A History of Scottish Philosophy

By Alexander Broadie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
The Scottish School of Common Sense
Philosophy

SECTION 1: COMMON SENSE AND ITS CRITERIA

Famously Hume said of his Treatise of Human Nature: ‘It fell deadborn from the press, without reaching such distinction, as even to excite a murmur among the zealots.’1 Yet Reid wrote in the dedication to his Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense:

I never thought of calling in question the principles commonly
received with regard to the human understanding, until the Treatise
of human nature
was published, in the year 1739. The ingenious
author of that treatise, upon the principles of Locke, who was no
sceptic, hath built a system of scepticism, which leaves no ground to
believe any one thing rather than its contrary. His reasoning appeared
to me to be just: there was therefore a necessity to call in question the
principles upon which it was founded, or to admit the conclusion.2

Evidently Hume’s report on the immediate fate of the Treatise was misleading; indeed once the work was published it was quite difficult to do philosophy in Scotland without an eye on what Hume had said. In 1763 Reid wrote to Hume in these terms:

Your Friendly Adversaries Drs Campbel & Gerard as well as
Dr Gregory return their Compliments to you respectfully. A little
Philosophical Society here of which all the three are members, is much
indebted to you for its Entertainment…. If you write no more in
morals politicks or metaphysicks, I am affraid we shall be at a loss for
Subjects.3

Reid here mentions several members of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society (the Wise Club), a club heavily committed to the philosophy of common sense, a philosophy whose highest expression is to be found in Reid’s three masterpieces, the Inquiry into the Human Mind, the Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man and the Essays on the Active Powers of the Human Mind, and though common sense

-235-

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A History of Scottish Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Chapter 1- Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2- John Duns Scotus 7
  • Chapter 3- The Fifteenth Century 34
  • Chapter 4- The Circle of John Mair 47
  • Chapter 5- Humanism and after 87
  • Chapter 6- Scotland Moves into the Age of Enlightenment 104
  • Chapter 7- David Hume 147
  • Chapter 8- Adam Smith 196
  • Chapter 9- The Scottish School of Common Sense Philosophy 235
  • Chapter 10- The Nineteenth Century- Ferrier to Seth 301
  • Chapter 11- Realism and Idealism- Some Twentieth­ Century Narratives 324
  • Chapter 12- Conclusion 365
  • Bibliography 370
  • Index 381
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