainly more of religion among the
    common people in this town than in Aberdeen; and although it
    has a gloomy enthusiastical cast, yet I think it makes them
    tame and sober. I have not heard either of a house or of a head
    broke, or of a pocket picked, or of any flagrant crime, since
    I came here. I have not heard any swearing in the streets, nor
    seen a man drunk (excepting, _inter nos_, one Prof—r) since
    I came here.... If this scroll tire you, impute it to this,
    that to-morrow is to be employed in choosing a Rector, and I
    can sleep till ten o’clock, which I shall not do again for six
    weeks.’

After the first winter, and when he had gained some experience of
Glasgow, he writes to Dr. David Skene, on 13th July 1765:—

    ‘I have a strong inclination to attend the chymical lecture
    the next winter; but am afraid I shall not have time. I have
    had but very imperfect hints of Dr. Black’s theory of fire....
    Chemistry seems to be the only branch of philosophy that can be
    said to be in a progressive state here, although other branches
    are neither ill taught nor ill studied. I never considered
    Dolland’s telescopes till I came here. I think they open a
    new field in optics which may greatly enrich that part of
    philosophy.... I find a variety of things here to amuse me in
    the literary world, and want nothing so much as my old friends,
    whose place I cannot expect at my time of life to supply. I
    think the common people here and in the neighbourhood greatly
    inferior to the common people with you. They are Bœotian
    in their understandings, fanatical in their religion, and
    clownish in their dress and manners. The clergy encourage this
    fanaticism too much, and find it the only way to popularity. I
    often hear a gospel here which you know nothing about; for you
    neither hear it from the pulpit nor will you find it in the
    Bible. What is your Philosophical Society doing? Still battling
    about D. Hume? or have you time to look in?... I believe you
    do not like to be charged with compliments, otherwise I would
    desire of you to remember me respectfully to Sir Archibald
    Grant, Sir Arthur and Lady Forbes, and others of my country
    acquaintances, when you have occasion to see them.’

In another letter to Dr. David, written about Christmas in his second
winter, we find that—

    ‘Mr. Watt has made two small improvements in the
    steam-engine.[13] [These are minutely described.] ... I have
    attended Dr. Black’s lectures. His doctrine of latent heat is
    the only thing I have yet heard that is altogether new. And
    indeed I look upon it as a very great discovery.... I have
    not met with any botanists here. Our College is considerably
    more crowded than it was last session. My class indeed is much
    the same as last year, but all the rest are better. I believe
    the number of our students of one kind or another may be
    between four and five hundred. But the College at Edinburgh is
    increased this year much more than we are. The Moral Philosophy
    class there is more than double ours. The Professor, Ferguson,
    is indeed, as far as I can judge, a man of a noble spirit, of
    very elegant manners, and has an uncommon flow of eloquence. I
    hear he is about to publish, I don’t know under what title, a
    natural history of man; exhibiting a view of him in the savage
    state, and in the several successive states of pasturage,
    agriculture, and commerce. Our Society [Senate] is not so
    harmonious as I wish. Schemes of interest, pushed by some and
    opposed by others, are like to divide us into parties, and
    perhaps engage us in law suits. Mrs. Reid, Pegie, and I, have
    all had a severe cold and cough. I have been keeping the house
    these two days in order to get the better of it.’

On ‘December 30th, 1765,’ a less sanguine view appears, in a letter to
Andrew Skene:—

    ‘I assure you I can rarely find an hour which I am at liberty
    to dispose of as I please. The most disagreeable thing in
    the teaching part is to have a great number of stupid Irish
    teagues, who attend classes for two or three years to qualify
    them for teaching schools or being dissenting teachers. I
    preach to them as St. Francis did to the fishes. I don’t know
    what pleasure he had in his audience; but I should have none
    in mine, if there were not in it a mixture of reasonable
    creatures. I confess I think there is a smaller proportion of
    these in my class this year than there was the last. I have
    long been of the opinion that, in a right constituted College,
    there ought to be two professors for each class—one for the
    dunces, and another for those who have parts. The province of
    the former would not be the most agreeable, but perhaps it
    would require the greatest talents, and therefore ought to
    be accounted the post of honour. There is no part of my time
    more disagreeably spent than that which is spent in college
    meetings; and I should have been attending one at this moment
    if a bad cold I have got had not furnished me with an excuse.
    These meetings are become more disagreeable by an evil spirit
    of party that seems to put us in a ferment, and I am afraid
    will produce bad consequences. The temper of our northern
    Colonies makes mercantile people here look very grave. It is
    said that the effects in these colonies belonging to this town
    amount to above £400,000.[14] The mercantile people are for
    suspending the Stamp-act, and redressing the grievances of the
    colonists.... In what light the House of Commons will view
    this matter I don’t know, but it seems to me one of the most
    important matters that have come before them. I wish often an
    evening with you, such as we have enjoyed in the days of former
    times, to settle the important affairs of Church and State, of
    Colleges and Corporations. I have found this the best expedient
    to think of them without melancholy and chagrin. And I think
    all that a man has to do in the world is to keep his temper and
    to do his duty. Mrs. Reid is tolerably well just now, but is
    often ailing.’

In a letter to Dr. David, in March 1766, he refers to the death of his
early friend, John Stewart, the Mathematical Professor in Marischal
College, and his companion in the English tour thirty years before:—

    ‘Mr. Stewart’s death affects me deeply. A sincere friendship,
    begun at twelve years of age, and continued to my time of life,
    without any interruption, cannot but give some pangs. You know
    his worth; yet it was shaded ever since you knew him by too
    great abstraction from the world. The former part of his life
    was more amiable and more social; but the whole was of a piece
    in virtue, candour, and humanity.... I have always regarded
    him as my best tutor, though of the same age with me. If the
    giddy part of my life was in any degree spent innocently and
    virtuously, I owe it to him more than to any human creature;
    for I could not but be virtuous in his company, and I could
    not be so happy in any other. But I must leave this pleasing
    melancholy subject. He is happy; and I shall often be happy in
    the remembrance of our friendship; and I hope we shall meet
    again.’

A minute account of Black’s theory of latent heat follows.

Later in the same year, Black was called to the Chair of Chemistry in
Edinburgh, which he filled for nearly thirty years, and in Reid’s
letters to the Skenes there is much about candidates for the vacant
office in Glasgow, with a suggestion that David Skene should himself
enter the lists. ‘There is a great spirit of inquiry among the young
people here. Literary merit is much regarded; and I conceive the
opportunities a man has of improving himself are much greater here than
at Aberdeen. The communication with Edinburgh is easy. One goes in the
stage coach to Edinburgh before dinner; has all the afternoon there, and
returns to dinner at Glasgow next day; so that if you have any ambition
to get into the College of Edinburgh (which I think you ought to have), I
conceive Glasgow would be a good step.’

The appeal was ineffectual. Meantime his own appointment, as an
‘examinator’ of candidates for the vacant Mathematical Chair in Marischal
College, made a visit to Aberdeen necessary, as anticipated in a letter
on ‘May 8th’:—

    ‘My class will be over in less than a month, and by that time
    I shall be glad to have some respite. I hope to have the
    pleasure of seeing my friends in Aberdeen in August, if not
    sooner. We have had a stronger College this year than ever
    before. We have been remarkably free from riots and disorders
    among the students; and I did not indeed expect that 350 young
    fellows could have keen kept quiet for so many months with so
    little trouble.... You’ll say to all this that cadgers are aye
    speaking of crooksaddles. I think so they ought; besides, I
    have nothing else to say to you, and have had no time to think
    of anything but my crooksaddles for seven months past. When
    the session’s over, I must rub up my mathematics against the
    month of August. There is one candidate for your profession
    of mathematics to go from this College; and if your College
    get a better man, or a better mathematician, they will be very
    lucky.[15] I am so sensible of the honour the Magistrates have
    done me in naming me to be one of the examinators, that I will
    not decline it, though I confess I like the honour better than
    the office.’

In the autumn of 1766 Reid exchanged the house in the Drygate for an
official residence in the Professors’ Court of the Old College. This
appears in a letter to Dr. Andrew Skene on December 17th:—

    ‘I live now in the College, and have no distance to walk to my
    class in dark mornings, as I had before. I enjoy this ease,
    though I am not sure whether the necessity of walking up and
    down a steep hill[16] three or four times a day was not of
    use. I have of late had a little of your distemper, finding a
    giddiness in my head when I lie down, or rise, or turn myself
    in my bed. Our College is very well peopled this session. My
    public class is above three score, besides the private class.
    Dr. Smith never had so many in one year. There is nothing so
    uneasy to me here as our factions in the College.’

In February 1767, along with other local news, we find this in a letter
to David Skene:—

    ‘We are now resolved to have a canal from Carron to this place,
    if the Parliament allows it. £40,000 was subscribed last week
    by the merchants of the Carron Company for this purpose.[17]
    Our medical college has fallen off greatly this session, most
    of the students of medicine having followed Dr. Black to
    Edinburgh. The natural and moral philosophy classes are more
    numerous than they have ever been; but I expect a great falling
    off, if I see another session. I was just now seeing your
    furnace along with Dr. Irvine.... If I could find a machine
    as proper for analysing ideas, moral sentiments, and other
    materials belonging to the fourth kingdom, I believe I should
    find in my heart to bestow the money first. I have the more use
    for a machine of this kind, because my alembic for performing
    these operations—I mean my cranium—has been a little out of
    order this winter, by a vertigo, which has made my studies go
    on heavily, though it has not hitherto interrupted my teaching.
    I have found air and exercise and a clean stomach the best
    remedies; but I cannot command the two former as often as I
    could wish. I am sensible that the air of a crowded class is
    bad, and often thought of carrying my class to the Common Hall;
    but I was afraid it might have been construed as a piece of
    ostentation.’

Reid’s letter of condolence to Dr. David Skene on the death of his
father, in September 1767, mentions the loss of his own infant daughter,
‘my sweet little Bess,’ and also refers to an excursion to Hamilton ‘with
Mr. Beattie’—the only occasion on which, for more than three months, he
had been more than three miles from Glasgow. ‘Having time at command,’
he had been tempted ‘to fall to the tumbling over books; as we have a
vast number here which I had not access to see at Aberdeen. But this is
a _mare magnum_, wherein one is tempted by hopes of discoveries to make
a tedious voyage, which seldom repays the labour. I have long ago found
my memory to be like a vessel that is full: if you pour in more, you lose
as much as you gain; and on this account I have a thousand times resolved
to give up all pretence to what is called learning, being satisfied that
it is more profitable to ruminate on the little I have laid up than
to add to the indigested heap. I have had little society, the College
people being out of town, and have almost lost the faculty of speaking by
disuse. I blame myself for having corresponded so little with my friends
at Aberdeen. I wished to try Lumsden’s experiment which you was so good
as to communicate to me.... A nasty custom I have of chewing tobacco has
been the reason of my observing a species of as nasty little animals. I
spit in a basin of sawdust, which, when it comes to be drenched, produces
a vast number of animals, three or four times as large as a louse,
and not very different in shape; but armed with four or five rows of
prickles like a hedgehog, which seem to serve it as feet. Its motion is
very sluggish. It lies drenched in the aforesaid mass, which swarms with
these animals of all ages from top to bottom.... I have gone over Sir
James Stewart’s great book of political economy, wherein I think there
is a great deal of good material—carelessly put together indeed; but I
think it contains more sound principles concerning commerce and police
than any book we have yet had. We had the favour of a visit from Sir
Archibald Grant. It gave me much pleasure to see him retain his spirits
and vigour.’ A letter in October mentions that Reid had ‘passed eight
days lately with Lord Kames at Blair-Drummond,’ and that his lordship
is preparing a fourth edition of his _Elements_. He adds, ‘I have been
labouring at _Barbara Celarent_ for three weeks bygone.’ A new friend,
Lord Kames, here comes in sight.

The last of the Skene letters is dated three years later, in 1770. After
pressing David Skene to visit him in Glasgow, he ends thus:—‘As to
myself, the immaterial world has swallowed up all my thoughts since I
came here; but I meet with few that have travelled far in that region,
and am often left to pursue my dreary way in a more solitary manner than
when we used to meet at the Club.’

The homely simplicity of Reid’s character is shown in those letters. They
differ from the letters we have after the Skenes disappear. These are
almost all on questions in philosophy, and show a slow but steady advance
in reflection upon the ‘common sense’ constitution of man’s knowledge of
the universe of matter and mind.

In 1772 there was sorrow in the Reid household. The two eldest
daughters, Jane and Margaret, both died, in the bloom of youth, leaving
only the third daughter, Martha, who not long after married Dr. Patrick
Carmichael, a Glasgow physician, and youngest son of Professor Gershom
Carmichael. This marriage added much to the comfort of Reid’s later years.

We have a passing glimpse of Reid in 1773, when he was entertained
in Glasgow by Johnson and Boswell, at the _Saracen’s Head Inn_, in
the Gallowgate, ‘that paragon of inns in the eyes of the Scotch, but
wretchedly managed.’ The travellers arrived there on the 28th of October,
on their return from their romantic excursion to the Western Highlands.
At the _Saracen’s Head_, on the following morning, as Boswell tells us,
‘Dr. Reid, the philosopher, and two other Glasgow professors, breakfasted
with us,’ and they met them afterwards at supper. ‘I was not much pleased
with any of them,’ the sage wrote to Mrs. Thrale. ‘The general impression
upon my memory,’ Boswell says, ‘is, that we had not much conversation at
Glasgow, where the professors, like their brethren at Aberdeen, did not
venture to expose themselves much to the battery of cannon which they
knew might play upon them.’ It is a pity that Boswell’s indifference, or
indolence, on this occasion has deprived us of talk at the _Saracen’s
Head_ and in the College Court, as dramatic in its way as the pictures
of Rasay or Inch Kenneth. Notwithstanding Reid’s cautious and modest
silence, or want of vivacity, he surely said and heard something at those
Glasgow breakfasts and suppers.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before death had put an end to the letters to the Skenes, Reid had become
intimate with one of the most notable men of the time in Scotland. I
do not know how the intimacy began, but as early as 1767 we have found
him referring to a visit to Lord Kames at Blair-Drummond, and to the
mysteries of _Barbara Celarent_. This means that he was at work on the
_Brief Account of Aristotle’s Logic, with Remarks_, published seven years
afterwards as an Appendix to one of Lord Kames’ _Sketches of the History
of Man_. The _Sketches_ appeared in two quarto volumes, in 1774, and
the _Brief Account_ fills about seventy pages in the second volume. It
was Reid’s only appearance in print in the sixteen years of his public
professorship in Glasgow. This, along with the essay on Quantity, given
to the Royal Society in 1748, and the _Inquiry_, in 1764, made up his
work as an author, until after he had ceased to be an oral teacher.

