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Ideas of Thomas Reid, by Text

[British, 1710 - 1796, Born at Aberdeen. Professor at the University of Glasgow.]

1764 An Enquiry
6.24 p.18 We treat testimony with a natural trade off of belief and caution
     Full Idea: Reid says we naturally operate counterpart principles of veracity and credulity in our testimonial exchanges.
     From: report of Thomas Reid (An Enquiry [1764], 6.24) by Miranda Fricker - Epistemic Injustice 1.3 n11
     A reaction: What you would expect from someone who believed in common sense. Fricker contrasts this with Tyler Burge's greater confidence, and then criticises both (with Reid too cautious and Burge over-confident). She defends a 'low-level' critical awareness.
1785 Essays on Intellectual Powers 5: Abstraction
p.157 Real identity admits of no degrees
     Full Idea: Wherever identity is real, it admits of no degrees.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 5: Abstraction [1785]), quoted by David Wiggins - Sameness and Substance Renewed 6 epig
     A reaction: Wiggins quotes this with strong approval. Personally I am inclined to think that identity may admit of no degrees in human thought, because that is the only way we can do it, but the world is full of uncertain identities, at every level.
3 p.239 First we notice and name attributes ('abstracting'); then we notice that subjects share them ('generalising')
     Full Idea: First we resolve or analyse a subject into its known attributes, and give a name to each attribute. Then we observe one or more attributes to be common to many subjects. The first philosophers call 'abstraction', and the second is 'generalising'.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 5: Abstraction [1785], 3)
     A reaction: It is very unfashionable in analytic philosophy to view universals in this way, but it strikes me as obviously correct. There are not weird abstract entities awaiting a priori intuition. There are just features of the world to be observed and picked out.
3 p.242 No one thinks two sheets possess a single whiteness, but all agree they are both white
     Full Idea: If we say that the whiteness of this sheet is the whiteness of another sheet, every man perceives this to be absurd; but when he says both sheets are white, this is true and perfectly understood.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 5: Abstraction [1785], 3)
     A reaction: Well said. Only a philosopher could think the whiteness of one sheet is exactly the same entity as the whiteness of a different sheet. We seem to have brilliantly and correctly labelled them both as white, and then thought that one word implies one thing.
6 p.244 Only individuals exist
     Full Idea: Everything that really exists is an individual.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 5: Abstraction [1785], 6)
     A reaction: Locke is the probable inspiration for this nominalist affirmation. Not sure how high temperature plasma, or the oceans of the world, fit into this. On the whole I agree with him. He is mainly rejecting abstract universals.
6 p.245 Universals are not objects of sense and cannot be imagined - but can be conceived
     Full Idea: A universal is not an object of any sense, and therefore cannot be imagined; but it may be distinctly conceived.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 5: Abstraction [1785], 6)
     A reaction: If you try to imagine whiteness, what size is it, and what substance embodies it? Neither are needed to think of whiteness, so Reid is right. A nice observation.
6 p.247 We must first conceive things before we can consider them
     Full Idea: No man can consider a thing which he does not conceive.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 5: Abstraction [1785], 6)
     A reaction: This seems to imply concepts, but we should not take this to be linguistic, since animals obviously consider things and make judgements.
1785 Essays on Intellectual Powers 4: Conception
1 p.223 A word's meaning is the thing conceived, as fixed by linguistic experts
     Full Idea: The meaning of a word (such as 'felony') is the thing conceived; and that meaning is the conception affixed to it by those who best understand the language.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 4: Conception [1785], 1)
     A reaction: He means legal experts. This is precisely that same as Putnam's account of the meaning of 'elm tree'. His discussion here of reference is the earliest I have encountered, and it is good common sense (for which Reid is famous).
1 p.223 Objects have an essential constitution, producing its qualities, which we are too ignorant to define
     Full Idea: Individuals and objects have a real essence, or constitution of nature, from which all their qualities flow: but this essence our faculties do not comprehend. They are therefore incapable of definition.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 4: Conception [1785], 1)
     A reaction: Aha - he's one of us! I prefer the phrase 'essential nature' of an object, which is understood, I think, by everyone. I especially like the last bit, directed at those who mistakenly think that Aristotle identified the essence with the definition.
