Essays on the Active Powers of Man

Essays on the Active Powers of Man

Essays on the Active Powers of Man

Essays on the Active Powers of Man

Synopsis

The Essays on the Active Powers of Man (1788) was Thomas Reid's last major work. It was conceived as part of one large work, intended as a final synoptic statement of his philosophy. The first and larger part was published three years earlier as Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (edited as vol. 3 of the Edinburgh Edition of Thomas Reid). These two works are united by Reid's basic philosophy of common sense, which sets out native principles by which the mind operates in both its intellectual and active aspects. The Active Powers shows how these principles are involved in volition, action, and the ability to judge morally. Reid gives an original twist to a libertarian and realist tradition that was prominently represented in eighteenth-century British thought by such thinkers as Samuel Clarke and Richard Price.

Excerpt

Prefaces to scholarly works are commonly obituaries to time past. However, time past is not always time lost. This volume has undoubtedly taken longer than one of the editors – KH – would like to dwell on, for it is nearly a decade since he and Derek Brookes presented the companion volume, Reid’s Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, to the public. But, in that time, not only has the present work secured the co-editorship of JH, but technology has made some earlier editorial plans happily obsolete. The Preface to the Intellectual Powers intimated that the present work would include manuscript material germane to both volumes, because they were conceived as a unity by the author and because the Active Powers, being the smaller work, could better accommodate such material. In the meantime, nearly all of Reid’s relevant manuscripts have been made available on the website of the University of Aberdeen (cf. the Introduction, p. xxv below), and this has led to a rethinking of the previous plan.

Instead of printing transcriptions of a selection of manuscripts, we have created a guide to the manuscripts in the notes to the text, so that the interested reader can follow up on points of particular interest. The Reid manuscripts are of such extent and complication that such an exercise has to be selective and consequently done from the point of view of the editors, but this would obviously be even more the case with the printing of manuscripts, however generous. This decision should not be seen as belittling the importance of the manuscripts; to the contrary, we are elated that the reader is now able to make much more comprehensive use of this material than we could ever hope to achieve by reproduction of material and to do so guided by his or her own interests. The basic editorial principle has been to leave Reid’s intentions as clear as possible for the reader to interpret, and this can often be done by encouraging the pursuit of manuscripts that identify matters only alluded to in the final text and that indicate the development of arguments.

In preparing this edition, we have incurred several debts of gratitude. Above all, we have benefited greatly from the assistance and advice of M. A. Stewart and Paul B. Wood, who have been unstinting in sharing their expertise in matters great and small pertaining to Reid in particular . . .

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