In Henry Home, Lord Kames, notwithstanding a temperament very different
from his own, Reid found congenial companionship—a strong disposition to
metaphysical speculation, a ready and accomplished if not deeply learned
lawyer, and a considerable author. Kames was fourteen years his senior.
Curiously, Henry Home’s closest early friendship was with David Hume.
Thirty years before his friendship with Reid, he advised Hume about the
_Treatise of Human Nature_, and had given the youth an introduction to
Bishop Butler. ‘My opinions,’ David writes in 1737, ‘are so new, and even
some terms I am obliged to make use of, that I could not propose, by
any abridgment, to give my system an air of likelihood, or even to make
it intelligible. I have had a greater desire of communicating to you a
plan of the whole, that I believe it will not appear in public before
the beginning of next winter. I am at present castrating my work, that
is, cutting off its nobler parts, that is, endeavouring it shall give
as little offence as possible. This is a piece of cowardice for which I
blame myself. But I resolved not to be an enthusiast in philosophy while
I was blaming other enthusiasms.’ It was thus that Hume wrote about the
book which, even in its ‘castrated’ form, startled Reid in the manse at
New Machar, and determined his whole intellectual life. In 1751 Home
published _Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion_,
on which Jonathan Edwards congratulated him in a letter to Dr. Erskine.
Yet his speculations, and his association with the sceptic, raised a
suspicion of his orthodoxy in the General Assembly.

According to Lord Woodhouselee, his biographer, ‘the intercourse of
Lord Kames was frequent with his much-valued friend Dr. Reid, and they
corresponded on various topics of philosophy—a correspondence which,
notwithstanding the dissimilarity of character in many respects between
these two eminent men, subsisted for a long period of years, with the
most perfect cordiality and mutual esteem.’ Dr. Reid, Dugald Stewart
tells us, lived in the most cordial and affectionate friendship with
Lord Kames, notwithstanding the avowed opposition of their sentiments on
some moral questions to which he attached the highest importance. Both
of them, however, were the friends of virtue and of mankind; and both
were able to temper the warmth of free discussion with the forbearance
and good humour founded on mutual esteem. ‘No two men,’ Stewart adds,
‘ever exhibited a more striking contrast in their conversation or in
their constitutional tempers—the one slow and cautious in his decisions,
even on those topics which he had most diligently studied; reserved and
silent in promiscuous society, and retaining, after all his literary
eminence, the same simple and unassuming manners which he had brought
from his country residence; the other, lively, rapid, and communicative;
accustomed by his professional pursuits to wield with address the
weapons of controversy, and not averse to a trial of his powers on
questions the most foreign to his ordinary habits of inquiry. But
these characteristical differences, while to their common friends they
lent an additional charm to the distinguishing merits of each, served
only to enliven their social intercourse, and to cement their mutual
attachment.’ From 1767 till the death of Lord Kames in December 1782,
their intercourse was unbroken.[18]

Lord Kames thus explains Reid’s contribution to the _Sketches_:—‘In
reviewing the foregoing Sketch, it occurred to me that a fair analysis of
Aristotle’s logic would be a valuable addition to the historical branch.
A distinct and candid account of a system that for so many ages governed
the reasoning part of mankind cannot but be acceptable to the public.
Curiosity will be gratified in seeing a phantom delineated that so long
fascinated the learned world; a phantom which, like the pyramids of
Egypt, or hanging gardens of Babylon, is a structure of infinite genius,
but absolutely useless, unless for raising wonder. Dr. Reid, Professor
of Moral Philosophy in the College of Glasgow, relished the thought,
and his friendship to me prevailed on him, after much solicitation,
to undertake the laborious task. No man is better acquainted with
Aristotle’s writings; and (without any enthusiastic attachment) he holds
that philosopher to be a first-rate genius.’

Measured by the present standard of Aristotelian criticism, Reid’s
exposition of the Organon, and estimate of its place in the development
of human understanding, may seem meagre and inadequate; especially as the
issue of seven years of preparation, and as his solitary contribution to
philosophy in these sixteen years. But when we remember that Aristotelian
logic was then under an eclipse, especially in Scotland, and that Reid’s
‘Brief Account’ was an attempt to draw the Organon out of the obscurity
to which it had been condemned by leaders of modern thought, the merit
of his sober and sagacious commentary may be more recognised. It is as
a signal monument of abstracted intellectual activity, rather than as
a philosophical instrument for advancing or organising our knowledge,
that Reid regards the syllogistic logic. He concludes that the art of
syllogism is better fitted to promote scholastic litigation than real
improvement in the sciences; he sees in it only ‘a venerable piece of
antiquity and a great effort of human genius.’ When he contrasts the
utility of Bacon’s _Organum_, as a factor in the progressive intelligence
of mankind, he fails to see that each Organon may consistently supplement
the other.

Reid characteristically ends his account of the old Organon by suggesting
an Organon, different from either the old or the new, as still wanting.
This should neither, like Aristotle’s, unfold only abstract forms of
deductive reasoning, nor, like Bacon’s, only methods for verifying
inductive generalisations. It should be concerned with the rational
principles which compose the Common Sense of mankind. ‘All the real
knowledge of mankind may be divided into two parts: the first consists of
self-evident propositions, the second of those which are deduced by just
reasoning from self-evident propositions. The line that divides these
two ought to be marked as distinctly as possible, and principles that are
really self-evident reduced to general axioms. Although first principles
do not admit of direct proof, yet there must be certain marks by which
those that are truly such may be distinguished from counterfeits. These
marks ought to be described and applied to distinguish the genuine from
the spurious.... This is a subject of such importance that if inquisitive
men can be brought to the same unanimity in the first principles of
the other sciences as in those of mathematics and natural philosophy,
this might be considered as a third grand era in the progress of human
reason.’ Thus in 1774 Reid’s thought still converges on the subject which
had engaged him since the _Treatise of Human Nature_ found its way into
the manse of New Machar. Perhaps he was unduly sanguine in expecting
unanimity regarding the ingredients of the final reason of mankind—so
imperfectly developed in the individual consciousness, in its higher
elements, as long as men are disposed to resist the final venture of the
heart and conscience in their interpretation of the world and of human
life.

It was in 1774 that Reid’s appeal in 1764 to the common reason of human
nature aroused hostile criticism. He had been seconded by others in
his response to the sceptics. The resort to a ‘sense’ of self-evident
truth, in his _Inquiry_ in 1764, which itself looked like a reply to
argument by feeling, was followed in 1766 by _An Appeal to Common Sense
on behalf of Religion_, by Dr. James Oswald, minister of Methven in
Perthshire. In 1770 Beattie’s _Essay on the Nature and Immutability of
Truth, in opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism_, followed. Oswald
and Beattie were not deep and patient thinkers like Reid;[19] but the
rising literary and social reputation of Beattie, secured for the _Essay
on Truth_ more rapid and widespread admiration than was given to the
_Inquiry_. Beattie often visited London, was there one of the lions of
the day, was made a D.C.L. of Oxford, and had interviews with George the
Third, who admired his book, conferred a pension on Beattie, and rallied
Mr. Dundas about ‘Scotch Philosophy.’ Reid, Beattie, and Oswald thus
became known as a triumvirate of ‘Scottish Philosophers’; and the appeal
to common sense, in which they were at least verbally agreed, began to be
spoken about as ‘the Scottish Philosophy,’ a term which has since been
adopted in this country and abroad.

This Scottish triumvirate, helped into vogue by Beattie, roused Joseph
Priestley, an English dissenter. Priestley had abandoned the Calvinism
of his early creed for materialism, philosophical necessity, and free
thought, and, after serving for some years as pastor of a nonconformist
chapel in Cheshire, and next as a schoolmaster much devoted to
experiments in the natural sciences, was already known as an author in
natural science. In 1774, when he was living with Lord Shelburne, as
librarian and literary companion, he appeared for the first time as a
metaphysical critic, in _An Examination of Reid’s Inquiry, Beattie’s
Essay, and Oswald’s Appeal to Common Sense_. He played upon the term
‘common sense,’ and took for granted that the aim of the triumvirate
was to substitute mere feeling and authority for reason,—the authority
of the multitude for that of the philosophical elect,—alleging blind
instinct when unable to produce argument, and multiplying instincts to
suit each controversial emergency. ‘As men have imagined innate ideas,
because they had forgot how they came by their ideas, the Scottish
philosophers set up almost as many distinct instincts as there are
acquired principles of acting.’ He ridiculed Reid for his supposed
discovery of the root of scepticism in the ideal hypothesis; charging
him with innocently mistaking a metaphor for a scientific theory, and
for overlooking the leading part which mental association plays, as the
cause of those convictions which Reid mistook for infallible constituents
of common sense. ‘If we consider the general tenor of the writings of
these philosophers,’ Dr. Priestley said, ‘it will appear that they
are saying one thing and doing another—talking plausibly about the
necessity for admitting axioms as the foundation of all reasoning, but
meaning to recommend particular assumptions of their own as axioms—not
as being founded on perception of the agreement of ideas, which is the
great doctrine of Mr. Locke, and which makes truth to depend upon the
necessary nature of things, to be therefore absolute, unchangeable, and
everlasting, but merely on some unaccountable instinctive persuasions,
depending upon the arbitrary constitution of our nature—which makes all
truth be relative to ourselves only, and consequently to be infinitely
vague and precarious. This system admits of no final appeal to reason
properly considered, which any person might be at liberty to examine and
discuss; on the contrary every man is taught to think himself authorised
to pronounce dogmatically upon every question, according to his present
feeling and persuasion, under the notion of its being something original,
instructive, and incontrovertible; although, stoutly analysed, it may
appear to be mere prejudice.’ Thus, as opposed to the man of straw he
set up under the name of Reid, Priestley postulated a materialistic
conception of man, as only an organism, the so-called mental and
moral power of which was the natural issue of physical structure;
his perceptions the effects of their own objects; and on the whole a
necessitated system of the universe, which excluded morally responsible
agency.

Reid made no reply at the time to this argumentative discharge. In an
unpublished letter to Dr. Price he gives a reason for his silence. ‘I
will not answer Dr. Priestley,’ he says, ‘because he is very lame in
abstract reasoning. I have got no light from him. And indeed what light
with respect to the powers of the mind can one expect from a man who has
not yet learned to distinguish ideas from vibrations, nor motion from
sensation, nor simple apprehension from judgment, nor simple ideas from
complex ideas, nor necessary truths from contingent truths?’[20] In 1775
Reid writes to Lord Kames:—

    ‘Dr. Priestley in his last book thinks that the power of
    perception, as much as the other powers that are termed mental,
    is the natural result of an organic structure such as that of
    the human brain. Consequently, the whole man becomes extinct
    at death; and we have no hope of surviving the grave but what
    is derived from the Christian revelation. I would be glad to
    know your lordship’s opinion, whether, when my brain has lost
    its original structure, and when some hundred years after, the
    same materials are again fabricated so curiously as to become
    an intelligent being—whether, I say, that being will be _me_;
    or if two or three such beings should be formed out of my
    brain, whether they will all be _me_, and consequently be all
    one and the same intelligent being. This seems to me a great
    mystery; but Dr. Priestley denies all mysteries.... I am not
    surprised that your lordship has found little entertainment
    in a late French writer on human nature. From what I learn
    the French philosophers are become rank Epicureans. I detest
    all systems that depreciate human nature. If it be a delusion
    that there is something in the constitution of man that is
    venerable and worthy of its author, let me live and die in this
    delusion rather than have my eyes opened to see my species in
    a disgusting light. Every good man feels his indignation rise
    against those who disparage his kindred or country; why should
    it not rise against those who disparage his kind? Were it not
    that we sometimes see extremes meet, I should think it very
    strange to see atheists and high-shod divines contending who
    should most blacken and degenerate human nature. Yet I think
    the atheist acts the most consistent part of the two; for
    surely such views of human nature tend more to promote atheism
    than to promote religion and virtue.’

This allusion to contemporary French philosophers is almost the only
one I find in Reid. The chief works of Condillac appeared before the
_Inquiry_, but it does not seem that they, or Diderot and the French
Encyclopedists, were known to him. That Kant is not referred to, nor even
known by name, is less surprising. This ignorance is characteristic of
Reid’s home-bred, self-contained philosophy.

Inquiry into our conception of Power or Causation becomes prominent
in Reid’s letters to Lord Kames throughout ‘the seventies,’ along
with experimental investigations in physics and physiology which show
continued interest in natural causes. A letter, written in 1775, contains
a curious conjecture with regard to the generation of plants and animals,
more speculative than was his habit. He is ‘apt to conjecture,’ he tells
his friend, ‘that both plants and animals are at first organised atoms,
having all the parts of the animal or plant, but so slender, and folded
up in such a manner, as to be reduced to a particle far beyond the reach
of our senses, and perhaps as small as the constituent parts of water.
The earth, the water, and the air may, for anything I know, be full of
such organised atoms.’ He then goes on to consider the relation of this
hypothesis to the idea of active design in nature, and expresses doubt
about the possibility of the atoms being endowed with power to form
themselves into an organised body like the human. ‘I cannot help thinking
that such a work as the Iliad, and much more an animal or vegetable body,
must have been made by express design. It seems to me as easy to contrive
a machine which should compose a variety of epic poems and tragedies,
as to contrive laws of motion by which unthinking particles of matter
should coalesce into a variety of organised bodies.’ He suggests that
the organisation is the issue of constant and uniform divine activity.
‘Can we,’ he asks, ‘show by any good reason that the Almighty finished
his work at a stroke, and has continued ever since an inactive spectator?
And if His continued operation be necessary, it is no miracle, while it
is uniform, and according to fixed laws. Though we should suppose the
gravitation of matter to be the immediate operation of the Deity, it
would be no miracle while it is constant and uniform; but if it should
cease for a moment, only by His withholding His hand, _this_ would be a
miracle.’ This is to say that all natural changes are immediate effects
of divine action, proceeding according to natural law or rule.

The suggestion illustrates the bent of Reid’s thought in later life. If
our common sense of the continuous independent existence of sensible
things, and of their manifestation in Perception as directly as states
of our own minds are manifested to us when we are conscious of them—if
_this_ was the factor of the Common Sense that engaged him in New Machar
and King’s College days, the Power or Causality which all changes in the
universe presuppose now becomes prominent, alike in his correspondence
and in his books. What is meant by Power, and where is the Power centred
that is implied in the changes that are always going on, in ourselves and
in our surroundings? Priestley’s assumption that matter explains all the
phenomena of a human mind; the theory of universal necessity advocated by
Kames; and the duties of his Glasgow professorship, all tended to carry
his reflections onward from the merely physical to the ethical judgments
of the common sense, and so upward from the merely natural to the
spiritual interpretation of the universe. ‘First that which is natural,
then that which is spiritual.’

