Thomas Reid and Scepticism: His Reliabilist Response

Thomas Reid and Scepticism: His Reliabilist Response

Thomas Reid and Scepticism: His Reliabilist Response

Thomas Reid and Scepticism: His Reliabilist Response


Philip de Bary first examines Thomas Reid's negative attack on the Way of Ideas and shows him to be a devastating critic of his predecessors. The author then develops an interpretation of Reid as an anticipator of present-day reliabilism.


The value of 'history of philosophy'. Brief account of Reid's life and work. An assessment of his current standing. the aims of this book.

Chapter 1: Kinds of sceptic (pp. 7-19)

Polemic distinguished from reasoned argument: Reid's frequent complaint that sceptical practice is hypocritically inconsistent with sceptical precept is seen (pace Ferreira) to be merely polemical. Reid's intended audience: to the “total” sceptic, he has nothing to say, but against “semi-sceptics” he can bring reasoned argument to bear. Against the “semi-sceptics”: two strands distinguished within Reid's arguments to the semi-sceptics: (i) anti-Cartesian foundationalism; (ii) anti-'ideas'. the former is best seen as prior to the latter.

Chapter 2: the attack on Cartesian foundationalism (pp. 20-31)

Reid has three levels of objection to Cartesian foundationalism; together, they amount to the charge of 'arbitrariness'. The three 'i's: can we see Reid as rejecting the three Cartesian shibboleths - infallibility, incorrigibility, indubitability? Reid entirely misses the self-verifying nature of the cogito; but this omission does not spoil his attack. The nature of Reid's alternative foundationalism: we need wider, shallower foundations if we are to avoid scepticism.

Chapter 3: the first principles of contingent truths (pp. 32-48)

These principles are 'Reid's rafts' - but how should we characterise them nonmetaphorically? They may best be seen (following Marcil-Lacoste) as inductive generalisations of common sense beliefs, the products of Reid's borrowed experimental method. Methodism, particularism, and begging the question: Reid's 'particularism' is no more vulnerable to the charge of question-begging than is Hume's 'methodism'.

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