1 p.225 Reference is by name, or a term-plus-circumstance, or ostensively, or by description
     Full Idea: An individual is expressed by a proper name, or by a general word joined to distinguishing circumstances; if unknown, it may be pointed out to the senses; when beyond the reach of the senses it may be picked out by an imperfect but true description.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 4: Conception [1785], 1)
     A reaction: [compressed] If Putnam, Kripke and Donnellan had read this paragraph they could have save themselves a lot of work! I take reference to be the activity of speakers and writers, and these are the main tools of the trade.
IV.III p.182 Impossibilites are easily conceived in mathematics and geometry
     Full Idea: Reid pointed out how easily conceivable mathematical and geometric impossibilities are.
     From: report of Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 4: Conception [1785], IV.III) by George Molnar - Powers 11.3
     A reaction: The defence would be that you have to really really conceive them, and the only way the impossible can be conceived is by blurring it at the crucial point, or by claiming to conceive more than you actually can
1785 Essays on Intellectual Powers 2: Senses
p.19 Reid is seen as the main direct realist of the eighteenth century
     Full Idea: Reid is often represented by modern opponents of the empiricists as the outstanding protagonist of direct or naïve realism and common sense in the eighteenth century.
     From: report of Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 2: Senses [1785]) by Howard Robinson - Perception 1.6
     A reaction: Robinson does not deny that this is Reid's view. Keith Lehrer is a great fan of Reid. Personally I think direct realism is quite clearly false, so I find myself losing interest in Reid's so-called 'common sense'.
05 p.165 Accepting the existence of anything presupposes the notion of existence
     Full Idea: The belief of the existence of anything seems to suppose a notion of existence - a notion too abstract, perhaps, to enter into the mind of an infant.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 2: Senses [1785], 05)
     A reaction: But even a small infant has to cope with the experience of waking up from a dream. I don't see how existence can be anything other than a primitive concept in any system of ontology.
10 p.170 Truths are self-evident to sensible persons who understand them clearly without prejudice
     Full Idea: Self-evident propositions are those which appear evident to every man of sound understanding who apprehends the meaning of them distinctly, and attends to them without prejudice.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 2: Senses [1785], 10)
     A reaction: I suspect that there are some truths which are self-evident to dogs. There are also truths which are self-evident to experts, but not to ordinary persons of good understanding. Self-evidence is somewhat contextual. Self-evidence can be empirical.
17 p.184 Primary qualities are the object of mathematics
     Full Idea: The primary qualities are the object of the mathematical sciences.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 2: Senses [1785], 17)
     A reaction: He spells out this crucial point, which is not so obvious in Locke. The sciences totally rely on the primary qualities, so it is ridiculous to reject the distinction (which Reid accepts).
17 p.185 Secondary qualities conjure up, and are confused with, the sensations which produce them
     Full Idea: The thought of a secondary quality always carries us back to the sensation which it produces.We give the same name to both, and are apt to confound them.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 2: Senses [1785], 17)
     A reaction: 'Redness', for example. Reid puts the point very nicely. Secondary qualities are not entirely mental; they pick out features of the world, but are much harder to understand than the primary qualities. The qualia question lurks.
18 p.187 It is unclear whether a toothache is in the mind or in the tooth, but the word has a single meaning
     Full Idea: If it be made a question whether the toothache be in the mind that feels it, or in tooth that is affected, much might be said on both sides, while it is not observed that the word has two meanings.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 2: Senses [1785], 18)
     A reaction: I'm glad Reid was struck by the weird phenomenon of the brain apparently 'projecting' a pain into a tooth. Presumably before the brain's role was known, people were unaware of this puzzle. There certainly are not two distinct experiences.
19 p.192 Only mature minds can distinguish the qualities of a body
     Full Idea: I think it requires some ripeness of understanding to distinguish the qualities of a body from the body; perhaps this distinction is not made by brutes, or by infants.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 2: Senses [1785], 19)
     A reaction: I'm glad the brutes get a mention in his assessment of these questions. I take such thinking to arise from what can be labelled the faculty of abstraction, which presumably only appears in a mature brain. It is second-level thinking.
