Analysis of "An Inquiry into the Human Mind: on the Principles of Common Sense" by Thomas Reid

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Throughout the history, countries have been evaluating and changing. During this process in Scotland, philosophers, scientists and others wrote to develop and become enlightened. Before explaining and giving details about these processes, the history of Scotland cannot be ignored, and it has had a huge impact on this process.

First, the flag of Kingdom of Great Britain goes back to 1606 and it was also based on the early version of Great Britain’s flag. On this union process, James VI had a huge effect on enlightenment and today’s union. James VI had come from Scotland and he had inherited the Irish and English thrones. In 1603, James VI of Scotland was named as James I of Ireland and England. He had united crowns, which included those of England, Ireland and Scotland. However, it can be said that kings in these three lands could not accept it and they continued to be and act separate. As it was stated in 1606, the new flag started to represent the legal union between Scotland and England. It was also recognized on a royal level. Another significant action in Scotland was in 1706. Scottish and English representatives in Parliament agreed about the Treaty of Union and then also Acts of Union.

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The Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution were effective on Scotland in terms of literature, the intellectual realm and the economy. At this point, it should be stated that even today, Scotland is partly independent. In other words, the law system, education and health care are mostly different from that of today’s England. After the civil war in Ireland, Northern Ireland has also another specific right. During the civil war, countless people died and today Northern Ireland has the right to have United Kingdom and European Union passports.

This week started with the passages from Thomas Reid’s “An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense”. Thomas Reid was another crucial philosopher from Scotland and his works are preserving importance to understand our world even today. Comparing Reid’s ideas with John Locke and Thomas Paine can be important examples from different parts of United Kingdom. Locke and Paine have a common point with Reid and it is that Reid wrote also a book related to common sense as Locke and Paine. It has been said that Locke wrote about common sense seventy years before Reid. In “Conclusion” part it has been seen that another British philosopher who was named George Berkeley shared similar thoughts and ideas. It might be said that John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume could be the most important British empiricists and Locke as the founder of movement of impressionism. David Hume had also written mostly on sensation and reflection. However, it has been said that Berkeley was also a spiritualist with impressionist ideas. According to Berkeley, there was no distinction between them and that is why he stated that God guarantees material world and gives it to us. Additionally, for Locke, humankind has two essences which consists of nominal essence and real essence. Nominal essence was stated as humanity`s conception to clarify what they are, and which makes them what they are. In other words, it is the conception of content, substance. Real essence is our conception of which makes something what they really are. “Things inside have insensible qualities” could be a remarkable quotation from Locke and it is valid for the real world.

To continue with Thomas Reid, he was one of the religiously-educated Scottish philosophers. It could be also underlined that he had played an important role during the Enlightenment Period in Scotland. According to history, his theories and knowledge has been influenced by religion and morals. He answered Hume’s sceptical ideas with many principles and theories of Common Sense and it was the beginning for rational thought. To explain Reid`s ideas related to common sense, reasoning is essential for common sense and common sense can be understood as something which everybody agrees about and apply. To explain common sense according to Reid, it is what we agree without discussion and what we cannot deny. In this part, Descartes cannot be ignored in terms of the beginning of modern philosophy. His family was Catholic but after his education he chose to be a scientist. It is stated that he could be named as the father of modern philosophy. He also founded “Cartesian” thinking and his ball of wax example was crucial to understand rationalism. According to Descartes, the example of a ball of wax can help humankind understand the necessity and essentiality of properties, uncertainty of humans’ knowledge. It is also significant to explain rationalism as well as to correlate between humans’ knowledge and minds. In the example, Descartes stated that we have a ball of wax and we bring it close to fire. After that, its smell, color and appearance will change but what will happen to its ingredients? Original qualities can be lost, and different qualities but might occur. But will it be the same substance or not? People will think and judge the wax. Two possibilities could be stated here: it can be the same or it can be different. However, substance is a matter of judgement, not a matter of sense. In other words, it is the same ball because of the substance in the ball, which did not change. It is the essence of the wax that never changes. It can be additionally argued whether a substance keeps being the same substance when it is divided into smaller pieces or whether it changes. If a whole is divided into such small parts that it cannot be described as the whole it was before, does this process change its essence? Conforming to Descartes, the answer would be no, it will not change. Also, here one needs to go back to the famous quote from Descartes: “I think therefore I am”.

