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Thomas Reid on Epistemology, Essay Example

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Essay

Thomas Reid (1710-1796) was a Scottish philosopher and founder of the school of thought relating to ‘common sense’. Reid was famous for his attack on the mental perspective put forward by Locke. Reid held the view that the history of philosophy, as from ancient times, failed to explain” why something in the mind could amount to perception of some external object” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Reid’s most powerful argument against the Lockean model is being able to explain the fact that our mental state does not readily connect to objects in the world and as such we are unable to connect our minds to those objects.

In essence Reid was an advocate of ‘common sense’ realism or direct realism and the belief held that there is an object world out there, and as such the human mind is capable of acquiring knowledge about it. This in stark contrast to that of David Hume. Reid maintained that the concept of common sense is perfectly acceptable as a basis for the deduction of truths in the real world. Hume’s position was considered to be based more upon philosophical abstraction.

Reid believed that epistemology was essentially the basis of practical ethics and as such anyone who engages in a philosophical argument must have explicit beliefs i.e. talking to a real person, understanding that there is an external world where the laws do not change. Victor Cousin the French philosopher strongly upheld the views of Reid and Kant. He emphasised the importance of having methods in philosophical thinking. From this perspective he adopted a framework that outlined the importance of Observation, Analysis and Deduction. The concept of the observation component had been started in the 18th century by Descartes but it had somehow been abandoned.  It was the development of the observation method that when applied to consciousness created the science of psychology.

It was Reid who had a great influence in our theory of morals. Hence when we confirm our belief in philosophy all that is required is to act in accordance with our belief, as inherently we know what is right and what is wrong. These views on common sense highly influenced the American philosopher C.S Pearce who linked the theory of Reid to that of pragmatism. The approach of Reid equally appealed to the likes of William Alston and Alan Platinga who defended the concept of Christianity.

David Hume stated that you could not rely upon common sense pronouncements of popular superstition which shows our conduct without any enlightenment. Hume believed that humans had a role in the world and we should try to observe how they function. “Nor do we acquire this impression (as Locke had supposed) from our own capacity for voluntary motion. Here the objective element of constant conjunction is rarely experienced, since the actions of our minds and bodies do not invariably submit to our voluntary control. Nor do we acquire this impression (as Locke had supposed) from our own capacity for voluntary motion. Here the objective element of constant conjunction is rarely experienced, since the actions of our minds and bodies do not invariably submit to our voluntary control.” (Brittanica).  It is also useful to consider the position of the philosopher Emanuel Kant when considering the aspect of enlightenment “The Enlightenment according to Kant was childhood’s end and the start of adulthood for the human race.  Dreams and fantasies would be replaced by knowledge.” (Brittanica).

Hume also argued that moral judgments are based upon reason and not sentiment. He attempted to explain these philosophies in naturalistic terms; hence beliefs are grounded in reason and not imagination. “Among his best-known works are the Treatise of Human Nature, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.” (Lightner)

Works Cited

Brittanica. Hume: Empiricist Naturalism. 2010. 21 10 2010 <http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/4t.htm>.

Lightner, Tycerium. David Hume. 2010. 21 10 2010 <http://www.epistemelinks.com/main/philosophers.aspx?philcode=hume>.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 20 2 2009. 21 10 2010 <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/reid/#Epi>.

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