This runs through his correspondence with Lord Kames. That there is
no absolute necessity for men being bad; that their immoral acts are
centred and originate in themselves and not in God; that it would be
unjust to exact as a duty what it is not in a person’s power to do; that
what a man does voluntarily or with deliberate intention, it is also in
his power not to do; that what is done without his will is not really
done by _him_ at all; and that real power is moral agency,—these are
ultimate judgments, reached ‘not by logical reasoning,’ but in ‘the more
trustworthy way of immediate perception and feeling,’ to which Reid so
often appeals. ‘If I could suppose God to make a devil a devil, I cannot
suppose that He would condemn him for being a devil,’ is in a letter to
Lord Kames.[21] The impotence of matter rather than its independence is
now insisted on; with the inference that at any rate _it_ cannot cause
our perceptions, as Priestley supposed. He begins to see that power
must be referred to mind or spirit alone, and that matter is powerless.
‘Efficient causes are not within the sphere of natural philosophy, which
is concerned only with the laws or methods according to which Power
operates. It exhibits the grand machine of the material world, analysed,
as it were, and taken to pieces. It belongs to metaphysics and natural
theology to show the Power that continues and gives motion to the whole;
according to laws which the naturalist discovers, and perhaps according
to laws still more general.’

       *       *       *       *       *

It was thus that Reid’s uneventful life of thought—deep, steady,
unobtrusive—was sustained for sixteen years, when he was educating
the rising generation in the old class-room at the College; unfolding
philosophy in correspondence with a sympathetic friend; contributing
essays to the Literary Society which met monthly at the College; and
preparing his ‘Brief Account’ of Aristotle—all until he had reached his
seventieth year. On the 19th of May 1780 he wrote to Lord Kames of a
change that had occurred the day before:—

    ‘I find myself growing old; and I have no right lo plead
    exemption from the infirmities of that stage of life. For
    that reason I have made choice of an Assistant in my office.
    Yesterday the College at my desire made choice of Mr. Archibald
    Arthur, preacher, to be my assistant and successor. I think I
    have done good service to the College by this, and procured
    some leisure to myself, though with reduction of my finances.’

It was Reid’s desire, while his faculties were yet vigorous, to devote
his strength to further philosophical authorship. During the remaining
sixteen years of his life his lectures were delivered to the students
by Mr. Arthur, to whom the professorial work in the class-room was
transferred. Arthur, then thirty-six years of age, was a native of
Renfrewshire, a distinguished alumnus of Glasgow, as it seems from a
posthumous volume of his Essays, and a man not unlike Reid in mind and
character, but in inferior form; at this time chaplain and librarian
of the University, and a member of the Literary Society. After one of
Arthur’s Sunday services in the College chapel, Reid had whispered to
one of his colleagues on the professorial bench—‘This is a very sensible
fellow, and in my opinion would make a good professor of morals.’[22] He
is described by a contemporary as ‘a man of unprepossessing exterior, of
invincible bashfulness, which continued to clog his manner and impede
his exertions during the whole course of his life; but of a thoughtful,
grave, silent habit, which led him to a due estimate of what he was
individually adapted to.’ He survived Reid, as his successor, a little
more than a year, when he was followed in the Chair by James Mylne, a
strong man unknown in philosophical literature, whose professorial career
of forty years made him a familiar figure to generations of Glasgow
students.



CHAPTER VII

PHILOSOPHICAL RETIREMENT: AUTHORSHIP IN OLD AGE

1780-1795


Dugald Stewart, when illustrating the changes in human memory that
are connected with disease and old age, refers thus to Reid:—‘One old
man I have myself had the good fortune to know, who, after a long, an
active, and an honourable life, having begun to feel some of the usual
effects of advanced years, has been able to find resources in his own
sagacity against most of the inconveniences with which they are commonly
attended; and who, by watching his gradual decline with the courage
of an indifferent observer, and employing his ingenuity to retard its
progress, has converted even the infirmities of old age into a source of
philosophical amusement.’ For sixteen years Reid had been discharging
that part of the duties of a professor which belongs to the class-room:
the remaining sixteen years of his life, devoted to original research
and authorship, illustrate the words of Stewart. He continued, after the
appointment of Arthur, to live as before in the Professors’ Court in
old Glasgow College—a placid, methodical life, steadily industrious, a
sagacious interpreter of nature and of man, still active in the academic
senate—with occasional recreation in visits to the country. The year 1780
was saddened by another of those domestic sorrows which formed the chief
interruption to the tranquil happiness of his life; for his eldest son,
George, died in Newfoundland in February, at the age of twenty-five.
Two years later the only remaining son, David, was taken away; after
which his daughter, Mrs. Carmichael, alone survived of the nine sons and
daughters.

Very soon after he had been released from the public work of the
professorship, letters to his cousin, Dr. James Gregory, then an
Edinburgh Professor of Medicine, speak of activity in transforming the
lectures into the form of philosophical essays for publication. This
enterprise was indeed Reid’s principal employment for the next eight
years. The _Essays_ appeared in two instalments, in 1785 and 1788. The
first instalment was a matter-of-fact inquiry into the intellectual power
of man; the second was a matter-of-fact inquiry into man’s moral power:
the ‘facts’ inquired about and appealed to were the invisible ones of
which men are conscious, not those that can be seen and touched—above
all, the final convictions of which the Common Sense consists. Both
instalments appeared in the same decade of last century in which Kant’s
‘_Kritiks_’ of Pure and Practical Reason were given to the world.

Reid’s _Essays_ form, as it were, the inner court of the temple of which
the Aberdonian _Inquiry_ is the vestibule. But the vestibule is a more
finished work of constructive skill than the inner court, for the aged
architect appears at last as if embarrassed by accumulated material. The
_Essays_, greater in bulk, perhaps less deserve a place among modern
philosophical classics than the _Inquiry_, notwithstanding its narrower
scope, confined as it is to man’s perception of the extended world, as
an object-lesson in the method of appeal to the common sense. In the
_Essays_ an advance is made towards a finally ethical interpretation of
man and the universe.

We have no longer the light of letters to Lord Kames in this closing
stage of Reid’s life; for Kames died in 1782. Reid’s retiring
modesty deprived him of that large literary intercourse to which his
philosophical position might otherwise have led. His correspondence
with men eminent in letters or philosophy seems almost confined to
Kames, the Gregories, Dugald Stewart, and Dr. Price. I find no trace of
correspondence with his Aberdeen friends Campbell and Beattie, whose
pursuits had so much in common with his own. But letters to Dr. James
Gregory take the place in the ‘eighties’ which those to Lord Kames
took in the ‘seventies’; they reveal an old age given to proof-sheets,
scientific experiments, and benignant interest in social progress. One
dated ‘Glasgow College, April 7, 1783,’ tells of the _Essays on the
Intellectual Powers_ in the press:—‘I shall be much obliged if you will
continue to favour me with your observations; therefore I have put
off examining those you have sent until the manuscripts be returned,
which I expect about the end of this month, along with Dugald Stewart’s
observations.’ Again he writes in June:—‘I cannot get more copied of my
papers till next winter, and indeed have not much more ready. This parcel
goes to page 658. I believe what you have got before may be one-half
of all I intend. The materials of what is not yet ready for the copier
are partly discourses read in our Literary Society, partly notes of my
lectures. Your judgment of what you have seen flatters me very much,
and adds greatly to my own opinion of it; though authors seldom are
deficient in a good opinion of their works. I am at a loss to express my
obligations to you for the pains you have taken.’ He refers in another
letter to what he regards as the source of the fashionable agnosticism
against which his life was a continued philosophical protest:—‘I have
often thought of what you propose—to give a History of the Ideal System
and what I have to say against it, _by itself_; and I am far from being
satisfied that it stands in the most proper place [in the _Essays_]. I
have endeavoured to put it in separate chapters [_e.g._ Essay ii. ch.
7-15], whose titles may direct those who have no taste for it to pass
over them. I observe that Bayle and others, who at the reformation of
Natural Philosophy gave new light, found it necessary to contrast their
own discoveries with the Aristotelian notions which then prevailed. We
may now wish their works purged of this controversial part; but perhaps
it was necessary at the time they wrote, when men’s minds were full of
the old system, and prepossessed in its favour. What I take to be the
genuine Philosophy of the Human Mind is in so low a state, and has so
many enemies, that I apprehend those who would make any improvement in
it must, for some time at least, build with one hand, and hold a weapon
with the other.’ So Reid claimed the office of modern reformer of the
philosophy of human mind, as Bacon and others had been the reformers of
the sciences which interpret external nature.

On ‘March 14, 1784,’ he mentions the progress of the book:—‘I send
you now the remainder of what I propose to print with respect to the
Intellectual Powers of the Mind. It may perhaps be a year before what
relates to the Active Powers be ready; and therefore I think the former
might be published by itself, as it is very uncertain whether I shall
live to publish the latter. I think the title may be _Essays on the
Intellectual Powers of the Human Mind_. It will easily divide into eight
Essays; but with regard to this, as well as whether the two parts may
be published separately, I wish to have your advice and Mr. Stewart’s.
I apprehend that the Second Part—I mean what relates to the Active
Powers—will not be near so large as the First.’ On ‘2nd May 1785’ he
announces that the _Essays on the Intellectual Powers_ are ready for
publication, dedicated to Dr. Gregory and to Dugald Stewart:—‘I send you
enclosed what I propose as the title of my _Essays_, with an Epistle
which I hope you and Mr. Stewart will allow me to prefix to them. Whether
your name should go first, on account of your doctor’s degree, or Mr.
Stewart’s, I leave you to adjust between yourselves. I know not how to
express my obligations to you both, for the aid you have given me.’

The book thus ushered into the world in 1785 treats of those constituents
of the common sense that are implied, not only in perception of things
through the five senses and memory, but also in imagination and in the
experimental sciences that deal with the past, the distant, and the
future. One of them contains the rudiments of a criticism of the common
sense principles that finally regulate all abstract reasonings, and
above all, those that determine our judgments of truths contingent upon
Will—human and divine; in all of which what philosophers called ‘ideas’
seemed to him to spoil the genuine common sense and its inspirations.
The fifth Essay deals with the office and relations of our abstract
conceptions. Of this Essay Schopenhauer remarks that ‘the best and most
intelligent exposition of the nature and essence of conceptions which
I have been able anywhere to find is in Thomas Reid’s _Essays on the
Powers of the Human Mind_. This was afterwards condemned by Dugald
Stewart in his _Philosophy of the Human Mind_. Not to waste paper, I
will briefly remark with regard to Stewart, that he belongs to that
large class who have obtained an undeserved reputation through favour
and friends, and therefore I can only advise that not an hour should be
wasted over the scribbling of this shallow writer.’[23] This unworthy
criticism of Stewart is far removed from the calm judgment of Reid.

That our perceptions are not related to their objects as effects are
related to their causes, is insisted on in the _Essays_, in opposition
to Priestley, who treats cognitive acts as the issue of power which
belongs to matter. ‘Men,’ Reid says, ‘have been prone to imagine that,
as bodies are put in motion by some impulse or impression made upon them
by contiguous bodies, so the mind is made to think and perceive by some
impression made upon it by contiguous objects. But to say that an object
which I see with perfect indifference _makes an impression_ upon my mind
is not good English. It is evident from the manner in which this phrase
is used by modern philosophers that they mean, not barely to express by
it my perceiving an object, but to explain the manner of perception. They
think that the object perceived acts upon the mind in some way similar to
that in which one body acts upon another. The impression upon the mind
is conceived to be something wherein the mind is altogether passive.
But this is a hypothesis which contradicts the common sense of mankind.
When I look upon the wall of my room, the wall does not act at all,
nor is capable of acting: the perceiving it is an act or operation in
me.’ In short, the relation between perceptions and their objects is a
unique relation, not to be confounded with the causal, the only causality
involved being the percipient power that is in me.

Those _Essays_ of Reid which treat of the constituents of the common
sense that are implied in the Intellect power of man, appeared in the
early summer of 1785. In September he informed Dr. Gregory of the opinion
of Dr. Price, the most eminent contemporary English metaphysician:—‘I had
a letter from Dr. Price lately, thanking me for a copy of the _Essays_
I ordered to be presented to him; which he has read, and calls a work
of the first value; commends me particularly for treating Dr. Priestley
so gently, who, he says, had been unhappily led to use me ill.’ He then
refers to his own health, which seems to have suffered from the mental
strain, now relieved by the issue of his book:—‘As you are so kind as
to ask me about my distemper, I think it is almost quite gone, so as to
give me no uneasiness. I abstain from fruit and malt liquor, and take a
little port wine, mostly noon and night, not above two bottles a week
when alone. The more I walk or ride, or even talk or read audibly, I am
the better.’

Dr. Beattie writes thus to the Bishop of Chester in October:—

    ‘Has your lordship read Dr. Reid’s _Essays on the Intellectual
    Powers of Man_? Those readers who have been conversant in
    the modern philosophy of mind, as it appears in the writings
    of Descartes, Malebranche, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, will
    be much entertained with this work, which does great honour
    to the sagacity and patience of the author. It contains the
    principles of his _Inquiry_, laid down on a larger scale, and
    applied to a greater variety of subjects. Dr. Reid treats his
    opponents and their tenets with a respect and a solemnity that
    sometimes tempt me to smile. His style is clear and simple; and
    his aversion to the word _idea_ is so great, that I think he
    never once uses it in delivering his own opinions. It was not
    without reason that Stillingfleet took the alarm at Mr. Locke’s
    indiscreet use of that word. It was indeed an _ignis fatuus_
    that decoyed him in spite of his excellent understanding into a
    thousand pits and quagmires. Berkeley it bewildered still more.
    And it reduced David Hume to the condition of a certain old
    gentleman of whom we read, that—

                        Fluttering his pinions vain,
        Plumb down he dropped, ten thousand fathoms deep.’

Whether our power of conceiving is so far a test of possibility, as that
what is distinctly conceived must be concluded to be possible, and what
cannot be conceived impossible, was a question which interested Reid.
It is discussed in the _Essays on the Intellectual Powers_, and also in
the draft of a letter to Dr. Price, preserved among the manuscripts at
Birkwood; in which it is argued that our power of conception cannot be a
criterion of what is possible. The argument turns much on the meanings of
‘conception,’ ‘possibility,’ and ‘impossibility.’ He thus addresses Dr.
Price:—

    ‘I would willingly suggest some subject on which I might have
    the favour of your thoughts when you have leisure and are
    disposed for such correspondence. What occurs to my thoughts
    just now is a metaphysical axiom very generally adopted, and,
    I think, occasionally adopted by you in your _Review of the
    Principal Questions in Morals_—That what we distinctly conceive
    is possible. From this axiom D. Hume infers that it is possible
    that an universe may start into existence without a cause,
    and other like extravagancies. The use he makes of it led me
    to consider it a good many years ago, and I have a strong
    suspicion that there is some fallacy in it, which has imposed
    on men’s understandings, owing to the ambiguity of the word
    _conceive_.

    ‘As to the history of this axiom, I suspect it to have taken
    its rise from what Descartes laid down as the criterion
    of truth, which he maintained to be clear and distinct
    conception. _Quidquid clare et distincte concipio esse verum,
    id est verum._ Cudworth seems to have followed him in this,
    making the criterion of verity to be clear, self-consistent
    intelligibility. Those who came after, judging it difficult to
    maintain that everything is _true_ which is clearly conceivable
    or intelligible, have maintained that everything that can be
    clearly conceived is at least _possible_. This seemed to be the
    proper correction of Descartes’ maxim, and it has passed from
    one hand to another without strict examination.