20 p.199 People dislike believing without evidence, and try to avoid it
     Full Idea: To believe without evidence is a weakness which every man is concerned to avoid, and which every man wishes to avoid.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 2: Senses [1785], 20)
     A reaction: It seems to be very common, though, for people to believe things on incredibly flimsy evidence, if they find the belief appealing. This is close to Clifford's Principle, but not quite as dogmatic.
20 p.201 If non-rational evidence reaches us, it is reason which then makes use of it
     Full Idea: If Nature gives us information of things that concern us, by other means that by reasoning, reason itself will direct us to receive that information with thankfulness, and to make the best use of it.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 2: Senses [1785], 20)
     A reaction: This is more of a claim than an argument, but it is hard to see how anything could even be seen as evidence if some sort of rational judgement has not been made. The clever detective sees which facts are evidence.
II.16 p.59 Sensation is not committed to any external object, but perception is
     Full Idea: Sensation, by itself, implies neither the conception nor belief of any external object. ...Perception implies a conviction and belief of something external. ...Things so different in their nature ought to be distinguished.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 2: Senses [1785], II.16), quoted by Barry Maund - Perception
     A reaction: Maund sees this as the origin of the two-stage view of perception, followed by Chisholm, Evans, Dretske and Lowe. It implies that 'looks', 'tastes', 'sounds' etc. are ambiguous words, having either phenomenal or realist meanings. I like it.
1785 Essays on Intellectual Powers 6: Judgement
1 p.257 If you can't distinguish the features of a complex object, your notion of it would be a muddle
     Full Idea: If you perceive an object, white, round, and a foot in diameter, if you had not been able to distinguish the colour from the figure, and both from the magnitude, your senses would only give you one complex and confused notion of all these mingled together
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 6: Judgement [1785], 1)
     A reaction: His point is that if you reject the 'abstraction' of these qualities, you still cannot deny that distinguishing them is an essential aspect of perceiving complex things. Does this mean that animals distinguish such things?
4 p.259 In obscure matters the few must lead the many, but the many usually lead in common sense
     Full Idea: In matters beyond the reach of common understanding, the many are led by the few, and willingly yield to their authority. But, in matters of common sense, the few must yield to the many, when local and temporary prejudices are removed.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 6: Judgement [1785], 4)
     A reaction: Wishful thinking in the 21st century, when the many routinely deny the authority of the expert few, and the expert few occasionally prove that the collective common sense of the many is delusional. I still sort of agree with Reid.
4 p.261 An ad hominem argument is good, if it is shown that the man's principles are inconsistent
     Full Idea: It is a good argument ad hominem, if it can be shewn that a first principle which a man rejects, stands upon the same footing with others which he admits, …for he must then be guilty of an inconsistency.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 6: Judgement [1785], 4)
     A reaction: Good point. You can't divorce 'pure' reason from the reasoners, because the inconsistency of two propositions only matters when they are both asserted together. …But attacking the ideas isn't quite the same as attacking the person.
4 p.265 The structure of languages reveals a uniformity in basic human opinions
     Full Idea: What is common in the structure of languages, indicates an uniformity of opinion in those things upon which that structure is grounded.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 6: Judgement [1785], 4)
     A reaction: Reid was more interested than his contemporaries in the role of language in philosophy. The first idea sounds like Chomsky. I would add to this that the uniformity of common opinion reflects uniformities in the world they are talking about.
5 p.266 The existence of tensed verbs shows that not all truths are necessary truths
     Full Idea: If all truths were necessary truths, there would be no occasion for different tenses in the verbs by which they are expressed.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 6: Judgement [1785], 5)
     A reaction: This really is like modern linguistic analysis. Of course the tensed verbs might only indicate times when the universal necessities have been noticed by speakers. …But then the noticing would be contingent!
