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“Derek R. Brookes’ new annotated edition of Reid’s Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man is, therefore, both timely and welcome.” —Paul Stanistreet, Philosophy in Review
“Regarding this new edition, not enough can be said briefly in its favor.” —Daniel N. Robinson, Review of Metaphysics
“At once it should be said how pleasurable it is to read Reid’s words in this new typography. . . . It is anyway fitting that the work of a philosopher whose relevance to present-day debate is increasingly recognized by dignified but uncluttered modern layout. But more specifically the line numbers on every page of this new text give Reid scholars something very useful that they have never had before. . . . At all events the publication of these manuscripts opens up new areas of debate, and further unpublished material—some of it germane to EIPM—is promised as a supplement to the new critical edition of the Essays on the Active Powers. The Edinburgh edition is building into a magnificent series, and Thomas Reid’s present and future readers have every reason to be grateful to its editors.” —Philip de Bary, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Thomas Reid: Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man: A Critical Edition

Edited by Derek Brookes and Knud Haakonssen


The Genesis of the Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man

More than twenty years separate An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense and the Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, but Thomas Reid had already foreshadowed the latter in his early work. Although he had analysed only the five senses and the associated principles of the human mind, he would, he said: leave the further prosecution of this inquiry to future deliberation. The powers of memory, of imagination, of taste, of reasoning, of moral perception, the will, the passions, the affections, and all the active powers of the soul, present a vast and boundless field of philosophical disquisition, which the author of this inquiry is far from thinking himself able to survey with accuracy.

Perhaps it was this typically modest assessment of his own powers which led Reid to abandon what appears to have been a plan of making the Inquiry a work in two books in which the second book should begin with a chapter on memory coming `next to the external Senses'. However this may be, it is clear that a great deal of the ideas which eventually were to be presented in the Intellectual Powers have solid roots already in his work at Aberdeen in the 1750s and early 1760s and, in some cases, earlier. As time wore on, he did come to think himself able to present a survey of sufficient accuracy and this proved to be one covering, to varying degrees, the topics he had listed earlier.

In the years which intervened between the two works, Reid was Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, and it was his lectures there which, together with his contributions to the Glasgow Literary Society, provided him with the opportunity to plough the `vast and boundless field of philosophical disquisition' in the detail which he demanded. The result was that when he retired from active teaching in 1780, he could, as he points out in the Dedication to the present work, draw `the substance of these Essays' from his lectures. Reid gave two courses at Glasgow; one was the `public class', a general course in moral philosophy understood in the wide sense as distinguished from natural philosophy; the other, `private class' was a more specialised course in the philosophy of mind. The former course was divided into three sections, pneuma- tology, ethics and politics, of which the first was by far the most comprehensive. In the other course, Reid developed the implications of his theory of the mind, lecturing on `the culture of the mind', the relationship between mind and body, and on the fine arts, rhetoric and logic.

In Reid's voluminous manuscript Nachlass there is particularly much material pertaining to the lectures on pneumatology and on the culture of the mind–lectures which overlap in some measure. In addition the manuscript of the Intellectual Powers, except for the Preface and Essay I, chapter 1, has been preserved. From this material we can see that Reid was not exaggerating in the claim quoted above. The work is overwhelmingly derived from the lectures and especially from the course on pneumatology, including material which was used also in the lectures on the culture of the mind. In addition Reid used some of the papers which he had presented to the Glasgow Literary Society.

Unfortunately the manuscripts do not tell us much about the steps by which Reid developed his thinking for very few of them are dated. However, it is clear that the fundamental ideas were in place from early on in Reid's career in Glasgow, and that Reid's long years of teaching mainly were devoted to working out the full implications of these ideas. As Paul Wood has pointed out, Reid revised his lectures in 1768–9 but apart from matters of style and presentation, this was limited to refinements of the argument, in some degree an ongoing process as can be seen from the manuscripts. It should also be remarked that during the 1770s Reid began another philosophical enterprise, namely a major critical examination of materialism, determinism and associationism. This was occasioned by Joseph Priestley's onslaught in his Examination of Dr. Reid's Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense, Dr. Beattie's Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, and Dr. Oswald's Appeal to Common Sense in Behalf of Religion (London, 1774) and by Priestley's introduction to an edition of David Hartley's Theory of the Human Mind (London, 1775) which Reid reviewed. While some of Reid's material on these issues made it into the Essays, and while the dispute with Priestley brought out some the most detailed explanations of Reid's method for his philosophy in general, the bulk of this work remained unpublished at his death. It was in fact a separate project whose extent and quality can only now be appreciated thanks to the recent reconstruction of it in Thomas Reid on the Animate Creation.