    ‘Whatever is true or false, whatever is possible or impossible,
    may be expressed by a proposition. Now, what do we mean when we
    say that we conceive a proposition? I think no more is meant,
    if we speak properly, than that we understand what is meant by
    that proposition. If this be so, it must surely be granted that
    we may understand the meaning of a proposition which expresses
    what is impossible. He who understands the meaning of this
    proposition, “Two and two make four,” must equally understand
    the meaning of this other, “Two and two do not make four.”
    Both are equally understood; that is, the conception of both
    is equally clear; yet the first is necessarily true, and the
    second impossible.

    ‘Perhaps it will be said, that we may not merely conceive the
    _meaning_ of a proposition, but we may conceive it to be a
    _true_ proposition, and that it is our being able to conceive
    it to be true that gives us ground to think it possible. In
    answer to this, I beg you would attend very carefully to the
    meaning of these words—“Conceiving a proposition to be true.” I
    can put no other meaning upon them but judging it to be true,
    that is, giving some degree of assent to it. Judgment or assent
    admits of various degrees, from the slightest suspicion to the
    most deliberate conviction; from the most modest and diffident
    assent to the most pertinacious and dogmatical. I conceive
    there maybe inhabitants in the moon; that is, my judgment leans
    a little that way. I would not use that expression unless the
    probability, however small, seemed to be on that side of the
    question.

    ‘If this be the meaning of conceiving a proposition to be true,
    then the meaning of the axiom will be, that a proposition
    which appears to us to have any degree of probability, however
    small, must at least be possible. But the axiom, taken in
    this sense, is surely false. It would be superfluous to give
    instances of this to a mathematician.

    ‘If it should be said that conceiving a proposition to be
    true means, neither barely to understand the meaning of the
    proposition, nor the giving any degree of assent to it, I would
    be glad to know what it really does mean. For I am at a loss to
    know what power of the understanding we mean by the conceiving
    a proposition to be true, if it is neither simple apprehension,
    by which we barely understand the meaning of a proposition,
    nor judgment, by which we assent to the proposition or dissent
    from it. I know of no power of the understanding intermediate
    between these two. And if there is none, I think the axiom must
    be false.

    ‘There are many propositions which, by the faculties God has
    given us, we perceive to be not only true, but necessarily
    true; and the contradictions of these must be impossible. So
    that our knowledge of what is impossible keeps pace with our
    knowledge of necessary truth.

    ‘By our senses and our memory, by testimony and other means,
    we have the certain knowledge of many truths which we do not
    perceive to be necessary; their contraries therefore may be
    possible for aught we know. But we know that whatever is true,
    whether necessary or not, is possible. Our knowledge therefore
    of what is possible keeps pace with our knowledge of truth,
    whether contingent or necessary. Beyond this, I am afraid our
    knowledge of what is possible is conjectural. And although
    we are apt to think everything to be possible which we do
    not perceive to be impossible, yet in this we may be greatly
    deceived. You know well, sir, that mathematics affords many
    instances of impossibilities _in the nature of things_, which
    no man would have dreamed of or believed, until they were
    discovered by accurate and subtle reasoning. Perhaps if we were
    able to reason demonstratively to as great an extent in other
    subjects as in mathematics, we might discover many things to
    be impossible which we now take to be possible. We are apt
    to think it possible that God might have made an universe of
    sensible and rational creatures, into which neither natural
    nor moral Evil should ever enter. It may be so for what I
    know. But how are you certain that this is possible? I can
    distinctly conceive it, say you; therefore it is possible. I do
    not admit this argument. May not a man who is a mathematician
    as distinctly conceive that in the infinite variety of numbers
    gradually ascending, there is no ratio whatsoever which is not
    equal to the ratio of some one whole number to some other whole
    number? Yet the mathematician can demonstrate that there are
    innumerable ratios which are not equal to the ratio of some one
    number to another. Many mathematicians, taking it for granted
    that it was possible to square the circle, have spent their
    lives in a fruitless pursuit. May not our taking things to be
    possible, in matters of higher moment, when we can show no good
    reason that they are so, lead us into unnecessary disputes and
    vain theories? Ought we to admit that as a just argument in
    reasoning, or even as a pressing difficulty, which is grounded
    on the supposition that such a thing is possible, when in
    reality we have no good evidence of its being possible, and for
    anything we can show to the contrary, it may be impossible?’

A letter to Dr. Gregory in March 1786 shows the _Essays on the Active or
Moral Powers_ in the press:—‘I am proud of the approbation you express of
the _Essays_. I have made some corrections and additions, but such as I
hope will not make it necessary to write the book over again. But I wish,
if I find health and leisure in summer, to add some Essays to go before
that on “Liberty of the Will,” in order to give some further elucidation
of the principles of morals. I expect your remarks and D. Stewart’s on
what is in hand. It will be no inconvenience to wait two, three, or
even four months.’ Two years later, early in 1788, when he was in his
seventy-eighth year, the five _Essays on the Active Powers of Man_ were
published. This was Reid’s last appearance as a philosophical author. The
eight Essays of 1785, and the five Essays of 1788, all relate to human
Power—power immanent or intellectual, and power overtly operative or
moral.

In March, a few weeks after the book appeared, Beattie writes to Sir W.
Forbes:—

    ‘I have been looking into Dr. Reid’s book on _The Active
    Powers of Man_. It is written with his usual perspicuity and
    acuteness; is in some parts very entertaining; and to me, who
    have been obliged to think much on those subjects, is very
    interesting throughout. The question concerning Liberty and
    Necessity [of the Will] is very fully discussed, and very ably,
    and I think nothing more need be said about it. I could have
    wished that he had given a fuller examination of the passions,
    and been a little more practical in illustrating the duties of
    morality. But his manner in all his writings more turned to
    speculative than to practical philosophy; which may be owing
    to his having employed himself so much in the study of Locke,
    Hume, Berkeley, and other theorists; and partly, no doubt,
    to the habits of study and modes of conversation which were
    fashionable in this country in his younger days. If I were not
    personally acquainted with the Doctor, I should conclude from
    his books that he was rather too warm an admirer of Mr. Hume.
    He confutes, it is true, some of his opinions; but pays them
    much more respect than they are entitled to.’

To Beattie’s less profound intelligence, indignant sentiment was more
acceptable, in defence of fundamental faith, than the calm inquiry and
sympathetic criticism of Reid.

The Literary Society which met monthly in the College was occasionally
a channel for his thoughts through all the years of the Glasgow
professorship, as the more famous ‘Wise Club’ had been at Aberdeen.
Principal Leechman, Black, Moor, Arthur, and Dr. Thomas Hamilton were
also members. Some of Reid’s contributions before 1788 seem to have
been incorporated in the _Essays_. After that he still found vent for
his thoughts in papers for the Society, and in letters to Dr. Gregory,
chiefly about Power and Causation. Among the most important of those
submitted to the Society in his last years, I find ‘Some Observations
on the Modern System of Materialism,’ in which the impotence of matter
is maintained; as also in another, entitled ‘Miscellaneous Reflections
on Priestley’s account of Hartley’s Theory of the Human Mind.’ Then we
have ‘Observations on the Utopia of Sir Thomas More.’ A short essay ‘On
Power,’[24] in March 1792, was his last metaphysical performance: it sums
up his conclusions regarding our conception of causation, as regulated by
the Common Sense. ‘Observations on the Danger of Political Innovation,’
suggested by the Revolution in France, were read in the Society on
November 1794.

This last Essay is characteristic. It presses a distinction between two
political attitudes that are apt to be confounded—the one speculative,
dealing with abstractions, treating the facts of the case and history as
irrelevant; the other practical, taking account of the actual conditions,
therefore disposed to modify its ideals by a due regard to what has
been and now is. The first asks what that organisation of society is,
which, abstractly considered, is most favourable to progress: the
other cautiously considers how the inherited political organism may
with least friction be adapted to the changed conditions of the social
evolution. Reid assumes this last as his attitude, arguing that the
British Constitution encourages continuous orderly evolution, not sudden
revolution, and that this is illustrated in its history since 1688.
At first, he had looked with sanguine hope to the French Revolution,
but, like Edmund Burke, who shortly before had been Rector of Glasgow
University, his hope gave place to fear. It is interesting that it was
the _Vindiciæ Gallicæ_ of Sir James Mackintosh that had inspired him with
the hope; for, according to his daughter, Mrs. Carmichael, he was struck
with admiration on reading the book, and used often to speak of it as one
of the most ingenious essays in political philosophy he had ever met with.

Jeremy Bentham as well as Mackintosh was known to Reid by his writings,
as appears in this letter to Dr. Gregory, in September 1788, which refers
to Bentham’s _Defence of Usury_, published the year before:—

    ‘I am much pleased with the tract you sent me on Usury. I think
    the reasoning unanswerable, and have long been of the author’s
    opinion, though I suspect that the general principle—that
    bargains ought to be left to the judgment of the parties, may
    admit of some exceptions; when the buyers are the many, the
    poor, the simple, and the sellers few, rich, and cunning.
    The former may need the aid of the magistrate to prevent
    their being oppressed by the latter. It seems to be upon
    this principle that postage, freight, the hire of chairs and
    coaches, and the price of bread, are regulated in most great
    towns. But with regard to the loan of money in a commercial
    state, the exception can have no place—the borrowers and
    lenders are upon an equal footing, and each may be left to take
    care of his own interest.’

Three years before his death Reid is found preparing the _Account of the
University of Glasgow_, which appeared three years after his death, in
the _Statistical Account of Scotland_ published by Sir John Sinclair. It
was not communicated by him to Sir John, but transmitted by Professor
Jardine, in name of the Principal and Professors, at whose request Reid
seems to have engaged in this work. It was an anonymous publication, but
it has been attributed to him, and it bears internal evidence of his
hand. His colleague, Professor Richardson, in his biographical account
of Professor Arthur, Reid’s successor, published in 1803, mentions that
‘the Statistical Account of the University was all written by Dr. Reid,
except the statements respecting the business of particular classes.’ It
shows intelligence then uncommon in Scotland of the mediæval constitution
of Universities, and appreciation of the true academical ideal. The life
begun at King’s College forty years before in projects of University
reform, was fitly closed by this account of the great western seat of
learning.

Mrs. Reid died early in 1792. His feelings were thus expressed in a
letter to Dugald Stewart:—

    ‘By the loss of my bosom friend, with whom I lived fifty-two
    years, I am brought into a kind of new world, at a time of life
    when old habits are not easily forgot, or new ones acquired.
    But every world is God’s world, and I am thankful for the
    comforts He has left me. Mrs. Carmichael has now the care of
    two deaf old men, and does everything in her power to please
    them; and both are very sensible of her goodness. I have more
    health than at my time of life [82] I had any reason to expect.
    I walk about; entertain myself with reading what I soon forget;
    I can converse with one person if he articulates distinctly
    and within ten inches of my left ear; I go to church without
    hearing a word of what is said. You know I had never any
    pretensions to vivacity, but I am still free from languor and
    _ennui_.’

After this sorrow, his daughter, Mrs. Carmichael, lived much in his house
in the Professors’ Court. She became a widow in the same year, for her
husband died a few months after Mrs. Reid. Elizabeth Leslie, daughter of
his stepsister Margaret, was also an inmate, and added to the comfort of
the closing years. Soon after her father’s death Mrs. Carmichael went to
live at Aberdeen.



CHAPTER VIII

INSPIRED COMMON SENSE AND CAUSATION: ACTIVE OR MORAL POWER IN MAN


Philosophical recognition of the genuine Common Sense or natural judgment
of mankind, especially in two of its factors, which seemed to Reid
obscured if not suppressed by dogmatic hypothesis, gave its character
to his whole intellectual life. He found, in the first place, that ‘all
philosophers; from Plato to Mr. Hume, agree in this, that we do not
perceive external objects immediately, and that the immediate object of
perception must be some image present to the mind.’ To rid philosophy
of this hypothesis, as a mere prejudice, inconsistent with the absolute
trustworthiness, and therefore with the supreme and final rational
authority of our natural judgment, was the chief aim of his Aberdonian
life—culminating in the _Inquiry_ in 1764. He found, in the second place,
that ‘to confound the notion of agent or efficient cause with that of
physical cause has been a common error of philosophers, from the days of
Plato to our own’; and it seemed to him as subversive of moral relations
in the universe as the other was of physical relations. Accordingly, our
conception of Power or Causation chiefly engaged him in Glasgow. This
appears in his ‘Essays’ on moral Power in man; in his correspondence with
Kames and Gregory in the last twenty years of his life; as well as in the
unpublished fragment on ‘Power,’ in 1792, which was his last expression
of reflective thought. The Philosophy of Perception and the Philosophy of
Causation—our common sense of extended reality in our first intercourse
with it in the senses, and our common sense conception of ‘power’ and
‘cause’ which arises in the presence of the changes amidst which we live
and have our being—these were the two poles of Reid’s philosophical
life. His whole life was a war against two common errors of philosophers
regarding these, from the days of Plato to our own, in each of which the
seeds of speculative and practical scepticism seemed to lie thickly.
If these two fundamental convictions were untrustworthy, then faith in
anything must lose its sustaining strength. For our perceptions through
the five senses are the first principles of all our reasonings about the
actual universe, and our causal judgments are the means of interpreting
the realities to which those perceptions only introduce us.

We find ourselves continually in contact and collision with Power that
is external to ourselves individually; and we seem, too, to be exerting
powers of our own: on the Power latent in the universe, our happiness
or misery, our whole destiny, depends. What does all this mean? What is
meant by the judgment that all changes in the universe are ‘caused’; and
what is the origin of this judgment, or of the conception of ‘cause’ that
is involved in it? Are the powers which we recognise in us and around
us to be referred only to inanimate things as their centres; or only to
living and self-conscious persons; or to both?

Priestley, as an advocate of the claim of matter to account sufficiently
for self-conscious life in man, and Kames and Priestley by their
universal necessity, confirmed Reid’s disposition to inquire further into
the nature and origin of the conception of power, and the judgment that
every change presupposes what we ambiguously call a cause. His cousin
Gregory, too, inquired about causation, and gave the results to the world
in an _Essay on the Difference between the Relation of Motive and Action,
and that of Cause and Effect in Physics_, which appeared in 1792.

That every change must be caused, Reid regarded as a postulate of which
the contradictory was absolutely inconceivable: it was necessarily
implied in the common rational sense of Man, and, while incapable of
logical proof, was that without which nothing else could be proved. That
the things presented to our senses are themselves powerless; that all
power is spiritual, referable only to Will; and that this is the common
sense implicate of our physical and moral experience of changes, was the
proposition which Reid now set himself to justify. Our experience of our
own voluntary exertion is the only experience which directs us to the
quarter in which power, properly so called, resides. A voluntary agent is
our only example of a cause, or of that to which change must be finally
referred as its responsible source. We can find no productive power in
any inanimate thing. Matter, instead of being the universal cause, is
in itself powerless, and can account for nothing. The material universe
is virtually an external system of interpretable signs, regulated by
non-material power.