5 p.267 If someone denies that he is thinking when he is conscious of it, we can only laugh
     Full Idea: If any man could be found so frantic as to deny that he thinks, while he is conscious of it, I may wonder, I may laugh, or I may pity him, but I cannot reason the matter with him.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 6: Judgement [1785], 5)
     A reaction: An example of the influence of Descartes' Cogito running through all subsequent European philosophy. There remain the usual questions about personal identity which then arise, but Reid addresses those.
5 p.267 Consciousness is an indefinable and unique operation
     Full Idea: Consciousness is an operation of the understanding of its own kind, and cannot be logically defined.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 6: Judgement [1785], 5)
     A reaction: It is interesting that has tried to define consciousness, rather than just assuming it. I note that he calls consciousness an 'operation', rather than an entity. Good.
5 p.271 The theory of ideas, popular with philosophers, means past existence has to be proved
     Full Idea: The theory concerning ideas, so generally received by philosophers, destroys all the authority of memory. …This theory made it necessary for them to find out arguments to prove the existence of external objects …and of things past.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 6: Judgement [1785], 5)
     A reaction: Reid was a very articulate direct realist. He seems less aware than the rest of us of the problem of delusions and false memories. Our strong sense that immediate memories are reliable is certainly inexplicable.
5 p.273 The existence of ideas is no more obvious than the existence of external objects
     Full Idea: If external objects be perceived immediately, we have the same reason to believe their existence as philosophers have to believe the existence of ideas.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 6: Judgement [1785], 5)
     A reaction: He doesn't pay much attention to mirages and delusions, but in difficult conditions of perception we are confident of our experiences but doubtful about the objects they represent.
5 p.273 We are only aware of other beings through our senses; without that, we are alone in the universe
     Full Idea: We can have no communication, no correspondence or society with any created being, but by means of our senses. And, until we rely on their testimony, we must consider ourselves as being alone in the universe.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 6: Judgement [1785], 5)
     A reaction: I'm not aware of any thinker before this so directly addressing solipsism. Even the champion of direct and common sense realism has to recognise the intermediary of our senses when accepting other minds.
6 p.285 There are axioms of taste - such as a general consensus about a beautiful face
     Full Idea: I think there are axioms, even in matters of taste. …I never heard of any man who thought it a beauty in a human face to want a nose, or an eye, or to have the mouth on one side.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 6: Judgement [1785], 6)
     A reaction: It is hard to disagree, but the human face may be a special case, since it is so deeply embedded in the minds of even the youngest infants. More recent artists seem able to discover beauty in very unlikely places.
1785 Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory
1 p.207 We all trust our distinct memories (but not our distinct imaginings)
     Full Idea: Every man feels he must believe what he distinctly remembers, though he can give no other reason for his belief, but that he remembers the thing distinctly; whereas, when he merely distinctly imagines a thing, he has no belief in it upon that account.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], 1)
     A reaction: The word 'distinct' is doing some heavy work here. I fear that believing the memory is the only criterion we have for calling it distinct. As a boy I was persuaded to change my testimony about a car accident, and I realised I was not distinct about it.
1 p.208 Without memory we could have no concept of duration
     Full Idea: It is impossible to show how we could acquire a notion of duration if we had no memory.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], 1)
     A reaction: We would probably not have a notion of duration if we possessed a memory, but nothing ever changed. Maybe in Shoemaker's frozen worlds they retain memories, but nothing happens?
III.Ch 4 p.107 I can hardly care about rational consequence if it wasn't me conceiving the antecedent
     Full Idea: The conviction of personal identity is indispensably necessary to all exercise of reason. Reasoning is made up of successive parts. Without the conviction that the antecedent have been seen by me, I could have no reason to proceed to the consequent.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
     A reaction: Society needs philosophers precisely to point such things out. It isn't conclusive, but populist waffle about the self not existing undermines the very concept of a 'train of thought', which everybody is signed up to. Trains of thought can take years.
III.Ch 4 p.108 Identity is familiar to common sense, but very hard to define
     Full Idea: Every man of common sense has a clear and distinct notion of identity. If you ask for a definition of identity, I confess I can give none. It is too simple a notion.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
     A reaction: 'Identical' seems to be a two-place predicate, but the only strict way two things can be identical is if there is actually just one thing. In which case just drop the word 'identity' (instead of defining it), and say there is just one thing here.