Reid stopped teaching when he was seventy, apparently because he was losing his hearing and because he wanted to write up a full and systematic account of his philosophy. It seems that he set about the latter with expedition. In a letter to his close friend, Lord Kames, in 1781 he responded to an inquiry of Kames's about his `magnum opus' and some time during the following couple of years Reid began to forward instalments of the work to Edinburgh where his two main protégeés, James Gregory and Dugald Stewart, read and commented extensively upon it. Reid thanked both of them, as well as the recently deceased Kames, in his characteristically generous Dedication to the Intellectual Powers. By June 1783 the writing instalments had reached 638 manuscript pages and we find Reid estimating that `what you [Gregory] have got before may be one-half or more of all I intend.' However, as we have seen, already at the time of the Inquiry, Reid intended a good deal more than what is in the Intellectual Powers, namely what he called the active powers. His plan was for one large work encompassing both intellectual and active powers, and only in the spring of 1784 is there evidence that he had decided to divide it into two volumes when he wrote to Gregory:

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.

In the same letter he states his choice of title for the first volume and settles for its division into eight essays. However, as late as December 1784, when Gregory and Stewart already were reading proofs of the Intellectual Powers, Reid was still fussing that the work might be too much for one volume and too little for two but that he might finish his work on the active powers so quickly that, `there may be two sizeable books in the whole'. As it turned out, the publisher John Bell brought out the Intellectual Powers in Edinburgh in the summer of 1785 while Reid continued his work on the rest of his scheme which appeared in 1788 as Essays on the Active Powers of Man. Reid received a fee of £;300 for the Intellectual Powers as well as a respectful, if limited, critical appreciation of the work. There seems to have been only three contemporary reviews, in the English Review, the Monthly Review, and the Critical Review.

Apart from a Dublin reprint in 1790, all further editions were posthumous and in the first half of the nineteenth century the two volumes of essays were commonly published together as Reid would have wished it, but under an imposed title, Essays on the Powers of the Human Mind. This was only a minor instance of the many liberties taken with the integrity of works to whose every detail Reid had devoted so much care both in the clarity of argument and the elegance of formulation. In fact, the combined Essays became part of a newly invented tradition of `the Scottish philosophy' as `the Common Sense' philosophy of Reid and Stewart, with James Beattie and James Oswald in minor supporting roles. While the role of this tradition in nineteenth-century thought, not only in Britain but also, and not least, in France and in America, is of the first importance, it is not conducive to an understanding of Reid's work on his own terms. The traditional lack of historical sensibility in the discussion of Reid is not without irony. Reid himself was formidably learned in the history of philosophy, as is seen in all his works but not least in the Intellectual Powers where he provides an extensive and detailed discussion of what he calls the theory of ideas. At some stage his correspondent James Gregory even suggested to him that he should present `the History of the Ideal System' as a separate work. Reid expressed interest in the idea on the grounds that in the future it might be as well for readers not to have to contend with the polemical discussions surrounding the formulation of his mental philosophy, much like we now—in the late eighteenth century—could do without the polemical efforts of the great reformers of natural philosophy, such as Boyle.

However, 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. In other words, the historical context of philosophical theories is only of relevance as a weapon in the war of ideas. When the war has been won, the victor is the pure philosophical distillate of timeless truth. The pleasure of the irony is that one has to understand Reid in his historical context to see why he should have come to this ahistorical conclusion.

Thomas Reid (1710-1796) is the latest of the great Enlightenment philosophers to be done the honor of a full new critical edition of his writings. Until recently, anyone who wanted to read the writings of the founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense (and for most of the twentieth century there weren’t very many who did) had usually to read them in Sir William Hamilton’s edition, The Works of Thomas Reid (1st edn 1846; 8th edn 1880). But the 1980s and 90s saw a major revival of interest in Reid: The Reid Project was set up at Aberdeen University where most of his manuscripts are housed, and regular international conferences began to take place there; a journal devoted to Reid was established and the book-length secondary literature on him expanded. A ten-volume scholarly edition of primary texts – TheEdinburgh Edition of Thomas Reid – was projected under the general editorship of Knud Haakonssen; the first volume, Thomas Reid on the Animate Creation (ed. Paul Wood) appeared in 1995 and the second, An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (ed. Derek R. Brookes) in 1997. Five years later we now have Reid’s Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (EIPM) and The Correspondence of Thomas Reid (ed. Paul Wood). The remaining volumes in the series are due out at roughly one-year intervals until 2007.