Take the following extracts from various letters of Reid’s to Gregory,
from 1785 onwards,[25] in the unpublished paper on Power:—

    ‘Power to produce an effect supposes power not to produce it;
    otherwise it is not power but necessity, which is incompatible
    with power taken in a strict sense.... I am not able to form
    a conception how power (in the strict sense) can be exerted
    without will; nor can there be will without some degree of
    understanding. Therefore nothing can be an efficient cause in
    the proper sense but an intelligent being [_i.e._ a person].
    Hence the only notion we can form of Almighty Power is, that
    God can do whatever He wills. Matter cannot be the cause of
    anything: it can only be an instrument in the hands of a real
    cause.... In physics the word cause has another meaning,
    which, though I think it an improper one, yet is distinct,
    and therefore may be reasoned upon. When a phenomenon is
    produced according to a certain law of nature, we call the law
    [or rule] the _cause_ of that phenomenon; and to the laws or
    rules of nature we accordingly ascribe power or efficiency.
    The whole business of physics is to discover, by observation
    and experiment, the laws of nature, and to apply them to
    the solution of phenomena. Now a law of nature is a purpose
    or resolution of the Author of nature to act according to
    a certain rule. There must be a real agent to produce the
    phenomenon according to the law. A malefactor is not hanged by
    the law, but by the executioner according to the law.’

    Again:—‘A cause in the proper and strict sense signifies a
    _mind_ that has power and will to produce the effect. A cause
    in the physical sense means only something which, by the laws
    of nature, the effect always follows; as when we say that
    heat is the cause that turns water into vapour.... Between a
    physical cause and its effect the conjunction must be constant;
    unless in the case of a miracle. What D. Hume says of causes
    in general is very just when applied to physical causes—that
    a constant conjunction with the effect is essential to such
    causes, and implied in the very conception of them.’ Again:—‘I
    wish that the same general name—cause—had not been given to
    both. They differ _toto genere_. For a physical cause is not an
    agent. It does not act, but is acted upon. _You_ accordingly
    give them different names; calling the one the agent and
    not the cause, the other the cause and not the agent. But
    I think this too bold an innovation in language. Men have
    been so much accustomed to call the Deity the First Cause of
    things, that to maintain that He is no cause at all would be
    too shocking. To say that the world exists _without a cause_
    would be accounted atheism, in spite of all explanations....
    The words agent and action are less ambiguous. We say one
    _body_ acts upon another; and in vain would one attempt to
    abolish this language. To remedy this ambiguity of “cause” and
    “agent,” I say that each of these words has two meanings—a
    lax or popular and a philosophical.... It is remarkable that
    the philosophical meaning must have been the first, and the
    popular a corruption introduced by time.... Power is first
    conceived from being conscious of it in ourselves. Conceiving
    of inanimate beings from what we are conscious of in ourselves,
    we at first ascribed to them such power as we are conscious
    of, till experience informs us that inanimate things have not
    the same powers as we have; but language was formed before
    this discovery was made.... It is a curious question how we
    come by the cognition of power and cause, so that we ascribe
    them to things that have no will nor intelligence. I am apt
    to think that savages, whenever they see motion which they
    cannot account for, there they suppose a soul. In this period
    of society language is formed. At length the more acute and
    speculative few discover that some of the things which the
    vulgar believe to be animated are inanimate. What use must
    wise men make of this discovery? Will they affirm that the sun
    does not shine nor give heat? that the sea never rages nor the
    winds blow? nor the earth bring forth grass and corn? The wiser
    part will speak the common language, and suit it to their new
    notions as well as they can; just as philosophers still say
    with the vulgar, that the sun “rises” and “sets.”’

That morally responsible intending Will is our ultimate conception
of Power or Cause, properly so called, is not less the lesson of the
Birkwood manuscript ‘On Power’ of 1792. Thus:—

    ‘Will is necessarily implied in the notion of Power. Volition
    and what naturally follows upon our volitions, is all that we
    conceive to be in our own power. What a man never willed can
    never be imputed to him as his action. A being that has no
    will can have no power. When we impute powers to dead matter,
    it must be in some popular or analogical sense, but not in the
    proper sense. There can be no productive power in an inanimate
    object.... A cause is that which has power to produce an
    effect. When we ascribe power to things inanimate as causes,
    we mean nothing more than a constant conjunction by the laws or
    rules of nature, which experience discovers. Thus we say that
    the sun has power to retain the planets in their orbits, and
    that heat has power to melt lead. If the ignorant be led by the
    ambiguity of the word to conceive power in the sun or in heat
    to produce the effects attributed to them, this is a vulgar
    error which philosophy [_i.e._ of common sense] corrects. By
    what agents these effects are [immediately] produced we know
    not; but we have good reason to believe that they cannot be
    produced by inanimate matter.’

Reid also allows that, for anything we can tell, things which have no
proper power of their own may be terms in a sequence that is subject to
an _absolute_ necessity of being the sequence that it is. But however
this may be, it transcends our knowledge; we must be satisfied with the
common sense conviction of persistent uniformities in fact pervading the
universe of change, whether this fact is the result of a divine necessity
or of arbitrary divine will. Natural uniformities are presupposed in
all our reasoning about our natural surroundings, and without this
presupposition things could not be reasoned about or formed into science.
All our knowledge of natural events, beyond original perceptions of
sense, consists in interpretation of the phenomena of which the senses
make us aware. Upon this judgment of the common sense our inductions are
all grounded, so that it may be called the inductive principle. Withdraw
trust from it and experience becomes blind as a mole. We may _feel_ what
is present at the moment, but the distant and the future are wholly hid
in darkness.

Power or intelligent agency is thus the exclusive characteristic of
conscious persons: interpretable order is the characteristic of inanimate
things. These are two correlative judgments or inspirations of our
natural common sense upon which human reasonings turn. Reid finds
when he reflects patiently that he is obliged, by a rational instinct
as it were, to recognise himself and other persons as the centres of
responsible power, the only sort of power or causality in existence that
can be supposed by us; and also to recognise in the impersonal world
without, something that in itself is passive and impotent, but which,
as a system of interpretable sense signs, may be said metaphorically to
form the _language_ of nature, of which the natural sciences are (so far)
the interpretation. The universe is thus a material order directed by
spiritual power, in a measure corresponding to the body and the spirit
in man, as man now is. But this larger conception carries us beyond the
modest philosophy to which Reid confined himself; although he more than
once approached it, perhaps through some unconscious reminiscence of the
Berkeleyism of his youth, of which, I think, he failed to see the real
drift, as it was unfolded in _Alciphron_ and especially in _Siris_.

Yet the following scrap, which I find among unpublished manuscripts of
his later life, shows that such thoughts were not quite absent from his
mind:—

    ‘The ancient philosophers called God the Soul of the World.
    This, considered as a figurative expression, is destitute
    neither of beauty nor of truth. What the soul of man is to his
    body, that God is to the universe, in several respects; but not
    in all. There are many respects in which the metaphor fails:
    (1) The human soul did not make its own body, but God made
    the world; (2) the human soul is ignorant of the nice texture
    and mechanism of its body, but God knows the whole mechanism
    of the universe, because He conceived and made it; (3) the
    human soul receives much of its information by bodily organs:
    God’s knowledge of all things is immediate and not dependent
    on bodily organs; (4) our power over our own bodies is
    limited: the power of God over the universe is unlimited; (5)
    our bodies are wholly made up of inert and soulless matter:
    the universe is stored with various orders of living beings
    and free agents, subject to the Divine Power as their moral
    governor and capable of paying back the service of rational
    subjects.’

But the philosophy of the Common Sense, as represented by Reid, did not
rise to the conciliation of the natural order of the material with the
originative freedom of the spiritual world, in which operating law in
outward nature is recognised as immediate divine agency, or a part of
a revelation of perfectly reasonable Will in and through a universe of
things and persons.



CHAPTER IX

THE END—1796


In the last winter of his life Reid read an interesting discourse on
‘Muscular Motion,’ in the Literary Society, of which he so long had
been a member. After describing articulately the progressive changes
in the human muscles which mark the advance of age, and proposing an
explanation, he thus concludes his last public discourse:—

    ‘May I be permitted to mention that it was my own experience
    of some of these effects of old age on the muscular motions
    that led my thoughts to this explanation, which, as it is
    owing to the infirmities of age, will, I hope, be treated
    with the greater indulgence. It is both pleasant and useful
    to contemplate with gratitude the wisdom and goodness of the
    Author of our being, in fitting this machine of our body to the
    various employments and enjoyments of life. The structure is
    admirable as far as we are permitted to see it in this infancy
    of our being. And the internal structure which is behind the
    veil that limits our understanding, and which gives motion to
    the whole, is, in a manner most wonderful, though unknown to
    us, made subservient to our volition and efforts. This grand
    work of nature, like the fruits of the earth, has its maturity,
    its decay, and its dissolution. Like those also, in all its
    decay it nourishes a principle within which is to be the seed
    of a future existence. Were the fruit conscious of this, it
    would drop into the earth with pleasure, in the hope of a happy
    Resurrection. This hope, by the mercy of God, is given to all
    good men. It is the consolation of old age, and more than
    sufficient to make its infirmities sit light.’

The dissolution of the material organism which for eighty-six years
had served the writer of these words was now near. Of his few early
philosophical associates, Campbell and Beattie only were alive at the
beginning of 1796, and in April of that year Campbell died. Reid followed
him six months later. Dugald Stewart, then Professor of Moral Philosophy
in Edinburgh, gives the following account of the months before the end:—

    ‘In the summer of 1796, about two years after the death of
    his wife, he was prevailed on by Dr. Gregory to pass a few
    weeks at Edinburgh. He was accompanied by Mrs. Carmichael,
    who lived with him in Dr. Gregory’s house, a situation which
    united under the same roof every advantage of medical care, of
    tender attachment, and of philosophical intercourse. As Dr.
    Gregory’s professional engagements necessarily interfered with
    his attentions to his guests, I enjoyed more of Dr. Reid’s
    society than might otherwise have fallen to my share. I had
    the pleasure, accordingly, of spending some hours with him
    daily, and of attending him in his walking excursions, which
    frequently extended to the distance of three or four miles.
    His faculties (excepting his memory, which was considerably
    impaired) appeared as vigorous as ever; and, although his
    deafness prevented him from taking any share in general
    conversation, he was still able to enjoy the company of a
    friend. Mr. Playfair and myself were both witnesses of the
    acuteness which he displayed on one occasion, in detecting a
    mistake, by no means obvious, in a manuscript of his kinsman,
    David Gregory, on the subject of “Prime and Ultimate Ratios.”
    In apparent soundness and activity of body, he resembled more
    a man of sixty than of eighty-seven. He returned to Glasgow
    in his usual health and spirits; and continued for some weeks
    to devote as formerly a regular portion of his time to the
    exercise both of body and mind. It appears from a letter of
    Dr. Cleghorn’s to Dr. Gregory, that he was still able to work
    with his own hands in his garden; and he was found by Dr.
    Brown occupied in the solution of an algebraical problem of
    considerable difficulty, in which, after the labour of a day or
    two, he at last succeeded.’

It was thus in summer. In September he was attacked by a violent
disorder, and after a severe struggle, attended with repeated strokes of
palsy, he passed away on the 7th of October. Thus ended the tranquil life
of deep and patient thought, which opened at Strachan and almost spanned
the eighteenth century, morally and intellectually the representative of
Scottish philosophical restoration under the conditions of the time. His
ashes were laid in the College Church burial-ground, within the shadow of
the College of which he had so long been the chief ornament, and under a
tombstone bearing this inscription:—

    ‘Memoriæ sacrum THOMÆ REID, S.T.D., quondam in Schola Regia
    Aberdonensi Philosophiæ Professoris; nuper vero in Universitate
    Glasguensi, ab anno 1764 usque ad annum 1796, Philosophiæ
    Moralis Professoris; qui in Scientia Mentis Humanæ, ut olim in
    Philosophia Naturali illustris ille Baconius Verulamius, omnia
    instauravit; qui ingenii acumine doctrinæque omnigenæ, summam
    morum gravitatem, simul atque comitatem, adjuvavit; qui obiit
    7° October, 1796, annos natus 86. Cujusque ossa cum cineribus
    ELIZEBETHÆ REID, conjugis carissimæ, triumque filiarum morte
    prematura abrepturam, sepulchro condita sunt. Hoc Monumentum
    poni jussit filia piissima, unica superstes, Martha Carmichael.’

After the University of Glasgow had in 1872 exchanged the College in the
High Street, with its touching memories, for its new and stately home on
the bank of the Kelvin, Reid’s remains were carried to the Necropolis
which overlooks his old home in the Drygate, and the tombstone was
removed to the College on Gilmore Hill.

I find Reid’s will, dated 7th May 1792, recorded in the Sheriff-Court
Books of Lanarkshire. Dr. and Mrs. Carmichael are executors, with Mr.
Leslie and Mr. Rose conjoined. Furniture, books, and papers are left to
Mrs. Carmichael, except a few books for the University Library. Of the
rest of the property, personal and real—after payment of debts, including
£300 to Dr. Carmichael, ‘payable in full of my daughter’s tocher,’ and
‘£300 to John Sargent, London, cousin-german of the dearest Elizabeth
Reid, my wife’—one half is assigned to Mrs. Carmichael, and the other
half, in equal portions, to ‘my sisters, Mrs. Leslie and Mrs. Rose,’
burdened with ‘a liferent annuity of £10, to my stepmother, Janet Fraser,
widow of Mr. Lewis Reid.’ The real property is described as consisting of
‘eleven and a half falls of ground, with the whole houses thereon, and
the well therein, bounded on the west by William Street, on the north by
the property of Dr. Carmichael, on the south by the property of Joseph
Crombie, and on the east by the property of John Duguid and Wm. Risk, all
in the Barony parish.’ This property appears to have been bought about
1780, the year in which Reid ceased to teach in the College.

       *       *       *       *       *

That this life, much withdrawn from the public eye in the interest of
philosophic reflection, was not unappreciated when it ended, is shown by
the recognition which immediately followed. On the day after he died the
event was thus announced in the _Glasgow Courier_:—

    ‘Thomas Reid, D.D., Professor of Moral Philosophy in the
    University of Glasgow, died on the seventh day of October. His
    ingenious and elaborate works, especially his _Inquiry into the
    Human Mind_, and his _Essays on the Intellectual and the Active
    Powers of Man_, are noble and lasting monuments of his eminent
    abilities, his deep penetration, and his extensive learning.
    By unravelling sceptical perplexities, overturning ill-founded
    hypotheses, and resting every conclusion on evident principles,
    he has brought about a memorable revolution in the Philosophy
    of Human Nature. His character through life was distinguished
    by an ardent love of truth, and an assiduous pursuit of it in
    various sciences; by the most amiable simplicity of manners,
    gentleness of temper, strength of affection, candour, and
    liberality of sentiments, which displayed themselves in the
    habitual exercise of all the social virtues; and by steadiness,
    fortitude, and rational piety.’

