Thomas Reid, Scottish philosopher, and a contemporary of David Hume, was the founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense, and played an integral role in the Scottish Enlightenment. The early part of his life was spent in Aberdeen, where he created the “Wise Club” (a literary-philosophical association) and graduated from the University of Aberdeen. He was given a professorship at King’s College Aberdeen in 1752, where he wrote An Inquiry Into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (published in 1764). Shortly afterward he was given a much more prestigious professorship at the University of Glasgow when he was called to replace Adam Smith. He resigned from this position in 1781.
Reid believed that common sense (in a special philosophical sense) is, or at least should be, at the foundation of all philosophical inquiry.
In his day and for some years into the 19th century, he was regarded as more important than David Hume. He advocated direct realism, or common sense realism, and argued strongly against the Theory of Ideas advocated by John Locke, René Descartes, and (in varying forms) nearly all Early Modern philosophers who came after them. He had a great admiration for Hume, and asked him to correct the first manuscript of his (Reid’s) Inquiry.
His theory of knowledge had a strong influence on his theory of morals. He thought epistemology was an introductory part to practical ethics: When we are confirmed in our common beliefs by philosophy, all we have to do is to act according to them, because we know what is right.
His moral philosophy is reminiscent of the Latin stoicism mediated by the Scholastica, St. Thomas Aquinas and the Christian way of life. He often quotes Cicero, from whom he adopted the term “sensus communis”.
His reputation waned after attacks on the Scottish School of Common Sense by Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill, but his was the philosophy taught in the colleges of North America, during the 19th century, and was championed by Victor Cousin, a French philosopher. His reputation has revived in the wake of the advocacy of common sense as a philosophical method or criterion by G. E. Moore early in the 20th century, and more recently due to the attention given to Reid by contemporary philosophers such as William Alston and Alvin Plantinga.
Major Works of Thomas Reid
– Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764)
– Essays on the Intellectual Powers (1785)
– Essays on the Active Powers (1788)