Penn State Press’s dust jacket on the American version of this latest installment of the Edinburgh Edition describes EIPM as “Thomas Reid’s greatest work”, and many Reid scholars will agree that it is. (Those whose primary interest is in Reid’s ethics rather than his epistemology must wait for the Edinburgh Essays on the Active Powers of Man, expected 2005). As the Preface to this edition explains, these two sets of Essays were systematic writings-up by Reid in his retirement of the lecture notes he had developed over long years of teaching at the University of Glasgow. In his earlier Inquiry Reid had set out his anti-skeptical account of perception in sections dealing with the five senses in turn. Twenty-one years later in EIPM sense perception is just one of the Intellectual Powers to which he devotes an Essay, the others being memory, conception, abstraction, judgment, reasoning and taste. Reid’s broad aim throughout this body of work is two-fold: negatively, to demolish the claims of “the ideal theory” in all these domains, and positively to establish a “philosophy of common sense” which lacks its skeptical consequences for knowledge and morality.

There was only one edition of EIPM published during Reid’s lifetime, in 1785. This was what Sir William Hamilton called “the only authentic edition”, and it is the text that forms the basis for that part of The Works of Thomas Reid in all its printings. The same 1785 edition has been chosen by Derek R. Brookes as the basis for his critical text, which is said to diverge from the first edition “only by correction of typographical errors…[which are]…few and marked in the footnotes.” These corrections have been made in the light of Reid’s manuscript lecture notes which, we are told, “often exist in several – in some cases five – different versions of which only a few are dated” (Preface, vi). The Haakonssen/Brookes edition will no doubt be reviewed elsewhere by those with expert knowledge of Reidian manuscripts and textual history. What follows here is meant mainly as a preview – a notice of what to expect for those who, like the present writer, know EIPM through Hamilton, but who haven’t yet set eyes on its new edition in the Edinburgh series.

What we have here, then, is a two-page Preface by both editors, a five-page Introduction by Haakonssen, a corrected and reset first edition of EIPM with annotations jointly by Brookes and Haakonssen, a fifteen-page transcription of manuscript material for three unpublished lectures by Reid ‘on the Nature and Duration of the Soul’, and name and subject indexes prepared by Åsa Söderman.

At once it should be said how pleasurable it is to read Reid’s words in this new typography. One needed young person’s eyesight and bright light in order to read the tiny print of the Hamilton edition without a magnifying glass. If the Hamilton edition had a virtue, it was perhaps that its biblical double columns made the lengthy EIPM quite easy to find one’s way around – navigation is relatively simple when an entire chapter is disclosed by turning a page or two. But the compensating advantages of the Edinburgh format are great. It is anyway fitting that the work of a philosopher whose relevance to present-day debate is increasingly recognized be dignified by uncluttered modern layout. But more specifically the line numbers on every page of this new text give Reid scholars something very useful that they have never had before.

The other most noticeable difference for those accustomed to Hamilton is that the Edinburgh edition has far fewer footnotes. Hamilton was a heavy annotator (especially of Essays I to IV of EIPM), and sometimes his footnotes, for all their formidable learning, read like parodies of scholarly persnicketiness. On the whole they have not been popular with Reid scholars. Ronald E. Beanblossom, for example, said in his note to the abridgement that he co-edited with Keith Lehrer that “while Hamilton’s critical and expository footnotes may be of historical interest, they are generally based upon a misinterpretation of Reid and are primarily a vehicle for presenting Hamilton’s views” (Thomas Reid’s Inquiry and Essays, Hackett, 1983, lxi). While this judgment may be a little harsh, it’s certainly true that the sheer frequency of Hamilton’s interjections (“this is not strictly correct”, “this is a singular misapprehension”) is distracting. At the same time it’s true that when the crotchety baronet keeps quiet on a point, that silence is some evidence that Reid is on good ground in what he has just asserted – or at least that his assertion was uncontroversial in the mid-nineteenth century.