A few days later a more elaborate study of his character appeared in the
_Courier_:—

    ‘Dr. Reid was unquestionably one of the profoundest
    philosophers of the age; and although some who think it a
    proof of weakness to differ from Mr. Hume have slighted the
    speculations of Dr. Reid, and undervalued the precision which
    he laboured to introduce, his Inquiry into the Senses will
    probably be coeval with our language. It is founded on facts
    which must continue to interest men while their constitution
    continues unchanged. In his pursuit of new knowledge he studied
    the late improvements in chemistry; he observed the great
    political events which have happened, and contemplated that
    with which the time seems pregnant with the keen interest of
    one entering on life. He venerated religion—not the noisy,
    contentious systems which lead men to hate and persecute each
    other, but the sublime principle which regulates the conduct,
    by controuling the selfish and animating the benevolent
    affections. When vilified by intemperate philosophers [_e.g._
    Priestley], he made no reply, being satisfied with having
    stated what he thought the truth; and when outraged by zealots
    who falsely call themselves Christians, he bore the outrage
    meekly, using no terms of complaint or reproach. He was to
    the last moment free from that morose querulous temper which
    has been deemed inseparable from age. Instead of repining
    at the prosperity and enjoyments of the young, he delighted
    in promoting them; and after having lost all his own family
    except one daughter, he continued to treat children with such
    condescension and benignity that some very young ones noticed
    the peculiar kindness of his eye. His end accorded with the
    wisdom and goodness of his life. He used sometimes to say,
    “I am ashamed of having lived so long after having ceased to
    be useful,” though at that very time he was acquiring and
    communicating useful knowledge. During his last illness, which
    was severe, he complained of nothing but the trouble that he
    gave his affectionate family, and he looked to the grave as a
    place not of rest merely but of triumph.’

The affectionate judgment of his contemporaries, in the first days of
sorrow, instead of exceeding, fall short of the deliberate judgment
of leaders of European thought in a later generation. The rise of his
reputation was slow. As there are too many who make themselves appear
more wise than they are, it was the more uncommon fault of Reid to
appear less a philosopher than he really was. Extreme caution made him
suspicious of ingenious conjecture in matter-of-fact inquiry, and perhaps
blinded him to the large part which imagination as well as reason has
to play in progress. ‘It is genius, and not the want of it,’ he says,
‘that adulterates philosophy, and fills it with error and false theory’;
and in the spirit of this warning, as well as by temperament, he was
intellectually conservative more than progressive or adventurous.

In outward appearance he was somewhat under the middle size, with a
bodily constitution of uncommon strength and tenacity, maintained by a
methodically regulated life and habitual serenity of temper. Raeburn’s
picture, now in Fyvie Castle, for which he sat during his last visit to
Edinburgh, expresses the deep and persistent thought, as well as the
reposeful and benevolent temper, which gave unity to his long life.
Copies of this picture are preserved at Birkwood, in the College of
Glasgow, and in the National Portrait Gallery at Edinburgh, as well as in
the great window of the Mitchell Hall of Marischal College. There is also
an excellent medallion by Tassie, done six years before Reid’s death.

After the death of Mrs. Carmichael, in February 1805, all who were
descended of the Rev. Lewis Reid of Strachan, by his wife Margaret
Gregory, had passed away. His second wife and widow died at Aberdeen
in 1798, like her stepson, in her eighty-seventh year, having survived
him about eighteen months. The great-granddaughter of Mrs. Leslie his
half-sister, Grace Anna Leslie, now of Birkwood, married Dr. Ross
Paterson in 1864. Their youngest daughter has charge of the Reid family
papers, to which I owe many facts first published in these pages. A son
of his other half-sister, Mrs. Rose, a medical officer in the Indian
army, was introduced in 1805 to Sir James Mackintosh, then Recorder of
Bombay, by Professor Ogilvie of Aberdeen, as a relative of the advocate
of the final philosophical appeal to the Common Sense; and Mackintosh
in a letter to Mr. Ogilvie expresses the deep interest with which he
saw ‘the nephew of Dr. Reid, whose philosophy, like you, I do not
embrace, but whose character and talents every cultivator of science must
venerate.’ Sir James’s later judgments of the philosophy, after a more
attentive study of its scope, were more favourable.



CHAPTER X

RETROSPECTIVE AND CRITICAL


We find truth, as Pascal says, not only by logical reasoning but by
an act of immediate reason, not to be effaced by all the subtleties
of the speculative sceptic, who is thus confounded by the resistance
of rational human nature. This is a general expression of Reid’s more
elaborate reply to sceptical distrust in all human knowledge and
belief. That genuine human nature, when awakened into conscious life,
is practically irresistible, is what Reid insists on; for no sane man
acts in contradiction to the common sense of which he is conscious,
although he can speculate sceptically in an abstract way, and may even
serve truth in doing so. For this scepticism may amend philosophical
systems in which the constituent principles of human nature are not
theoretically recognised in their integrity; and it may also stimulate
the unphilosophical to a deeper and truer insight of what the natural
principles are on which men must proceed in their actions. But the
principles themselves are not reached by reasoning: they are the
inspiration of God; and it is this divine inspiration that makes
experience and reasoning at all possible for men.

That I am an individual self-conscious person, to whom something other
than, and independent of, my individual self is presented in my senses—so
independent of me individually that it can inform me of the existence of
other persons whose conscious life is numerically different from mine;
that the free agency of a person is the only sort of power that we are
obliged to recognise, persons being revealed as responsible powers in
and through our moral nature; and that the powerless things of sense,
of which we are immediately percipient in our sense perceptions, are
interpretable for purposes of common life and science, inasmuch as their
changes must be determined by natural laws, all reasoning being otherwise
impossible—_these_ I think are the chief ‘inspirations’ or ‘revelations’
of the Common Sense on which Reid enlarges. This account of those
inspirations is not offered as complete; only as results, more or less
fragmentary, reached by the deep and steady reflection of a long life.

Reid’s philosophical appeal to the divine inspirations of the common
sense, without which nothing can be proved, on behalf of truths which do
not admit of direct logical proof, but only of a sort of philosophical
justification, has been disparaged as an ignoble retreat from the
standpoint of the philosopher, in the interest of popular prejudices and
blind authority. It has been spoken of as an appeal from the reasoned
judgments of the reflecting minority to the unreasoned opinions of the
unreflecting majority, an opening for arbitrary dogmas to enter and crush
free inquiry. This is the drift of the criticism of Priestley in last
century, and of Ferrier in this, while Kantian critics complain of Reid’s
lazy arrest of philosophy at the level of ordinary beliefs. Besides
this, what Reid claims as ‘the chief merit of his philosophy’—that of
questioning the common assumption that external things cannot present
themselves in our perceptions, but only unauthenticated representations
of them—proceeds, according to Priestley, on a misinterpretation of the
metaphorical language of philosophers: to refute it is an idle waste of
controversial labour, taking figures of speech for serious science.

If ‘common sense’ in this philosophy means only unintelligent opinion,
as opposed to the judgments of thinkers, Reid’s response to the sceptic
may well be regarded as an arrest of intelligence,—blind dogmatism
instead of philosophy. But candid critics interpret words in the meaning
intended by those who use them. This appeal to the judgments named those
of the common sense, is intended as an appeal to reason itself—reason,
that is to say, in its final form in a finite intelligence, whose
experience of the universe is incomplete, and working under conditions
imposed upon its exercise in intelligent beings who are not omniscient.
Reid’s Common Sense is the final perception of a being who can know the
universe of reality only in part, and is therefore needed by man in that
intermediate position in which an absolute beginning or end of things
must be to him incomprehensible. It is an appeal to that which must in
reason be final, in an intelligence that only partly shares in divine
omniscient reason. Although its judgments are not evolved from premises,
they are nevertheless what all men, except infants and lunatics, more
or less distinctly acknowledge in their individual actions, although
they may misconstrue them in their uneducated opinions, or spoil them
by indulgence in purely speculative systems. The divine inspiration of
the common sense is therefore man’s final support, amidst the so-called
‘contingencies’ of temporal change in himself and his surroundings. A
philosophical appeal to it is of practical importance in reference
to what, at the human point of view, are contingent truths of moral
reasoning: the necessary truths of abstract thought, it has been well
said, ‘sufficiently guard themselves.’

Accordingly the judgments of the common sense which chiefly interested
Reid are what he calls first principles of ‘contingent’ truths, as
distinguished from abstract necessities the opposites of which are
self-contradictory or unthinkable. Contingent truths, on the other hand,
may be rejected in thought; but those who reject them speculatively
must proceed upon them in their actions and reasonings, including even
sceptical reasonings. The man whose scepticism involves a practical
surrender of the common judgment, that what we call the outward world
is independent enough of _his_ individual existence to make it a
trustworthy medium of intercourse for him with other living persons;
and who acts accordingly on the belief that ‘other persons’ are only
conscious states of his own individual mind, would be pronounced a
lunatic. Again, the fatalist, who rejects practically the moral judgment
that refers the issues of a deliberate voluntary determination to the
voluntary or personal agent as its responsible centre, insanely sits
still in the midst of danger, and refrains from exerting a power which he
denies. And he who refuses to proceed upon the logically undemonstrable
postulate of universal natural order, by ceasing to reason about wholly
uninterpretable chaos, is inevitably crushed by the Universal Power that
he ignores.

It is thus that practical disregard of inspired final reason appears to
Reid to be ‘destructive at once of the science of the philosopher, the
prudence of the man of the world, and the faith of the Christian.’ The
unjust as well as the just, so far as they live at all, must, he sees,
live by faith in what cannot be either proved or disproved by direct
demonstration. And if all those final judgments of practical reason were
contradicted in daily action, as well as in academic theory, ‘piety,
patriotism, parental affection, and private virtue would appear as
ridiculous as knight-errantry: the pursuits of pleasure, ambition, and
avarice must be grounded upon this sort of belief as well as those that
are honourable and virtuous.’

On the other hand there are common prejudices which, while they last,
are popularly dignified as ‘common sense.’ Some now universally admitted
truths of science at first shocked men, although afterwards found
to be in harmony with the general common sense to which philosophy
appeals. That we are living on a material ball that revolves in space;
that the revolving ball revolves also on its axis; that the sun does
not rise and set, but is at rest; the existence of the antipodes; the
invisibility of the distances of things—are a few examples. Instead
of contradicting the common sense, the common sense, in the light of
further experimental evidence, finally imposes them upon us. At any
rate _their_ contradictories cannot be justified by the universal
intellectual paralysis which is the alternative to the rejection of a
_genuine_ judgment of the common sense. The assertion that the earth is
in motion and the sun relatively at rest does not contradict sane human
nature: that changes in nature are all wholly chaotic, and therefore
wholly uninterpretable, can never become a scientific discovery, because
it implies subversion of all science and makes scientific reasoning
impossible. The invisibility of the distances of things, rightly
understood in the light of its evidence, draws no protest from genuine
human nature. Human nature or final reason protests, on the other hand,
when the material world is believed to be so unreal that I cannot by
means of it find that there are other human beings. The impotence of all
things presented to the senses does not contradict reason in the common
sense in the way the impotence, and consequent irresponsibility, of man
does.

But Reid, I think, makes too little of the service of philosophical
reflection, in quickening into conscious life in the individual the
postulates on which human knowledge and conduct finally turn, and in
developing their meaning. Such primary assumptions as the real existence
of outward things; our own individual personal existence; and the
existence of God, are held with very different degrees of intelligence,
by the indolent and thoughtless and by those who reflect. Advance in
philosophy is advance in interpreting the meaning of each of these
three postulates, and of their mutual relations, as seen in an improved
conception of what ‘matter’ means, what ‘self’ means, and what ‘God’
means. The common sense or final reason of man is developed in different
degrees in different persons, in different places, at different periods
of human history, and in the same person at different times in his life.
It is not individually independent of evolutionary law; although its
genuine constituents are latent in each man and may be made to respond to
an adequate appeal. The practical reason of the common sense, while not
founded on but presupposed in philosophy, may nevertheless be deepened
and enlightened in each man by reflection and criticism. Its final action
is therefore far from superseding the philosopher, who has to systematise
man’s advancing experience of the universe in the light of an idealised
common sense, or the common sense in the ideal man, which the philosopher
tries to approach more nearly. In this intellectual progress the cruder
conceptions of ‘matter’ and ‘self’ and ‘God,’ as well as of the final
physical and the moral relations of the three postulated existences, are
purified and expanded; but always without disparagement to the primary
roots. Improvement of human knowledge, in harmony with the awakened
common sense inspirations, is our intellectual ideal.

It may perhaps be said that Reid makes his appeal to the root principles
of practical reason—the essential sanity of mankind—only on behalf of
what no one seriously calls in question; and moreover that he attributes
the scepticism with which he struggled to a speculative theory of
philosophers, instead of to facts in nature and in man, which suggest
distrust in the ‘inspirations’ on which human understanding depends, in
its lack of omniscience. What need, it may be asked, for a prolonged
endeavour to justify belief in the existence of the house in which we
live, the planet on which it stands, or the human beings among whom we
seem to play our parts? Only insane persons—really insane—can be found
to doubt realities like these. Insanity cannot be cured by an elaborate
disproof of the ‘ideal system’; and as for the sane, such common sense
sanities as these are safe enough without this philosophical appeal to
human sanity. As regards those beliefs—_si non rogas intelligo_. I know
all that I need to know, as long as I am not asked to justify and explain
my knowledge, logically or otherwise, and remain contented to enjoy the
things that unpractical thinkers vainly try to understand.

That sceptical distrust in our original faculties, and in Power or
Providence that is finally operative in the universe in which we have our
being, lies deeper than the ‘ideal system’ which was Reid’s bugbear; and
also that it arises mostly in connection with less obtrusive elements
in the common sense than our perceptions through the five senses, is in
harmony with the gradual development of Reid’s own thought which I have
tried to trace. For he advanced, as we saw, from reflection upon those
‘inspirations’ of the common sense that are implied in our physical
perceptions, to reflection upon those other data of the common sense
that are implied in our perceptions of personal and morally responsible
agency. It is in touching and seeing the material world that the common
sense is first awakened; and thus the material world is the most
obtrusive object in human experience, its perceptions affording the
fittest preliminary object-lesson on the office of this final reason
in the whole rational economy of man. External perceptions are the
beginnings of all reasonings about concrete existence. They are the
obvious examples of those original judgments, which are ‘the inspiration
of the Almighty,’ more obvious than the often dormant ones that are
moral and spiritual. All the discoveries of our reason are grounded on
them. A remarkable deviation from them, arising from a disorder in the
constitution, is called _lunacy_ by all; as when a man believes that he
is made of glass: but when a man suffers himself to be reasoned out of
them by metaphysical arguments he would call this _metaphysical lunacy_;
which differs from the other species of the distemper in this, that it
is not continued, but intermittent. He thus tests reason in its final
authority, as distinguished from reason in its innumerable inferential
exercises: the authority may be logically vindicated as reasonable, but
its judgments are not conclusions originally deduced from premises.