To turn back to Reid’s “Conclusion”, this part has three important points and notions. It was differences and meaning of mind, common sense and reason. Reason has been explained by unexpended and invisible substance. Mind is extended substance, and common sense is an existing statement which cannot be denied. One cannot deny it without interrupting the rules of logic. This statement can be named as common sense according to Reid. In this part it has also been stated that all qualities belong to substance and it cannot be denied.

Continuing to analyze Reid’s “Conclusion”, the passage concerning spirits should be underlined. Everything has a spirit if God gave it to them. In this part, mind has been also clarified and underlined. If we can feel, touch or see one thing, it has extension and body. However, mind does not have any body or extension and so its extension cannot be proved and that means we do not have a mind. During this discussion, it has been stated that if we agree and accept that our mind has an extension and body, we can have it on our mind. It is substance and we agree that our mind exists. In this point, we agree and we accept it. However, it needs to be stated that common sense is not as deep as reason. Reason is deeper than common sense. At this point, during the philosophy education in Germany, instructors stated that think a wall and after that they asked again that now think someone who thinks a wall. It was also crucial and remarkable example to understand rationalism and common sense. Lastly it has been mentioned that people cannot say that which one is right or better. In this discussion, it can be a basic example of common sense according to the ideas of Thomas Reid.

Lastly, according to Reid, one person cannot explain everything just only himself, and that is why humankind needs to have a sense of cooperation and to look at others` works. In this statement, Reid gave an example from Galileo. Galileo could not explain every detail of the system and mechanism of natural philosophy, but he could explain a specific part of it and it was helpful for humankind. According to Reid, the same example works for Newton as well, and Reid suggests that if Newton had attempted to do more than he did in terms of scientific research, he would have been less successful. In short, Reid suggests that less is more. In the “Conclusion” part of his book, Reid discusses that human beings tend to materialize the mind. Even the words we use in order to describe the mental faculties and actions derive from material objects or our five senses. For example, he mentions that we use the word “see” to inform someone that we understand them, as in the sentence “I see”. Or, the word “imagine” is derived from the word “image, picture”, which refers to the things we see through one of our five senses: sight. This also shows that human beings are very limited in their mental actions and how they express these capabilities. Everything we imagine is limited by our five senses, by the material world. For instance, one can suggest that Berkeley’s example works in this argument. He said that the example of a centaur explains this limitation on human mind very well. One can imagine a man, and a horse, and in their mind bring these two elements together and create a new image of a centaur. However, we cannot imagine anything we have never seen or sensed before. This all comes down to analogical reasoning, which Descartes argued against.

Descartes attended more on to the operations of human mind by reflection. He, unlike Berkeley, spiritualized the body and the material worlds instead of materializing the mind. The two systems are very different from one another, and Descartes’s system also needs to be analyzed carefully. Descartes believed that the senses we use do not represent nor resemble the qualities of the body. He believed that the five senses were not the sensations of the body but the sensations of the mind. To exemplify this, one can argue by using an example of modern philosophy. It is suggested that when we feel pain in a specific part of our body, the pain is not really on that specific area. Instead, it is in our brain. Some of the philosophers of mind argue that the nerves in our brain create the feeling, the sensation that the pain is in a specific area in our body, for instance in our arm. However, the truth is, the pain is not really where we feel it to be. Therefore, it is the faculties of the mind which carry the information from our brain to the parts of our body where we think we have the pain. This example can help us understand Descartes’s argument about the spiritualization of the body and our bodily senses.

Reid suggests that both the old system and the new system introduced by Descartes are extremes, and that they must be avoided. He says that modern science can help us solve this problem because with modern science, we have discovered that body is not the only part of the material world. To make things more clear, we can state that along with matter and motion, with the help of science, we have discovered that gravity, cohesion, corpuscular attraction, and centripetal and centrifugal forces exist, and neither spiritualization of the body nor materialization of the mind provides adequate information to solve the puzzle. Reid blames Descartes and Locke for being sceptical without seeing the end of it, and Berkeley for seeing scepticism and immediately running away from it. He thinks that Hume was more courageous than all three of these philosophers in his approach towards this matter. He says that according to the new system, sensation is an operation of the mind and we are conscious of it, and we get this sensation by a reflection of what we are conscious of, and doubting and thinking are operations of the mind and we are conscious of them. Similarly, we get the notion of them by a reflection of what we are conscious of. Reid says that neither of these statements presents logical truths. Instead, he argues that Hume was more successful in terms of handling this subject. If we assume that mind or body, time or space exists, our notion of them needs to be derived from the ideas of sensation or reflection. The problem for Hume is, if they are ideas of sensation, which sensation are they copied from? If they are ideas of reflection, which operations of the mind are they copied from? Reid suggests that both reflection and sensation play an important role in the operation of our senses. For example, Reid has a discussion about seeing a tree. When we see a tree, we do not merely see or sense the bodily existence of that tree. We also perceive its shape, size and distance through a reflection in our minds. We compose a belief regarding the existence of that tree in our minds. This argument suggests that what we have in our minds are the reflections of the objects we sense in the material world. We produce these images or ideas in our minds based on the reflections of these objects through perception, imagining or remembering. This creates a puzzle because we cannot imagine spirits as themselves because we cannot sense them in the material world, if they exist. Therefore, there are many arguments about this matter regarding the spirits.