III.Ch 4 p.108 Continuity is needed for existence, otherwise we would say a thing existed after it ceased to exist
     Full Idea: Identity supposes an uninterrupted continuance of existence….Otherwise we must suppose a being to exist after it has ceased to exist, and to have existed before it was produced, which are manifest contradictions.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
     A reaction: I take the point to be that if something is supposed to survive a gap in its existence, that must imply that it somehow exists during the gap. If a light flashes on and off, is it really a new entity each time?
III.Ch 4 p.109 Thoughts change continually, but the self doesn't
     Full Idea: My thoughts, and actions, and feelings, change every moment: they have no continued, but a successive, existence: but that self, or I, to which they belong, is permanent.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
     A reaction: The word 'permanent' may be excessive, but one could hardly say there is nothing more to personal identity than the contents of consciousnes, given how much and how quickly those continually fluctuate.
III.Ch 4 p.110 Memory reveals my past identity - but so does testimony of other witnesses
     Full Idea: Although memory gives the most irresistible evidence of my being the identical person that did such a thing, I may have other good evidence of things which befell me. I know who bare me and suckled me, but I do not remember those events.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
     A reaction: A splendidly accurate and simple observation. Reid's criticisms of Locke are greatly superior to those of Butler. We now have vast collections of photographs showing our past identities.
III.Ch 4 p.111 The identity of a thief is only known by similarity, but memory gives certainty in our own case
     Full Idea: A man challenges a thief in possession of his horse only on similarity. The testimony of witnesses to the identity of a person is commonly grounded on no other evidence. ...Evidence of our own identity is grounded in memory, and gives undoubted certainty.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
     A reaction: With other people the best we can hope for is type-identity, hoping that each individual being is a unique type, but with otherselves we are always confident of establishing token identity. Could I have been someone different yesterday, without realising?
III.Ch 4 p.111 A person is a unity, and doesn't come in degrees
     Full Idea: The identity of a person is a perfect identity: wherever it is real, it admits of no degrees; and it is impossible that a person should be in part the same, and in part different; because a person is a 'monad', and is not divisible into parts.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
     A reaction: I don't accept this, because I don't accept the metaphysics needed to underpin it. To watch a person with Alzheimer's disease fade out of existence before they die seems sufficient counter-evidence. I believe in personal identity, but it isn't 'perfect'.
III.Ch 4 p.112 We treat slowly changing things as identical for the sake of economy in language
     Full Idea: All bodies, as they consist of innumerable parts, are subject to continual changes of their substance. When such changes are gradual, because language could not afford a different name for each state, it retains the same name and is considered the same.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
     A reaction: This is hard to deny. We could hardly rename a child each morning. Simlarly, we can't have a unique name for each leaf on a tree. Economy of language explains a huge amount in philosophy.
III.Ch 4 p.112 Personal identity is the basis of all rights, obligations and responsibility
     Full Idea: Identity, when applied to persons, has no ambiguity, and admits of no degrees. It is the foundation of all rights and obligations, and of all accountableness.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
     A reaction: This seems to me to be one of the key mistakes in all of philosophy - thinking that items must always be all-or-nothing. If a person deteriorates through Alzheimer's, there seem to be obvious degrees of personhood. Responsibility comes in degrees, too.
III.Ch 6 p.114 If consciousness is transferable 20 persons can be 1; forgetting implies 1 can be 20
     Full Idea: If the same consciousness can be transferred from one intelligent being to another, then two or twenty beings may be the same person. If he may lose the consciousness of actions done by him, one intelligent being may be two or twenty different persons.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 6)
     A reaction: Reid says Locke was aware of these two implications of his theory of personal identity (based on consciousness). The first example is me replicated like software. The second is if I forget that I turned the light off, then who did turn the light off?
III.Ch 6 p.114 Boy same as young man, young man same as old man, old man not boy, if forgotten!