It must also be remembered that the Reidian protest on behalf of a
philosophical recognition of the blended judgment and feeling which makes
this common reason that is more or less consciously alive in all men,
is a protest on behalf of the regulative authority of this reason in
its genuine integrity. All philosophical systems, so far, proceed upon
and acknowledge its judgments; but, as it seemed to Reid, often only
after spoiling them. He made it his particular mission to restore them
in their genuine integrity to philosophy as the prime factors of all
true theories. In perception does the outward reality actually appear,
extended as it really is, without any unextended medium interposed,
exactly as the internal reality of a pain or a pleasure appears without
a medium, when I am conscious of being pained or pleased? If so, let us
then, Reid would say, accept this fact as final, even although we cannot
account for it; instead of perverting it by supposing that the external
reality is one thing, and the immediately perceived object of which alone
we are curious a different thing;—dreaming that this supposed internal
object, as its copy, explains our perception of the external object that
is imperceptible. Again, according to genuine common sense, the ‘self’
which I am obliged to presuppose is invisible; my body or my brain is
external to _it_, as much so as the sun and moon are; for they are all
parts of the material world—all objects of my senses—unlike my proper
personality, which is approached only through the inner consciousness,
and not at all through perception of the senses. Here, too, Reid protests
on behalf of the genuine common sense, and against the scientifically
perverted common sense offered to him by Priestley. For the distinctive
feature of Reidism is not vague acknowledgment of the common sense, but
acknowledgment of it as it is found to be when steadfast reflection is
applied to the final mental experience of man.

A modern critic may complain that Reid’s point of view is too narrow and
special, and his method too matter-of-fact to entitle the result to be
called philosophy. It looks unlike philosophy proper, which is concerned
with the universe and universals, and is like a special science of human
mind, having human mind for its finite object or province, as other
special sciences have their limited provinces. For instance, astronomy
has the stellar bodies; chemistry, the elementary constitution of bodies;
geology, the phenomena in the strata of the earth’s crust; and so on. Now
the final problem of universal reality, or at least universal reality in
ultimate relation to man, is the proper business of the philosopher, who
contemplates the all-comprehensive synthesis which sustains or explains
each special science, and even the universe of nature and man; while, as
human philosophy, it still recognises the inherent infinity that makes
realities overleap the special sciences. For philosophy is the supreme
speculation, concerned with Matter or outward Nature, Self or Spirit, and
God or the final all-determining Power—and of this final inquiry Reid had
hardly a conception. Yet we must allow that when Reid’s method is called
‘inductive,’ it is more than inductive in the ordinary meaning of the
word induction in the natural sciences. He does not reach the several
principles of the common sense by the way of probable generalisation from
observed facts; rather as truths which arise out of latency into more
or less distinct consciousness, in response to steadfast meditation.
They are philosophically recognised ‘inspirations,’ or ‘revelations’—not
tentative generalisations; and their justification must not be confounded
with the ordinary verification with which we are familiar in sciences of
outward nature. The common sense provides material to the philosopher,
not ready made, but still not mere issue of empirical generalisation.

How far a philosophy akin to that of Reid admits of philosophical
expansion, or of being brought up to date at the end of the nineteenth
century, when the fundamental questions of religious thought are at the
root of our doubts and perplexities, may be considered on a review of
the fortunes of Reid’s appeal to the inspirations of final reason in the
century which has passed since he died.



CHAPTER XI

REID IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: DEVELOPMENT OF THE COMMON SENSE
PHILOSOPHY: REID IN FRANCE: REID AND HAMILTON: REID AND SCOTO-HEGELIAN
IDEALISM: ETHICAL OR THEISTIC FINAL FAITH


How has Reid’s protest of reason in the name of common sense—a
protest against sceptical paralysis of human intelligence, physical
and moral—fared in the nineteenth century? Has Reid by this protest
established what is of lasting value either to human happiness or to
philosophical theory? What has modern thought, as developed at the end of
the nineteenth century, to say to a Scottish eighteenth century inquiry
into human mind that finds its root in a postulated sense of reality,
which must be taken as finally authoritative when it is recognised in
its genuine integrity? How do faith and doubt now stand finally related,
as compared with their relations when Reid opposed Hume? Is there still
room for philosophical argument founded on the divine inspirations of
the Common Sense, under, for instance, our transformed conception of the
universe as an evolution?

Expansion rather than subversion of the philosophy which ultimately
argues from the common sense, has, I think, been going on. Matter-of-fact
study of human mind, as engaged in perception of the material world,
and in the moral exercise of voluntary agency, which with Reid makes
this perception of matter, and moral consciousness of free agency its
prominent spiritual facts, has now risen to criticism of our conception
of the Supreme Power that is finally at work in the universe in which we
live and move and have our being. And a less purely academic scepticism
than that against which Reid summoned the common sense now confronts
us. If Reid’s mission was to call attention to our direct mental grasp
of outward realities, by exploding a theory which seemed to paralyse
that grasp, it would have been his corresponding mission now to justify,
in name of the moral and spiritual elements of the common sense, the
religious interpretation of the universe, which finds in the facts of
matter and man a continuous self-revelation of omnipotent love and
mercy—and this in the face of a world which repels our more philanthropic
civilisation, by its abundant suffering and sin. Instead of philosophy
at war with common sense, common sense is now alleged as at war with
the finally moral and religious conception of the universe, which Reid
accepted as conclusive under the premises of an old-fashioned natural
theology. Now universal natural law is supposed to exclude God, and
sentient misery to make theistic faith in the goodness, and therefore
trustworthiness, of the Supreme Power an anachronism, which must give
place to universal pessimist doubt and despair. How can we rest with
trust in those practical principles of human nature to which Reid
appealed, when they and we are found in a universe so full of evil as
this in which we find ourselves? Are we not navigating the ocean of life
in a vessel that is not seaworthy? These are questions now expressed or
felt.

For forty years after Reid’s death the higher thought of Scotland,
represented by its leaders, remained well within the old lines. It was
still careful analysis of what is presented in human consciousness, with
a gradual decline of interest in the metaphysical and moral problems
which Hume’s agnostic distrust had introduced even into Reid’s modest
treatment of the common sense. Scottish philosophy became a search for
natural sequences and co-existences among phenomena, instead of search
for firm intellectual and moral footing in a universe to which we are
introduced by being percipient of an infinitesimal part through our five
senses. For a quarter of a century Dugald Stewart was Reid’s acknowledged
successor, less original, and even less adventurous, than his master,
but unrecognisable in the ill-tempered criticism of Schopenhauer. With
dignified eloquence, wider intimacy with society than Reid’s, and more
learning, he applied inductive methods to find the laws that determine
intellectual character and the education of the human mind, also to solve
social questions, in graceful language—all which touched the popular
imagination more than his somewhat prosaic predecessor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Early in the nineteenth century, Thomas Brown, the young Edinburgh
Professor of Moral Philosophy, and colleague of Stewart, raised a revolt
against Reid and Stewart in some of their characteristic philosophy.
This brilliant youth, minor poet as well as philosopher, had practised
medicine in Edinburgh before his appointment, in 1810, at the age of
thirty-two, to the chair of Stewart. In medical practice he had been the
colleague of Dr. Gregory, Reid’s cousin, and so long his correspondent.
Brown, unlike Reid, was one of the precocious philosophers. At the age
of twenty he appeared as a critic of the _Zoonomia_ of Darwin, and a few
years later as author of an _Inquiry into the Relation of Cause and
Effect_, which contains the essence of the philosophy that was afterwards
expanded and applied in his _Lectures_. He died at the age of forty-two,
leaving works undistinguished by the deep and patient thought of Reid,
and diffuse in style, but abounding in ingenious analysis—an interesting
contribution to the logic of physical inquiry, instead of appeals to
carefully considered judgments of the Common Sense in Perception and in
Causation. Brown recognised instinctive belief in natural constancies of
co-existence and sequence among phenomena, and treated associations among
mental states as the chief explanation of the phenomena of mind. The
originative moral agency of intending and intelligent Will, so prominent
latterly in Reid, disappears in Brown. And Brown, like Priestley,
disparaged Reid’s claim to merit for reversing the philosophical
prejudice that ‘ideas’ are the only objects of human cognition, regarding
it as a metaphor mistaken for a dogma. Indeed, the empirical laws of
association tend with Brown, as with Priestley, to be the sole ultimate
laws of mind: perhaps this tendency was restrained in expression as much
by personal respect for Reid and Stewart as by conviction.

After Brown, philosophy in Scotland was for a time dormant—superseded
by Combe and phrenology. But contemporaneously, in ‘the twenties,’
a philosophy more akin to Reid than to Brown made its appearance
in England; although the analogy is not on the surface, and has
not, I think, been observed. Coleridge, especially in his _Aids to
Reflection_, published in 1825, insists with eloquent emphasis upon
the difference between ‘the Reason,’ which is divine or inspired, and
mere ‘Understanding,’ which generalises the phenomena that emerge in
experience: he also presses the distinction between free agency, as
implied in morally responsible causation, and the mechanical order of
nature with which physical sciences are exclusively concerned. ‘The
Reason,’ to which Coleridge appeals, corresponds in function to ‘the
Common Sense’ of Reid. It is described as fixed and final; as in all its
decisions appealing to itself; and as ‘much nearer to sense than the
understanding,’ for it is direct insight of truth, whereas understanding
must refer all its judgments to premises. That man, because he is morally
responsible, must originate, within his individual personality as their
final centre, all acts for which he is responsible, is with Coleridge a
postulate, ‘the proof of which no man can give to another, yet every man
_may_ find for himself,’ and so see the true meaning of the words power
and causality. In short, this postulate is among the inspired revelations
of the Common Sense that are contained in our share of Divine Reason.
We may speak of understanding as ‘human,’ with its often discordant
generalisations; but there can be no merely ‘human’ Reason. There neither
is nor can be but one and the same Reason; the light without which the
individual understanding would be darkness.

       *       *       *       *       *

The philosophy that carefully measures its conclusions by the Common
Sense found its way from Scotland into France early in this century,
in arrest of the materialism and scepticism which had taken the place
of the spiritual philosophy of Descartes and Pascal. In 1811 Royer
Collard, eminent as a philosopher and a statesman, was made Professor of
Philosophy in Paris. In that year, when he was preparing his lectures,
he accidentally found a copy of Reid’s _Inquiry_ at a book-stall near
the Seine. He was charmed with its contents, which thereafter inspired
his teaching.[26] Through Royer Collard, Reid’s philosophy became
the dominant philosophy of France, and it still retains an elevating
spiritual influence in the national schools.[27] In 1828 Reid’s works
were translated and discussed by Jouffroy, a leading thinker in his
generation, who thus leavened thinking minds among contemporaries. But
Victor Cousin was Reid’s most eloquent and famous missionary. He had
been educated by Royer Collard in Reid’s principles. His ardent and
comprehensive genius, however, became dissatisfied with what he called
a ‘sage but timid doctrine,’ and treated it as a vigorous but hardly
philosophical protest against the sceptic in the name of uncritical
common sense. In his enthusiasm, Cousin turned to Germany for ‘a
philosophy so masculine and brilliant that it could command the attention
of Europe.’ At first he thought he found in Kant the profound refutation
of the sceptic, and the grand constructive philosophy he wanted. But soon
Kant’s mode of expelling the ‘mortal poison’ seemed as unsatisfactory as
Reid’s, and he parted company with him so far as to join first Schelling
and then Hegel in an eclectic or all-reconciling system. But in the end
the fascination of Hegelian thought abated. There might, after all, be
deeper meaning, and more capacity for development, in Reid’s appeal than
he had supposed. So in his later years Cousin returned to his first love.
His _Philosophie Écossaise_, which appeared in its latest form in 1857,
is an eloquent appreciation of Hutcheson, Adam Smith, Reid, and Beattie,
with Reid as the chief figure in the centre.

Meantime a formidable intellectual force had appeared in Scotland, in
argumentative collision with those Germans by whom Cousin had been
fascinated, and also with Cousin’s own eclectic assimilation of all
philosophies. Sir William Hamilton was warning his contemporaries against
the ‘masculine and brilliant’ Continental philosophy, and energetically
recalling them to Reid, by two essays in the _Edinburgh Review_—one in
October 1829, destructive of the ‘Philosophy of the Unconditioned,’
the other in October 1830, constructive, on Reid’s ‘Philosophy of
Perception.’ The reconstruction of the philosophy of the Common
Sense, contained by implication in these famous essays, was, in 1846,
elaborated in commentaries which embrace the literature of philosophy,
in Hamilton’s _Reid_. The Glasgow professor re-appeared in the company
of the most learned of all Scottish philosophers, educated especially
by Aristotle and his commentators, by Kant, and by Reid himself, whose
modest enterprise was now measured by the profoundest problems and
most comprehensive conceptions of ancient and modern speculation. The
magnificent intellect of Hamilton raised deep questions among us that lay
dormant in Reid.

Hamilton in Scotland is so far in parallel with Cousin in France,
that—moving in opposite directions—they both helped to _germanise_
the philosophy which makes its last appeal to the common sense.
Cousin, dissatisfied with the ‘timidity’ of Reid, tried to reconcile
a philosophy that should comprehend the Infinite with the philosophy
that is confined to experience. Hamilton’s mission was to clip the
wings of the speculative adventurers. This made him put the emphasis
on the inadequacy of a human understanding for fully coping with the
eternal reality. While he praised Reid for making the Common Sense in
its integrity the necessary criterion of philosophy, he claimed for
himself the special credit of distinguishing its necessities as of two
sorts—the one a positive power, the other the impotence implied in
finite intelligence. Hence human experience rests on a conditioned, or
(so far) paralysed intelligence; and if omniscience only can be called
‘knowledge,’ while to know ‘in part,’ therefore with involved mysteries,
must be called ignorance—it follows that man knows nothing. Ignorance is
then the consummation of human philosophy, and its highest attainment is
this discovery. ‘Our dream of knowledge is a little light rounded with
darkness.’ ‘The highest reach of science and philosophy is the scientific
recognition of human ignorance.’ ‘Doubt is the beginning and the end of
all our efforts to know.’ ‘The last and highest consecration of all true
religion is an altar to the unknown and unknowable God.’ Man’s knowledge
of existence must be relative to his limited experience and intelligence.

The missionary of a neglected truth is apt to be one-sided and even
paradoxical, and strenuous expression was natural to Hamilton. From
his first essay in 1829 to his last in 1855 he sought to show the
inconsistency of infinite knowledge with our limited share of inspiration
in the Common Sense. Accordingly, the negative and incomplete, or what
Bacon calls ‘broken’ character of man’s knowledge, rather than its
positive victories, is ever supreme in the _Hamiltonianised_ Reid, along
with a recast of Reid’s account of the Common Sense as involved in
perception of the outward things of sense.

