Jacques Maritain Center : History of Philosophy / by William Turner


While German philosophers, inspired by the idea of counteracting the scepticism of Hume, were evolving systems of transcendental philosophy from the principles laid down by Kant, there was developing in Hume's own country a school of philosophy which, although it made common cause with transcendentalism against scepticism, reached conclusions very different from those of the transcendentalists. Indeed, in the first stages of its development, tbe Scottish school was as much opposed to transcendentalism as it was to scepticism; for the doctrine of common sense is not merely an affirmation of dogmatism, but also a protest against absolute idealism.

McCosh, whose work on The Scottish Philosophy{1} is a standard authority, regards Reid as the first "fit representative" of the Scottish school, although Sir William Hamilton traces the history of the school back to Carmichael and Hutcheson.


Life. Thomas Reid (1710-1796), who succeeded Adam Smith as professor of philosophy at the University of Glasgow, is the author of 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). The edition of Reid's works begun by Hamilton (1827) was completed after the latter's death. The seventh edition appeared in 1872.


There are in Reid's philosophy two points of doctrine which deserve special attention: his theory of perception and his doctrine of common sense.

Theory of Perception. Reid rightly traced the immaterialism of Berkeley and the scepticism of Hume to the Cartesian doctrine that what we directly and immediately perceive is not the external object, but a subjective modification which is an image of the object, -- a doctrine which he falsely attributes to the schoolmen.{2} In opposition to this representative theory of perception, Reid maintains the presentative theory, -- that our knowledge of external things is immediate. Startled, however, by his own boldness, as Hamilton observes, he proceeds to deliver the whole case into the hands of his opponents by declaring that the perception of external objects is to be exempted from the region of consciousness, so that while he holds that we have an immediate perception of external objects, he does not admit that we are conscious of such perception.{3}

Doctrine of Common Sense. "Philosophy," Reid teaches, "has no other root but the principles of common sense; it grows out of them and draws its nourishment from them. Severed from this root, its honours wither, its sap is dried up, it dies and rots."{4} Zeno the Eleatic, Pyrrho the sceptic, Berkeley the immaterialist, and Hume the phenomenalist overlooked this truth. Hobbes and Descartes, who were equally neglectful of the claims of common sense, are accountable for "the present unprosperous state" of philosophy.

The principle on which Reid's philosophy is grounded is the following: "All knowledge and all science must be built upon principles that are self-evident; and of such principles every man who has common sense is a competent judge."{5} Self-evident truths, such as the axiom of causality, are to be exempted from critical inquiry; they are primary data of intellectual thought.

In developing this fundamental principle Reid takes advantage of the twofold meaning of the term common sense, namely: (1) the combination of qualities constituting good sense, or the faculty of sound judgment; (2) the aggregate of original principles planted in the minds of all men. Hamilton has shown that if we take the latter meaning of the term, Reid's argument is a valid and legitimate refutation of scepticism.{6}

Historical Position. Not even the most enthusiastic of Reid's admirers claim for him the title of great philosopher. "He has not," writes McCosh, "the mathematical consecutiveness of Descartes, the speculative genius of Leibnitz, the sagacity of Locke, the spirituelle of Berkeley, or the detective skill of Hume."{7} Reid himself was of opinion that "it is genius and not the want of it that adulterates philosophy." The greatest benefit that Reid conferred on philosophy was the importance which he attached, and succeeded in causing others to attach, to introspection, or self-observation.

James Oswald (1727-1793) and James Beattie (1735-1803) popularized and applied to theological controversy the principles of the philosophy of common sense. Mention must also be made of a contemporary of Reid, the eccentric author of Ancient Metaphysics, or the Science of Universals (Edinburgh, 1779-1799), namely, James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1714-1799).

The philosophy of the Scottish school was developed by Stewart, Brown, and Mackintosh before reaching its final phase as represented in the philosophy of Hamilton.


Life. Dugald Stewart (1753-1828) was the most eminent of the followers of Reid. His principal work is entitled Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind. His Collected Works were published in ten volumes by Hamilton (Edinburgh, 1854-1858).


Stewart accepts Reid's analysis of perception. While vindicating Reid's empirical method of self-observation, he attached greater importance than Reid had done to the association of ideas. He protested, however, with the utmost vigor against the materialism of the first associationists, Hartley, Priestley, and Erasmus Darwin.{8}


Life. Thomas Brown (1778-1820), after studying law and medicine at the University of Edinburgh, was appointed in 1810 associate professor with Dugald Stewart. His chief works are An Inquiry into the Relation of Cause and Effect (1804) and Lectures on the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1820).


Brown retains the fundamental doctrine of the Scottish school, namely, the existence of indemonstrable first principles. He is, however, more inclined than were his predecessors to restrict the number of these principles and to give larger scope to association in accounting for the origin of our universal and necessary beliefs. In his analysis of the processes of sensation he attaches great importance to the muscular sense. With regard to causation, he teaches that, while the relation of cause and effect is merely one of invariable succession, our judgment concerning that relation is not the result of association or custom, but a primitive, or intuitive, belief.