     Full Idea: Suppose a brave officer, flogged as a boy for robbing an orchard, to have captured a standard in his first campaign, and become a general in advanced life. [If the general forgets the flogging] he is and at the same time is not the same as the boy.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 6)
     A reaction: The point is that strict identity has to be transitive, and if the general forgets his boyhood that breaks the transitivity. If identity is less strict there is no problem. The general may only have memories related to some part of his boyhood.
III.Ch 6 p.116 If a stolen horse is identified by similitude, its identity is not therefore merely similitude
     Full Idea: When a stolen horse is claimed, the only evidence that this is the same horse is similitude. But would it not be ridiculous from this to infer that the identity of a horse consists in similitude only?
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 6)
     A reaction: Actually that is exactly Hume's view of the matter (Idea 21292). For a strict empiricist there is nothing else be close resemblance over time. I prefer Reid's account to Hume's. - but then I am not a 'strict' empiricist.
III.Ch 6 p.116 If consciousness is personal identity, it is continually changing
     Full Idea: Is it not strange that the identity of a person should consist in a thing (consciousness) which is continually changing?
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 6)
     A reaction: This is the panicky slippery slope view of Locke, that sees his doctrine as the first step to the destruction of religion. The fact is, though, that parts of my consciousness changes continually, but other parts stay the same for years on end.
III.Ch 6 p.116 Identity can only be affirmed of things which have a continued existence
     Full Idea: Identity can only be affirmed of things which have a continued existence.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 3: Memory [1785], III.Ch 6)
     A reaction: This doesn't mean that Reid thinks there is nothing more to the identity than their similitude. But he, like Hume, denies that there is personal identity at any given instant. Reid is better at criticism than at formulating his own theory.
1785 Essays on Intellectual Powers 1: Preliminary
1 p.129 The ambiguity of words impedes the advancement of knowledge
     Full Idea: There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 1: Preliminary [1785], 1)
     A reaction: He means that ambiguity leads to long pointless disagreements.
1 p.143 Only philosophers treat ideas as objects
     Full Idea: The vulgar allow that an 'idea' implies a mind that thinks, an act of mind which we call thinking, and an object about which we think. But the philosopher conceives a fourth - the idea, which is the immediate object. …I believe this to be a mere fiction.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 1: Preliminary [1785], 1)
     A reaction: Another example, to add to Yablo's list, of abstract objects invented by philosophers to fill holes in their theories. This one is illuminating, because we all say 'I've got an idea'. Cf discussions of the redundancy of truth. Cf propositions.
2 p.151 Similar effects come from similar causes, and causes are only what are sufficient for the effects
     Full Idea: A first principle is that similar effects proceed from the same or similar causes; that we ought to admit of no other causes …but such as are sufficient to account for the effects.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 1: Preliminary [1785], 2)
     A reaction: He treats these as a priori axioms of natural philosophy. In evolution similar causes seem to produce startlingly divergent effects, such as the mating needs of male birds.
2 p.156 Many truths seem obvious, and point to universal agreement - which is what we find
     Full Idea: There are many truths so obvious to the human faculties, that it should be expected that men should universally agree in them. And this is actually found to be the case with regard to many truths, against which we find no dissent.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers 1: Preliminary [1785], 2)
     A reaction: He says that a few sceptical philosophers may disagree. This is a nice statement of his creed of common sense. I agree with him, and Aristotle observes the same fact.
1788 Essays on Active Powers 1: Active power
p.62 Reid said that agent causation is a unique type of causation
     Full Idea: Thomas Reid said that an agent's causing something involves a fundamentally different kind of causation from inanimate causing.
     From: report of Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 1: Active power [1788]) by Rowland Stout - Action 4 'Agent'
     A reaction: I'm afraid the great philosopher of common sense got it wrong on this one. Introducing a new type of causation into our account of nature is crazy.
p.186 Day and night are constantly conjoined, but they don't cause one another
     Full Idea: A famous example of Thomas Reid: day regularly follows night, and night regularly follows day. There is therefore a constant conjunction between night and day. But day does not cause night, nor does night cause day.
     From: report of Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 1: Active power [1788]) by Tim Crane - Causation 1.2.2
     A reaction: Not a fatal objection to Hume, of course, because in the complex real world there are huge numbers of nested constant conjunctions. Night and the rotation of the Earth are conjoined. But how do you tell which constant conjunctions are causal?