The respective offices of Reid and Hamilton might be compared in this
aphorism of Pascal—‘_La Nature soutient la Raison impuissante_.’ Need
for the common sense with which human nature is charged, illustrates the
impotence of man’s unomniscient understanding and limited share of the
Divine Reason. Taking those words of Pascal, Reid puts emphasis on ‘_la
nature_’; Hamilton on ‘_impuissance_.’ But both are recognised by each:
it is a difference of emphasis. Neither Hamilton nor Mansel excludes
the conservative influence of ‘_la nature_,’ taken in its integrity,
in the way Mr. Herbert Spencer does, when he rests philosophy only on
the strongly emphasised part of Hamiltonian philosophy. In Hamilton the
‘_raison impuissante_’ is insisted on really in order to make room for
‘_la nature_’; on the ground that the logical understanding, here ‘_la
raison_,’ is too impotent to be able to _disprove_ the genuine judgments
of the Common Sense.

Brown’s rebellion against Reid early in the century, in the interest
of a universal physical causation or association, has its parallel in
Ferrier’s revolt, in the middle of the century, against the Hamiltonian
Reid, in the interest of abstract metaphysics as opposed to uncriticised
common sense. In the name of philosophy he excludes from philosophy
all except necessary truths of abstract reason; neglecting, as beneath
its regard, the world of change, in which Reid’s mixed and practical
reason, or Common Sense, had been offered as final guide. The office of
philosophy, according to Ferrier, is among the eternal truths, which
alone can be absolutely demonstrated, and which relieve philosophy
from ‘the oversight of popular opinion and the errors of psychological
science,’ which had been unworthily dignified as the final test of
truth. The natural beliefs of mankind, instead of being worshipped as
divine, are banished in Ferrier’s philosophy, on the ground that their
self-contradictoriness is demonstrable: the business of the philosopher,
accordingly, is to substitute ‘reasonable thinking’ for ‘common sense.’
The ‘_raison impuissante_,’ emphasised by Hamilton—the ignorance in
which Hamilton revels—is not allowed by Ferrier to be ignorance at all;
for ‘man cannot be said to be ignorant of self-contradictions that can
be knowledge for no mind, human or divine.’ Independent or unperceived
matter is not merely hid from man’s knowledge on account of his ‘_raison
impuissante_’; it is hid from all intelligence, because inconsistent with
the _necessarily_ mind-dependent essence of Being. Pure reason does not
need to be finally supplemented by practical principles of common sense.
It is able to shift for itself without this surrender. The conciliation
of common sense thinking and philosophy is accomplished by the submission
of common sense to universal compulsory reason. Opinion must submit to
demonstration, instead of demonstration, intelligible only by the few,
having to make way for the undemonstrable dogmas of the unreflecting.

Reid, I suspect, could hardly recognise, in the stuffed figure thus put
up by Ferrier to be knocked down, either the ‘common sense’ in which
_he_ found the root of a human knowledge of the realities revealed in
place and time throughout the long experience of man, or the ‘perception’
in which things external to the individual mind make their appearance
‘in part.’ The practical impassibility of disbelieving the existence
of other living beings, of discarding memory as wholly delusion, of
treating man as irresponsible, and our surroundings as chaotic or wholly
uninterpretable, alike for science and in common life—these were alleged
constituents of the common sense with which Reid concerned himself. They
all lie outside the demonstrations of Ferrier, in which he unfolds his
theory in forms of artistic beauty and easy grace, which make him the
most picturesque figure in the succession of Scottish philosophers. Yet
Brown and Ferrier in the end helped on the expansion of Reid.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before Ferrier passed away in 1864, a revolution in the conception of
the universe was in progress in Britain. The idea of continuous physical
evolution of external nature and of man, promulgated biologically by
Darwin, and by Mr. Herbert Spencer as the all-comprehensive generalised
law of a universe that was supposed to be the outcome of unknowable
Power, has become a popular creed within the last forty years.
Simultaneously, methods of development akin to Hegel were introduced
by Dr. Hutcheson Stirling in his _Secret of Hegel_, and afterwards
in Glasgow by Dr. Caird, who adorned Reid’s chair for nearly thirty
years—methods for making explicit latent Divine Reason as what explains
and sustains the universe. Reid’s appeal in a practical temper, to the
mixed and moral reason in man, as that with which man is inspired—an
appeal widened and prolific of deeper questions in Hamilton—was still too
cautious to attempt to formulate the mysteries of existence, in fully
intelligible principles, which should remove the darkness around the
‘little light’ with which Reid was satisfied. He would have looked with
distrust at the more ambitious intellectual constructions which seemed to
be superseding the common sense of human nature, as the human response
to the sceptic or agnostic, whose philosophical knowledge turned all
knowledge into ignorance at the last. Reid was too human to be satisfied
with merely physical generalisations of sequences and co-existences
of phenomena, finally unintelligible, and therefore unworthy of trust;
and he would have been too cautious to accept a network of abstract
intellectual necessities, latent in the universe, as the last and best
human account of nature and man as actually found in place and time.
To rest satisfied with the evolutionary generalisation he would have
regarded as involving the ‘common error of philosophers since the days
of Plato,’ in confounding moral agency with physical causation. Of the
magnificent Hegelian constructions he would probably have said, what
he says of Samuel Clarke’s theological demonstration—‘These are the
speculations of men of superior genius. But whether they be as solid as
they are sublime, or whether they be the wanderings of imagination in a
region beyond the limit of human understanding, I am unable to determine.’

The alternatives presented to this generation—either agnostic pessimist
despair or universal science in which man is in some sense identified
with God—final nescience _versus_ final omniscience—ultimate and
universal problem of existence taking the place of a Reid’s science of
human mind—represent the unending struggle between sceptical distrust of
the Universal Power, ignorantly worshipped, and reasonable ethical faith
in the Universal Power, with consequent hope for men. It is in Scotland
a new form of the war with David Hume to which Reid’s life was given.
It has been going on since Socrates argued with the Sophists at Athens,
and since Job justified the morality of Providence among the Eastern
emirs. The eighteenth-century question, ‘What is Matter?’ has risen
in the nineteenth to the question, ‘What is God?’ The inspired Common
Sense or Common Reason of Reid seems to be sublimated in universally
necessitating dialectical Reason, in this Scoto-German way of resisting
the agnostic. To fill the place of the ‘unknown and unknowable God’
of the Hamiltonian emphasis, human knowledge appears identified and
co-extensive with the Divine, in an absolute idealism, presumed to be
the only adequate refutation of all subverting doubt. The ‘_raison
impuissante_,’ sustained by and culminating in ‘_la nature_,’ or inspired
common sense, is exchanged for what looks like a pantheistic necessity
that leaves no room for moral agency in man or God, and which scorns the
incomplete knowledge that cannot dispense with a faith venture at its
root.

Yet Reid, if he were now among us, might find the common sense not
superseded but idealised, in the more articulate response of reason
in man to the all-pervading active Reason which the later philosopher
identifies with his own. That the common sense latent in man is the
inspiration of God is an assumption with which he started in his
_Inquiry_. ‘The inspiration of the Almighty giveth man understanding.’
‘The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord.’ So the common sense moral
trust in God, or universal moral venture, is at the root of all human
life and human knowledge, giving unity and vitality to the whole. It is
the ‘little light’—a ray from the perfect divine light,—and the universe
is interpretable for all human purposes only in and through it. It is
that in each of us through which the inspirations in the ideal man,
when dormant in individuals, can nevertheless be made to respond, in an
ethical or religious common sense of the infinite love and mercy of the
all-sustaining Power that is always waiting to be gracious—to respond to
the inspirations of Hebrew prophets and Christian apostles.

If ‘knowledge’ means only what is reached by the logical understanding
elaborating materials given by sense; and if the name is denied to
the inspirations of the Common Sense, what those inspirations should
be called becomes a question about the meaning of a word. God is then
‘unknowable’ by man, only inasmuch as faith in the perfect reason and
goodness of the Universal Power is more than an ordinary scientific
generalisation. But if we recognise in the Common Sense, and in its
underlying Theistic Faith, that without which all our knowledge must
dissolve in ignorance, then the faith must be accepted as in reason the
final ground of the knowledge; and therefore as in us the last form of
the universal reason, in and through which what is divine in us protests
against limitation to an intelligence that becomes paralysed in the
absence of this its indispensable factor. If knowledge means omniscient
physical science of the universe of reality, then the universe of
reality _is_ finally unknown and unknowable. But if man _can_ live in
intelligible relations to what transcends natural science,—call this
which enables him so to live, ‘knowledge,’ ‘science,’ ‘common sense,’
‘faith,’ ‘inspiration,’ ‘revelation,’ ‘feeling,’ or ‘reason,’—it is
treasure found for the philosopher.

Can Reid’s ‘common sense’ be sublimated into the universal consciousness
of Hegelian dialectic, and does this translation of faith into absolute
science constitute the true ideal of Scottish common sense philosophy at
the end of the nineteenth century? Is common knowledge, and scientific
knowledge in special sciences, only knowledge ‘in part,’ while the true
philosopher may aspire to know even as God knows? Must man thus claim
omniscience as the only fit ground of his protest against sceptical
nescience? Or, must his interpretation of the experience through which
he is passing be, even in the end, only an inspired faith-venture,
instead of the omniscience which elevates the common sense into itself?
Rather, must not the supposed omniscience, which is dissatisfied with
faith-ventures, because faith is supposed to be blind, be itself only the
common sense under another name—but with its intellectual constitution
more articulately explicated?

Surely only omniscience and omnipotence can dispense with the moral and
religious venture of our inspired common sense and its implied theistic
faith, as the root of reason in man—in his intermediate place and office,
between perfect knowledge and total ignorance. So understood, Reid’s
philosophy is _virtually_ the philosophy that makes its final appeal to
the divine in man, latent in each individual man, in and through whom
the universe is gradually interpreted as a revelation of perfect reason
or perfect goodness. True philosophy is then the moral and religious
venture which accepts and applies the principles of common sense, in the
assurance that, in genuine submission to their inspired authority, we
cannot finally be put to intellectual or moral confusion. Faith in God is
latent even in the perceptions of external sense, in which Reid found the
first example of the operation of this inspiration. Alike in the outer
world of the senses, and in free or responsible agency in man, filial
faith, ethical or theistic, may be justified by reasoning, although it
Cannot be reached by logic as a direct conclusion from premises. It is
our primary postulate, and not an object of logical proof; therefore
credible in reason while it is not demonstrable.

In this way a humanised Hegelianism, which seeks to restore or retain
the often dormant faith in the perfectly good God, and thus in the
future of man, may even be taken as in line with Reid, under the altered
intellectual conditions at the end of the nineteenth century. It
virtually appeals at last to moral faith.[28]

       *       *       *       *       *

Poetry in another way than philosophy expresses and interprets for man
the inspired experience that transcends physical science and its logical
understanding. And we find in the great poets of the Victorian era an
appeal through the imagination to those elements in human nature, to
which Reid made argumentative appeal as a philosopher. In this lies
Wordsworth’s ‘healing power.’ His ‘Intimations of Immortality’ express
divine inspirations, through which man learns to understand himself and
his surroundings—inspirations that, dormant, ‘fade into the light of
common day,’ yet, recovered by reflection, ‘in a season of calm weather,
though inland far we be, our souls have sight of that immortal sea which
brought us hither.’ And ‘In Memoriam’ is Tennyson’s protest against the
doubting spirit of the age, on behalf of the final and life-determining
principles, which underlie creeds, belong to our earliest childhood,
and on which the wisest and best have rested with a more or less
intelligent consciousness through the ages—God revealed in the ideal man
latent in all men. The human office of inspired common sense or ethical
reason, final for beings whose ‘knowledge’ must be intermediate between
omniscience and blind ignorance of mere sense and feeling, is its tacit
philosophy—

      ‘Our wills are _ours_, we know not how,
    Our wills are ours, to make them Thine.

    We have but _faith_: we cannot _know_;
      For knowledge is of things we see;
      And yet we trust it comes from _Thee_,
    A beam in darkness: let it _grow_.

    Let knowledge grow from more to more,
      But more of reverence in us dwell;
      That mind and soul, according well,
    May make one music as before,

    But vaster.’

Our scientific interpretation of the ever-changing universe at last rests
on ethical theistic faith, and the Christian revelation of divine love is
responded to by the divine inspiration of God in Man, in the form of the
spiritual Common Sense. If this be not so, we cannot rely on the Common
Sense, for it then belongs to a morally untrustworthy universe.

Established on this faith, philosophy or theology, in Scotland and
throughout the world, awaits the sceptical criticism and the spiritual
healing power of the masters of thought in the twentieth century, for its
further development, and application to human affairs.


THE END



FOOTNOTES


[1] The above from data at Birkwood.

[2] _Scottish Notes and Queries_, iii. 84-88; 128.

[3] The number is, unfortunately, unrecorded.

[4] Birkwood MSS.

[5] In _Scotland and Scotsmen of the Eighteenth Century_, by Ramsay of
Ochtertyre, there is an interesting account of this Mr. Bisset.

[6] _Essays on the Intellectual Powers_, II. ch. 10.

[7] While he lived here, he seems to have retained the incumbency of New
Machar till May 1752.

[8] Long ago removed. I have an engraving of it.

[9] These MS. dissertations have been lately recovered, and I have thus
been able to compare them with the _Inquiry_, in which I find them mostly
embodied.

[10] Birkwood MS.

[11] I have elsewhere discussed the true meaning of Berkeley’s philosophy.

[12] Between the College and the Cathedral, diverging to the east.

[13] Watt began those experiments in Glasgow about 1763.

[14] The American revolt was a severe stroke to Glasgow at the time,
though it led to a great development of manufactures in the city
afterwards. See Colville’s _By-Ways of History_ (1897), pp. 281-314.

[15] William Traill, a Glasgow graduate, was elected. Playfair (of St.
Andrews), afterwards Professor John Playfair of Edinburgh, was also a
candidate, then only eighteen.

[16] The Bell of the Brae.

[17] The Forth and Clyde Canal was commenced in 1768 and opened from sea
to sea in 1790.

[18] Ramsay of Ochtertyre, who often met him at Blair Drummond, mentions
that ‘for more than fifteen years Reid spent great part of the College
vacation there with Lord Kames.’

[19] Kant’s uncritical identification of Reid’s philosophical appeal
to the common rational sense with the popular appeal and declamation
of Oswald and even Beattie, is exposed by Professor Sidgwick in _Mind_
(April 1895).

[20] Birkwood MSS.

[21] Birkwood MSS.

[22] Professor Richardson’s Memoir of Arthur.

[23] _The World as Will and Idea_, translated by Mr. Haldane and Mr.
Kemp, ii. 240. Schopenhauer makes other interesting references to Reid.

[24] Birkwood MSS.

[25] See also Reid’s _Essays on the Active Powers_, I. 1-6, and _passim_.

[26] M. Boutroux, in _Revue Française d’Edimbourg_, No. 4.

[27] Reid’s philosophy was Renan’s ‘ideal’ in his early life, according
to his biographer.

[28] So in the ‘Preliminary Notice,’ in the new edition of Dr. Stirling’s
_Secret of Hegel_—last paragraph.





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