Life. Sir James Mackintosh (1765-1832) was no less distinguished as a statesman, historian, essayist, and critic than as a philosopher. His principal philosophical works are a Dissertation on the Progress of Ethical Philosophy (contributed in 1830 to the Encyclopaedia Britannica), and a Discourse on the Law of Nature and Nations (1799).


Mackintosh, while adhering to the original speculative principle of the Scottish school, even going so far as to accuse Brown of openly revolting against the authority of Reid, departed from the ethical tradition of the followers of Hutcheson to the extent of admitting that benevolence is the universal characteristic of human virtue. But although he betrays here the influence of the utilitarians, he does not maintain that the happiness of others is the universal criterion of moral conduct. He is inclined rather to side with the intuitionists and to insist on the supremacy of the immediate judgment of conscience.

The next representative of the Scottish school is Sir William Hamilton, who, under the influence of Kantian principles, developed the philosophy of his predecessors, Reid and Stewart, into a more comprehensive system. It was, however, inevitable that the introduction of foreign elements of speculative criticism should react on the dogmatism of the founders of the school, and lead to a partial scepticism, which, in the nineteenth century, proved a no less formidable foe to theism in religion and to absolutism in philosophy than was Hume's scepticism in the eighteenth.


Life. Sir William Hamilton was born at Glasgow in 1788. After completing his studies in the department of arts in the university of his native city, he took up the study of medicine at Edinburgh. In 1807 he went to Oxford. After leaving Oxford he began the study of law, and in 1813 was admitted to the Scottish bar. In 1821 he was appointed to the chair of civil history in the University of Edinburgh. In 1836 he was appointed to the chair of logic and metaphysics, which he held until his death in 1856.

Sources. Besides the Discussions on Philosophy, Literature, and Education (1852), the Lectures on Metaphysics (second edition, 1866), the Lectures on Logic (second edition, 1866), and many important articles in the Edinburgh Review (from 1829 to 1839), Hamilton contributed to English philosophical literature his valuable editions of Reid's and Stewart's works. Consult: J. S. Mill's Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (London, 1865; fifth edition, 1878); Wight's Philosophy of Sir William Hamilton (New York, 1854); Bowen's Metaphysics of Sir W. Hamilton (Cambridge, Mass., 1867); and Veitch's Hamilton (Blackwood's Philosophical Classics, Edinburgh and Philadelphia, 1882).


General View of Philosophy. Hamilton defines philosophy as the knowledge of effects in their causes, -- a definition which, as Hamilton himself observes, implies that all the sciences are to be viewed as so many branches of philosophy.{9} Philosophy, however, differs from the other sciences in having for its primary problem to investigate and determine the conditions of knowledge. Consequently, it makes mind its first and paramount object of consideration.{10} In logic, ethics, politics, the philosophy of the fine arts, and natural theology the mind is studied "in certain special applications," while in metaphysics the mind is studied in itself. Now metaphysics, or psychology (for the terms are synonymous), has a threefold task: (1) the observation of facts and phenomena of the mind (phenomenology of mind); (2) the study of the laws which regulate these facts (nomology of the mind); and (3) the study of the "real results" which we are warranted in inferring from these phenomena (ontology, or metaphysics, properly so called).

Logic. Hamilton's most important contribution to logic is his Theory of the Quantification of the Predicate. This theory is based on the postulate that "we be allowed to state explicitly in language all that is implicitly contained in thought," and on the alleged fact that in thought we quantify the predicate as well as the subject of a judgment. The innovation would necessitate a complete change in the system of logical notation, and was destined (so, at least, its author claimed) to reform the entire science, to reduce propositions to equations, to simplify the doctrine of conversion, and to abolish the figured syllogism.{11}

Psychology. Hamilton divides the phenomena of the mind into cognitions, feelings, and conative phenomena (volitions and desires). The cognitive states are subdivided according as they are referred to one or other of the cognitive faculties; namely, the presentative, the conservative, the reproductive, the representative, the elaborative, and the regulative.

The presentative faculty includes external and internal perception, the former being synonymous with consciousness of states of the not-self, and the latter with self-consciousness, or consciousness of states of self. For, whether it is question of external or of internal perception, all that we perceive is the phenomenon; so that our knowledge of matter, as well as our knowledge of mind, is confined to phenomenal states. "Our whole knowledge of mind and matter," Hamilton writes, "is thus only relative; of existence, absolutely and in itself, we know nothing."{12} In this sense Hamilton is a relativist, -- a relativist, however, of a class altogether different from that to which are assigned those who, like Protagoras, held that man is the measure of all things.

The qualities of external reality as perceived by us are reduced to three classes, -- primary, secundo-primary, and secondary, -- according as the knowledge element or the feeling element predominates in the perception.{13} Of these qualities we have an immediate, or presentative, not a mediate, or representative, knowledge. Hamilton is, therefore, an advocate of natural realism, of which he says Reid is the first champion in modern times.{14}

The conservative and reproductive faculties include the retentive and resuscitative functions of memory. The resuscitative faculty is governed by the laws of association, to which Hamilton devoted special attention.{15}

The representative faculty, or imagination, is defined as the power of representing in consciousness and of keeping before the mind the knowledge presented, retained, and reproduced.{16}

The elaborative faculty is the faculty of comparison. It includes generalization (simple apprehension), judgment, and reasoning.

