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The Enlightenment Period

Thomas Reid and Jeremy Bentham

Did Thomas Reid have his own ideas, in addition to saying why the empiricists were wrong?

Yes, and Reid was highly influential for a while, although he is often overlooked as an Enlightenment philosopher. He lectured at King’s College, Aberdeen, and held the chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow. His main publications were An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764), Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1785), and Essays on the Active Powers of Man (1788).

After rejecting the empiricist representative theory of knowledge, Reid developed an intuitionist theory of knowledge in terms of mental faculties: Reid thought that we have innate powers of conception and conviction. There are first principles that we can identify by their early appearance, universality, and irresistibility. We could not deny an irresistible principle. For instance, sensations are operations of the mind that, together with impressions made on our sense organs, cause our conceptions of primary and secondary qualities. A sensation of smell thus suggests that there is a quality in the object causing the sensation. In analyzing vision, Reid reasoned that the data are received on the round surface of the eye, but processed within it. He concluded that visual space must have a non-Euclidian geometry of curved space (he was about a century ahead of his time in postulating non-Euclidian geometry).



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