Berkeley takes this argument a step further and argues that we do not have the capacity to imagine spirits. We can merely think of them through ideas; we cannot think them immediately. Here, Reid states that Berkeley, Hume and Locke are of the same opinion, and that Hume is specifically right to think that the idea of extension of the mind is either the same as the extension itself, or that it is a resemblance of that extension. Reid thinks differently than Hume because Hume says that in the human mind, there are ideas of extension and it must be divisible and extended considering that the mind is a substance. Reid, however, thinks that the mind is really a substance and that brings about the argument that the mind is not extended and indivisible. Therefore, he suggests that there cannot be anything in this substance that resembles extension. Reid also argues that Berkeley was wrong in thinking that we cannot think and reason about spirits and bodies. He says that if Berkeley had come to the reasoning of Reid, then he would also have accepted that we can in fact think and reason about spirit and the body without the necessity to have their ideas in the mind.

Reid concludes this last part by summarizing what he had intended to do throughout the book. He states that he wanted to analyse the details of the doctrine that suggests that in the mind, there are ideas or images of the material objects, and that judgment or belief is merely a perception of the agreement or disagreement of our ideas. He informs us that he has thought of different capabilities of human mind, although he notes that he has only worked on the five senses. He says that there are so many other powers of the mind such as memory, moral perception, passions and affection and these powers can have different outcomes on the working of the human mind than the five senses. He mentions that although he wrote and commented on a small part of the capacities of the human mind regarding the material world, it would be wrong of him to try to write more on a topic where he has not done enough examination. Thus, what he says is that by doing a small part and contributing to the philosophical inquiry where he has worked on for long, he has done better for doing exactly so.

I agree with Reid on the point that he is right to deal with the topic where he has more comprehensive knowledge. I also think that his arguments about the operations of the human mind regarding the five senses and the material world are valid. He argues that the mind is unextended and indivisible and when we think about it, we can understand his grounding here. The fact that the material world is composed of objects which are divisible and extended makes it clear that the human mind is completely different from the material world.

For me, Descartes’s mind-body dualism makes a lot of sense in this topic because mind and body have very distinct systems and operations from each other but still they cannot work without each other. Since human brain gives rise to human mind in such ways we are not very certain about, and human mind is the beginning of the bodily systems and operations, we can see that they cannot exist without each other. To give an example, a dead person’s mind is not very valuable because even if the mind exists without the body, it cannot work in the way it works in an alive person.

Similarly, if a person is alive but the mind does not work properly, as in the condition of a coma, human body does not work the same way as it does with a working, healthy mind. Therefore, I believe that Reid was right in his argument that the human mind is something not extended and indivisible as the human mind cannot be imagined as something with parts. I also agree with Reid on the ground that the old system does not fulfil the philosophical inquiry as it is supposed to, and neither does the new system. Reid suggests that the approach towards the spiritualization of the body and the approach towards the materialization of the mind are both extreme instances, which is arguably right. I support his argument about the view that since Descartes, Berkeley and Hume, there have been many scientific explorations and accomplishments which can make a huge difference in the area of the philosophy of mind, which now must be also taken into account while examining this matter. One can clearly see that the history of a state, together with its external relations and historical background can influence the philosophical theorists and their thoughts as well. Reid projects a rather different array of thinking and seeing the world, where he sometimes does agree and sometimes disagrees with the other philosophers of this era.

Descartes, Hume, Berkeley and Locke all have certain areas and lines of thought where they differ from Reid, and where they may agree with him. Together with the combination of these philosophical thoughts, and the eras of enlightenment and the industrial revolution, the minds of the time are undeniably shaped by these external happenings around them. This shows a person that although philosophy may seem rather disconnected from the surroundings at times, they are really much more connected than one would believe, and this can also be see within philosophers themselves. Ideas and thoughts may come out as independent and unaffected at first, but the great thinkers of this era have all been in some sort of interaction so that whilst they may agree with one thing, they may disagree with another.

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