Brookes and Haakonssen have deliberately gone to the opposite extreme with their footnotes. “Reid engages in such detail with a large number of other thinkers that a full annotation of his references would drown out his own text. The guiding principles have been specificity and obscurity … first reasonably specific references, especially quotations, and secondly more obscure references” (Preface, vii). The result, by my reckoning, is that something over half the pages are without any notes. The remainder have a sprinkling of what are usually simple page references to early and to standard modern editions of Locke, Berkeley, Hume and others, and to the best English translations of such as Arnauld and Malebranche (though not, curiously, of Descartes – in his case we’re referred to Adam and Tannery rather than Cottingham et al.). Occasionally a departure from the 1785 edition is noted and a reference made to Reid’s manuscript, but seldom is there any Hamiltonian attempt to correct or comment on what Reid has said in the text above. This editorial restraint is surely welcome. Reid is here being allowed to speak for himself directly to his twenty-first-century readers, as a writer of his unusual clarity can well be trusted to do.

The volume ends with a transcription of the manuscript evidence for three hitherto unpublished “Lectures on the Nature and Duration of the Soul.” In these fifteen uneven pages Reid addresses the questions (a) whether the soul (or “mind” – he uses the terms interchangeably) is immaterial, (b) whether it “has an ubi or place”, and (c) whether there is reason to think it perishes at death (to which his respective answers are ‘yes’, ‘we can’t be sure’, and ‘no’). For the first two questions there are only Reid’s very sketchy lecture notes; for the third there is what seems to be a full-length script.

An editorial note says of these lectures “it is not clear why they were omitted [by Reid] from the Intellectual Powers” (p. 616). This is a point worth pondering. Reid’s psycho-physical dualism pervades the writings published in his lifetime as a background assumption, only coming to the foreground in occasional polemical flourishes like that at EIPM p. 87, ll. 38-39: “There is indeed nothing more ridiculous than to imagine that any motion or modification of matter should produce thought.” To find Reid argumentatively supporting his dualism we have had to turn to his unpublished papers – or rather to some papers that were unpublished until 1995 when Paul Wood included them in Thomas Reid on the Animate Creation. There Reid attacks Joseph Priestley’s materialism by defending the doctrine of the passivity of matter, but he doesn’t put forward any positive arguments for the immateriality of the mind (see Alan Tapper, “Reid and Priestley on Method and the Mind”, Philosophical Quarterly 52, no 209, Oct. 2002, 511-525). The interesting thing about these lecture notes now appended to EIPM is that we can see Reid advancing exactly such positive arguments – or at least prompting himself on how to examine such arguments in front of his student audience. From the bare headings given, it is evident that Reid took his Pneumatiks classes through Samuel Clarke’s version of the Cartesian ‘divisibility’ argument, through various objections to it (from Collins, Martinus Scriblerus and Hume) and through replies to those objections. Reid also lists two other arguments that sound more as if they are his own: one is “from the Power of the Soul to begin Motion or Stop it”; the other starts from the observation that mental powers “appear so immensely superior to the known Properties of Body” (617, ll. 18-19). That this superiority is specifically moral superiority becomes clear later when Reid says: “These Powers or feelings by which we are most nearly connected with Matter appear plainly to be the Meanner and more Ignoble parts of our frame” (619, ll. 33-35).

Why Reid never wrote up the notes for this lecture or the next (about the soul’s location) is a mystery – perhaps he did and the manuscripts simply don’t survive. And whether he wrote them up or not, why he didn’t incorporate the complete third lecture (about the soul’s survival after death) into EIPM is, as the editor says, unclear. Could Reid have felt he had nothing importantly new to say in these areas? Might he have thought there was nothing he needed to say, the truth of dualism being self-evident? (This last speculation raises various other tricky problems: on the one hand Reid doesn’t include a principle speaking for dualism in his list of self-evident “first principles of common sense”; on the other hand, something’s being self-evident doesn’t in general stop Reid talking about it). At all events the publication of these manuscripts opens up new areas of debate, and further unpublished material – some of it germane to EIPM – is promised as a supplement to the new critical edition of the Essays on the Active Powers. The Edinburgh edition is building into a magnificent series, and Thomas Reid’s present and future readers have every reason to be grateful to its editors.


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