1 p.199 Powers are quite distinct and simple, and so cannot be defined
     Full Idea: Power is a thing so much of its own kind, and so simple in its nature, as to admit of no logical definition.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 1: Active power [1788], 1)
     A reaction: True. And this makes Powers ideally suited for the role of primitives in a metaphysics of nature.
1 p.300 Consciousness is the power of mind to know itself, and minds are grounded in powers
     Full Idea: Consciousness is that power of the mind by which it has an immediate knowledge of its own operations. …Every operation of the mind is the exertion of some power of the mind.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 1: Active power [1788], 1)
     A reaction: I strongly favour this account of the mind and consciousness in terms of powers, because they give the best basis for their dynamic nature, and seem to be primitives which terminate all of our explanations. Science identifies the powers for us.
1 p.302 It is obvious that there could not be a power without a subject which possesses it
     Full Idea: It is evident that a power is a quality, and cannot exist without a subject to which it belongs. That power may exist without any being or subject to which that power may be attributed, is an absurdity, shocking to every man of common understanding.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 1: Active power [1788], 1)
     A reaction: This is understandble in the 18th C, when free-floating powers were inconceivable, but now that we have fields and plasmas and whatnot, we can't rule out pure powers as basic. However, I incline to agree with Reid. Matter is active.
5 p.306 Our own nature attributes free determinations to our own will
     Full Idea: Every man is led by nature to attribute to himself the free determination of his own will, and to believe those events to be in his power which depend upon his will.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 1: Active power [1788], 5)
     A reaction: I'm happy to say we are all responsible for those actions which are caused by the conscious decisions of our own will (our mental decision mechanisms), but personally I would drop the word 'free', which adds nothing. We are not 'ultimately' responsible.
5 p.306 Regular events don't imply a cause, without an innate conviction of universal causation
     Full Idea: A train of events following one another ever so regularly, could never lead us to the notion of a cause, if we had not, from our constitution, a conviction of the necessity of a cause for every event.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 1: Active power [1788], 5)
     A reaction: Presumably a theist like Reid must assume that the actions of God are freely chosen, rather than necessities. It's hard to see why this principle should be innate in us, and hard to see why it must thereby be true. A bit Kantian, this idea.
6 p.309 Thinkers say that matter has intrinsic powers, but is also passive and acted upon
     Full Idea: Those philosophers who attribute to matter the power of gravitation, and other active powers, teach us, at the same time, that matter is a substance altogether inert, and merely passive; …that those powers are impressed on it by some external cause.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 1: Active power [1788], 6)
     A reaction: This shows the dilemma of the period, when 'laws of nature' were imposed on passive matter by God, and yet gravity and magnetism appeared as inherent properties of matter.
6 p.312 Scientists don't know the cause of magnetism, and only discover its regulations
     Full Idea: A Newtonian philosopher …confesses his ignorance of the true cause of magnetic motion, and thinks that his business, as a philosopher, is only to find from experiment the laws by which it is regulated in all cases.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 1: Active power [1788], 6)
     A reaction: Since there is a 'true cause', that implies that the laws don't actively 'regulate' the magnetism, but only describe its regularity, which I think is the correct view of laws.
6 p.313 Laws are rules for effects, but these need a cause; rules of navigation don't navigate
     Full Idea: The laws of nature are the rules according to which the effects are produced; but there must be a cause which operates according to these rules. The rules of navigation never navigated a ship.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 1: Active power [1788], 6)
     A reaction: Very nice. No enquirer should be satisfied with merely discovering patterns; the point is to explain the patterns.
1788 Essays on Active Powers 4: Liberty of Agents
1 p.324 A willed action needs reasonable understanding of what is to be done
     Full Idea: There can be no will without such a degree of understanding, at least, as gives the conception of that which we will.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 4: Liberty of Agents [1788], 1)
     A reaction: Presumably this 'conception' includes an understanding of the probable consequences, but they are of infinite complexity. I see this as an objection to 'ultimate' free will and responsibility, because there are only ever degrees of understanding.
