Scottish School of Common Sense
SCOTTISH SCHOOL OF COMMON SENSE
A philosophical school founded by Thomas reid, who held that common sense should not be formed by philosophy, but the latter by the former. "The most immediate conclusions which reason draws from perception constitute common sense" or that body of data according to which men govern themselves in the ordinary affairs of life; the most remote conclusions constitute science. Science and common sense are closely knit "that we cannot say precisely where the former begins and the latter ends." Man's knowledge of nature "can be compared with a tree having its roots, its trunk, and its branches. Perception is the root, common sense the trunk, science the branches" (An Inquiry into the Human Mind, 6.20).
Characteristics. Opposed especially to the empiricism of Locke and Hume, and on many points, to the rationalism of Descartes and Leibniz, the Scottish School has four characteristics: (1) the careful and detailed analysis of the faculties of the mind; thus, according to some of his critics, Reid is convinced that there is a science of observation having the human mind as its object and the internal senses as its means, its result being the determination of its laws; (2) the claim that the reality of things and minds depends upon a "primitive belief," the evidence of which cannot be doubted without opposing common sense; (3) the conclusion that, since man's knowledge is limited to phenomena, he cannot know substance; and (4) since perception is immediate, ideas are excluded as intermediaries, inasmuch as they are deemed to be the source of skepticism and fictitious entities that obstruct the true knowledge of reality.
The last point is the most original aspect in Reid's theory of knowledge as well as that which offers the greatest difficulty. For Reid, perception is different not only from sensation but also from reason. The assent it inspires results from instinct alone; conclusions are thus distinct from what it simply perceives. Perception being the sole basis for reasoning, Cartesian rationalism is overturned and reason is subordinated to what is grasped immediately. Here Reid opposes the mechanistic rationalism of the Cartesians and in preference to the fixed and eternal laws of the intellect, reasserts the spontaneity of human nature by assigning it a prior validity over the rules of reason. Reason comes only later to draw its conclusions: both the immediate conclusions that form common sense and the remote conclusions that constitute science. As an immediate datum, then, perception is the root from which common sense and science spring, both being a part of a whole that is in immediate relation with reason and in mediated relation with perception.
Reid unifies common sense and science, instinct and reason, in opposition to abstract analysis and in support of the validity of the mind's immediate activity. The immediacy of perception is always such without the intervention of reason; yet Reid also assigns a decisive value to reason itself. His perception, moreover, is not the synthetic a priori of Kant. Herein lies the real difficulty in Reid's theory of knowledge. Perception is not synthesis; it contains the two elements of knowledge, independent in themselves, yet related in a way that is inexplicable and impossible to comprehend.
Dugald Stewart. The continuator of Reid's philosophy was his Edinburgh disciple Dugald Stewart (1753–1828), who taught in the university of his native city as well as in that of Glasgow. In his most important works, all published in Edinburgh [Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, 3 v. (1792–1827); Outlines of the Moral Philosophy (1793); Philosophical Essays (1810); Dissertation Exhibiting the Progress of Metaphysics … 2 v. (1815–22); Philosophy of the Active and Moral Powers of Man, 2 v. (1828)], he expounds what he himself calls the teaching about the "fundamental laws of belief." According to this doctrine, there are in man innate primitive and elementary laws that make him believe, with irresistible persuasion, in the existence of the external world (things perceived) and of men (sentient and thinking subjects), in the uniformity of the laws of nature, in the continuity of man's personal identity, etc.
Others in Britain. Even while Reid was still living, he was succeeded at Aberdeen by James Beattie (1735–1803), author of various works of poetry, as well as of the Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth (1770). At the same time, James Oswald (1715–69) applied the principles of the Scottish School to the problem of religion in his Appeal to Common Sense in Behalf of Religion (2 v. Edinburgh 1766–72); denying the validity of metaphysics, he upheld the validity of common sense in reference to the defense of Christian truths. Meanwhile Thomas Brown (1778–1820) succeeded to the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh. This chair passed from Brown to H. Colverwood and then to Thomas S. Baynes, who introduced the Scottish School into St. Andrew's University.
During the same era W. hamilton (1788–1856) obtained the chair of logic and metaphysics at Edinburgh; the principal edition of Reid's works (1846; 6th ed. 1863) is due to him. When they were reprinted, they contained some works by Hamilton himself that represent one phase of his thought. However, there is a strong influence of Kantian criticism in Hamilton, which thereby became engrafted to the philosophy of common sense. Hamilton extended his agnosticism to time, space and causality. He reproduced the unknown aspects and mysteries in Reid's philosophy, and counterbalanced the idealistic theories of Coleridge and Carlyle. Through this continuator, Reid's philosophy, formulated in such a way as to remedy the skeptical consequences in Hume's thought, was now employed against the audacities of "trancendental philosophy" and assumed a new role in the history of English thought. However, Hamilton, who worked in a cultural climate different from that of Reid, accentuated agnosticism and made the philosophy of common sense similar to that of skeptical phenomenalism, to which the former had been opposed.
Hamilton's disciple was H. L. Mansel (1820–71), who made his teacher's agnosticism even more rigid in his works The Limits of Religious Thought (London 1858) and Philosophy of the Conditioned (London 1866). Here the inconceivability of the Absolute is expressly taught: "The Absolute cannot be conceived as either conscious or unconscious, complex or simple …. It cannot be identified with the universe nor can it be distinguished from it." Nevertheless, the construction of man's mind forces him to believe in the existence of an absolute and infinite Being (a belief based also upon revelation). Driven to this point, agnosticism is mere skepticism and fideism.
Influence Elsewhere. In France, the works of Reid and Stewart were translated by M. Jouffroy (4 v., Paris 1836), with a critical introduction by Jouffroy himself and a life of Reid by Stewart. The psychology of the Scottish School especially became an object of study. Introduced by P. P. Royer-Collard (1763–1843), it spread from the Sorbonne into intellectual circles and influenced Condillacism; its mysterious elements served to unveil the pretenses of Cabanis's materialism. It influenced maine de biran, whose "effort" psychology clarified and amended the teaching of Condillac's followers regarding the passivity of the mind. Excluding the analogy between matter and mind, Reid's psychology of analysis and of interior observation was crystallized, although with vigorous tones and despite the influence of Maine de Biran, in the speculation of T. S. Jouffroy (1796–1842). Finally, although combined without any originality, Reid's motives are present in the eclecticism of V. cousin, who preserved as the foundation of his own system, immediate apprehension in the sense of the Scottish School.
The teaching of this school was widely diffused also in Italy, especially in the kingdom of Naples. It was espoused and criticized in relation to Kant's philosophy, notably by P. galluppi, A. rosmini-serbati and V. gioberti.
The American James McCosh (1811–94), who studied at Edinburgh, introduced the "common sense" doctrine to America, but other Hamilton successors departed from this teaching. The tradition continued at Glasgow until the end of the 19th century, when the school broke up as the teachings of Berkeley and Hume were revived and post-Kantian idealism exercised its influence.
Bibliography: f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy (Westminster, Md 1946–) 5:364–394. m. m. rossi, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 4:479–480. m. f. sciacca, Reid (Milan 1945). f. harrison, The Philosophy of Common Sense (London 1907). h. laurie, Scottish Philosophy in Its National Development (Glasgow 1902). j. h. faurot, "Common Sense in the Philosophy of Thomas Reid," The Modern Schoolman, 33 (1956) 182–189. w. p. krolikowski, "The Starting Point in Scottish Common-Sense Realism," ibid., 139–152.
[m. f. sciacca]