Thomas Reid


Scottish Philosopher, Founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense, played an integral role in the Scottish Enlightenment

Author Quotes

We find sects and parties in most branches of science; and disputes which are carried on from age to age, without being brought to an issue. Sophistry has been more effectually excluded from mathematics and natural philosophy than from other sciences. In mathematics it had no place from the beginning; mathematicians having had the wisdom to define accurately the terms they use, and to lay down, as axioms, the first principles on which their reasoning is grounded. Accordingly, we find no parties among mathematicians, and hardly any disputes.

When we contemplate the world of Epicurus, and conceive the universe to be a fortuitous jumble of atoms, there is nothing grand in this idea. The clashing of atoms by blind chance has nothing in it fit to raise our conceptions, or to elevate the mind. But the regular structure of a vast system of beings, produced by creating power, and governed by the best laws which perfect wisdom and goodness could contrive, is a spectacle which elevates the understanding, and fills the soul with devout admiration.

A definition is nothing else but an explication of the meaning of a word, by words whose meaning is already known. Hence it is evident that every word cannot be defined; for the definition must consist of words; and there could be no definition, if there were not words previously understood without definition.

For, until the wisdom of men bear some proportion to the wisdom of God, their attempts to find out the structure of his works, by the force of their wit and genius, will be vain.

It is natural to men to judge of things less known, by some similitude they observe, or think they observe, between them and things more familiar or better known. In many cases, we have no better way of judging. And, where the things compared have really a great similitude in their nature, when there is reason to think that they are subject to the same laws, there may be a considerable degree of probability in conclusions drawn from analogy.

The finest productions of human art are immensely short of the meanest work of Nature. The nicest artist cannot make a feather or the leaf of a tree.

The rules of navigation never navigated a ship. The rules of architecture never built a house.

The want of faith, as well as faith itself, is best shewn by works. If a sceptic avoid the fire as much as those who believe it dangerous to go into it, we can hardly avoid thinking his scepticism to be feigned, and not real.

The wisdom of God exceeds that of the wisest man, more than his wisdom exceeds that of a child. If a child were to conjecture how an army is to be formed in the day of battle--how a city is to be fortified, or a state governed--what chance has he to guess right? As little chance has the wisest man when he pretends to conjecture how the planets move in their courses, how the sea ebbs and flows, and how our minds act upon our bodies.

The wisdom of philosophy is set in opposition to the common sense of mankind. The first pretends to demonstrate, a priori, that there can be no such thing as a material world; that sun, moon, stars, and earth, vegetable and animal bodies, are, and can be nothing else, but sensations in the mind, or images of those sensations in the memory and imagination; that, like pain and joy, they can have no existence when they are not thought of. The last can conceive no otherwise of this opinion, than as a kind of metaphysical lunacy, and concludes that too much learning is apt to make men mad; and that the man who seriously entertains this belief, though in other respects he may be a very good man, as a man may be who believes that he is made of glass; yet, surely he hath a soft place in his understanding, and hath been hurt by much thinking.

The laws of nature are the rules according to which effects are produced; but there must be a lawgiver—a cause which operates according to these rules. The laws of navigation never steered a ship, and the law of gravity never moved a planet. The rules of architecture never built a house.

A philosopher is, no doubt, entitled to examine even those distinctions that are to be found in the structure of all languages... in that case, such a distinction may be imputed to a vulgar error, which ought to be corrected in philosophy.

The skeptical writers are a set whose business it is to prick holes in the fabric of knowledge wherever it is weak and faulty; and when these places are properly repaired, the whole building becomes more firm and solid than it was before.

Acting is not being emotional, but being able to express emotion.

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

And, if we have any evidence that the wisdom which formed the plan is in the man, we have the very same evidence that the power which executed it is in him also.

This, indeed, has always been the fate of the few that have professed skepticism, that, when they have done what they can to discredit their senses, they find themselves, after all, under a necessity of trusting to them. Mr. Hume has been so candid as to acknowledge this; and it is no less true of those who have shewn the same candor; for I never heard that any skeptic runs his head against a post, or stepped into a kennel, because he did not believe his eyes.

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

To everything we call a cause we ascribe power to produce the effect. In intelligent causes, the power may be without being exerted; so I have power to run when I sit still or walk. But in inanimate causes we conceive no power but what is exerted, and therefore measure the power of the cause by the effect which it actually produces. The power of an acid to dissolve iron is measured by what it actually dissolves.

Every conjecture we can form with regard to the works of God has as little probability as the conjectures of a child with regard to the works of a man.

To me grandeur in objects seems nothing else but such a degree of excellence, in one kind or another, as merits our admiration.

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

When we make our own thoughts and passion, and the various operations of our minds, the objects of our attention, either while they are present or when they are recent and fresh in our memory, this act of the mind is called reflection. Attention is the energy of the mind directed towards things present. Reflection has to do with things past and the ideas of them. Attention may employ the organs of the body. Reflection is purely a mental operation.

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

Will is an ambiguous word, being sometimes put for the faculty of willing; sometimes for the act of that faculty; besides other meanings. But “volition” always signifies the act of willing, and nothing else.

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Scottish Philosopher, Founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense, played an integral role in the Scottish Enlightenment