2 p.334 We all know that mere priority or constant conjunction do not have to imply causation
     Full Idea: Every man who understands the language knows that neither priority, nor constant conjunction, nor both taken together, imply efficiency.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 4: Liberty of Agents [1788], 2)
     A reaction: This invites the question of how we do know causal events, if none of our experiences are enough to prove it. Reid says we have an innate knowledge that all events are caused, but that isn't much help. The presence of power?
4 p.335 A motive is merely an idea, like advice, and not a force for action
     Full Idea: A motive is equally incapable of action and of passion; because it is not a thing that exists, but a thing that is conceived. …Motives may be compared to advice or exhortation.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 4: Liberty of Agents [1788], 4)
     A reaction: We say people are motivated by greed or anger or love, which seems a bit stronger than mere advice.
5 p.335 The principle of the law of nature is that matter is passive, and is acted upon
     Full Idea: The law of nature respecting matter is grounded upon this principle: That matter is an inert, inactive substance, which does not act, but is acted upon.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 4: Liberty of Agents [1788], 5)
     A reaction: A clear statement (alongside Euler's) of the 18th century view, still with us, but strikes me as entirely wrong. Their view needs the active power of God to drive the laws. Matter has intrinsic primitive powers, and laws describe patterns of behaviour.
5 p.336 We are morally free, because we experience it, we are accountable, and we pursue projects
     Full Idea: I believe in moral liberty first because we have a natural conviction of belief that in many cases we act freely, second because we are accountable, and third because we can prosecute an end by a long series of means adapted.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 4: Liberty of Agents [1788], 5)
     A reaction: This is his final summary of why he believes in free will. Why didn't Plato and Aristotle have this natural belief? He could only believe we are 'accountable' because he believes in free will. Ants and bees pursue lengthy projects. Hm.
8 p.351 The first motion or effect cannot be produced necessarily, so the First Cause must be a free agent
     Full Idea: That the first motion, or the first effect, whatever it be, cannot be produced necessarily, and, consequently, that the First Cause must be a free agent, has been demonstrated clearly and unanswerably.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 4: Liberty of Agents [1788], 8)
     A reaction: He has said that the First Cause can only be conceived by us as an 'agent'. If there is an agential First Cause, then he must be right. It is this need for God to be free which makes scepticism about free will unacceptable to many.
1788 Essays on Active Powers 3: Princs of action
5 p.315 To be virtuous, we must care about duty
     Full Idea: A man cannot be virtuous, if he has no regard to duty.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 3: Princs of action [1788], 5)
     A reaction: Thus are Aristotle and Kant united in a simple sentence. Aristotle thinks that a virtuous person thereby sees what is the right thing to do, but I take 'duty' to imply a requirement which comes not from good character but from external society.
5 p.315 Every worthy man has a principle of honour, and knows what is honourable
     Full Idea: I presume it will be granted, that, in every man of real worth, there is a principle of honour, a regard to what is honourable or dishonourable, very distinct from a regard to his interest.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 3: Princs of action [1788], 5)
     A reaction: Note that there is a 'principle' of honour in a person's character, and there are also actions which are intrinsically honourable or not. I fear that only the worthy are honourable, and only the honourable are worthy!
5 p.319 If an attempted poisoning results in benefits, we still judge the agent a poisoner
     Full Idea: If a man should give to his neighbour a potion which he really believes will poison him, but which, in the event, proves salutary, and does much good; in moral estimation, he is a poisoner, and not a benefactor.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 3: Princs of action [1788], 5)
     A reaction: I take Reid to mean that morality concerns how we assess the agent, and not the results of his actions. Mill and Bentham concede that we judge people this way, but don't think morality mainly concerns judging people.
6 p.321 We shouldn't do to others what would be a wrong to us in similar circumstances
     Full Idea: It is a first principle of morals, that we ought not to do to another what we should think wrong to be done to us in like circumstances.
     From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Active Powers 3: Princs of action [1788], 6)
     A reaction: This negative form of the rule is more plausible than the positive form, presumably because there is more consensus about what we all dislike than what we all prefer. But presents for people that they would like, not that you like.