The regulative faculty is what the ancients called intellect, and what Reid and Stewart designated as common sense. The phenomena with which it is concerned are not data of experience, but rather the native cognitions of the mind, which are the conditions of all experience.

Passing over the nomology of the mind, we next come to the questions of ontology, that is to the inferences drawn from the study of the mind.

Ontology. Since we know only the relations of things, since relativity in this sense is a quality of all human knowledge, it follows that we cannot know the unconditioned. "Conditional limitation is the fundamental law of the possibility of thought. . . . To know is to condition."{17} The unconditioned, however, is not in itself a contradiction; its inconceivableness does not preclude the possibility of its existence. It is inconceivable as a concept, and its existence is unknowable so far as reason, intuition, and experience go. Hamilton, however, admitting that "our faculties are weak, not deceitful,"{18} holds that a supernatural revelation of the Absolute supplements our ordinary knowledge of it.

With regard to self and not-self Hamilton, while holding that the doctrine of relativity applies to these objects of knowledge, -- that self and not-self are per se unknowable as to their substance, -- concedes that our mental experience reveals self as a unity amid successive changes, and that our experience of the external world warrants us in representing it as a reality which is permanent as to the quantum of existence, although the forms of existence are constantly changing.{19}

It is scarcely necessary to point out here the ambiguity of the term "relativity" as applied to human knowledge. Between the propositions "We know only the relations of things" and "We know the related thing only in so far as it is related to us" there is a vast difference, -- a difference to which the difference between agnosticism and theism is ultimately reduced.

Hamilton explains the universal belief in causation by the inability of the human mind to think anything except under the conditions of space and time.

Historical Position. Hamilton brought to bear on the study of philosophy an erudition less common than it ought to have been among British philosophers in the early part of the nineteenth century. It was by encouraging historical research in connection with the study of philosophy, and by fostering a spirit of scholarship rather than by stimulating constructive effort, that his influence as a writer and teacher was most widely felt. Exception must, however, be made in favor of his doctrine of relativity, which may be said to be the philosophical basis of modern agnosticism, although it is quite certain that Hamilton never intended that his criticism of rational knowledge should become a criticism of belief.

Henry Longueville Mansel (1820-1871) was the first to apply the doctrine of relativity to the defense of religion. In the Limits of Religious Thought (Bampton Lecture, 1858) and the Philosophy of the Conditioned (1866) he endeavors to refute rationalism by showing, in conformity with Hamilton's principles, that the only knowledge of the unconditioned which the human mind can acquire is "negative," and that in matters of religious belief a scientific system is impossible. He insists that the difficulty of believing arises not from revelation but from the inability of reason to form a positive concept of God,{20} and concludes that reason must be corrected and supplemented by faith. The constructive aspect of Mansel's system was, however, neglected; its destructive aspect was promptly seized upon and converted into a justification of agnosticism.

James Frederick Ferrier (1808-1864), author of the Institutes of Metaphysic (1854), is sometimes reckoned among the members of the Scottish school. His attitude was, however, one of antagonism to the doctrines of that school, and especially to the identification of metaphysics with psychology, which was, as we have seen, a tenet common to all the Scottish philosophers. He divided philosophy into epistemology (the theory of knowing), agnoiology (the theory of ignorance), and ontology (the theory of being).{21}

{1} The Scottish Philosophy (London, 1875; New York, 1890). A recent work on the Scottish School is Laurie's Scottish Philosophy in its National Development (London and Glasgow, 1902).

{2} Works (ed. 1863), p. 952.

{3} Cf. Hamilton, Metaphysics, Lect. XIII.

{4} Works, p. 101.

{5} Op. cit., p. 422.

{6} Cf. Note A to Hamilton's edition of Reid's Works, pp. 742 ff.

{7} Realistic Philosophy, II, 175.

{8} Cf. Philosophical Essays, pp. 166 ff. (first American edition, Philadelphia, 1811).

{9} Metaphysics, Lect. III. {10} Ibid.

{11} Cf. Lectures on Logic, Appendix IV. For criticism of this theory, cf. Mill's Examination, II, 195 ff.

{12} Metaph., Lect. VIII.

{13} Cf. Reid's Works, Note D, p. 858.

{14} Metaph., Lect. XXIV.

{15} Reid's Works, Notes D** and D*** also Metaph., Lects. XXXI and XXXII.

{16} Op. cit., Lect. XX.

{17} Cf. Logic, Lect. V.

{18} Discussions, p. 15.

{19} Cf. Veitch, Hamilton, pp. 261 ff.

{20} "Of the nature and attributes of God in His Infinite Being, Philosophy can tell us nothing; of man's inability to apprehend that nature, and why he is thus unable, she tells us all that we can know and all that we need know" (Limits of Religious Thought, p. 185).

{21} Cf. Ueberweg, History of Philosophy, English trans., II, 421.

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