Thomas Reid on Practical Ethics: Lectures and Papers on Natural Religion, Self-government, Natural Jurisprudence and the Law of Nations

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Edinburgh University Press, 2007 - Philosophy - 404 pages
The pervasiveness of Protestant natural law in the early modern period and its significance in the Scottish Enlightenment have long been recognized. This book reveals that Thomas Reid (1710-1796) - the great contemporary of David Hume and Adam Smith - also worked in this tradition. When Reid succeeded Adam Smith as Professor of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow in 1764, he taught a course covering pneumatology, practical ethics, and politics. This section of practical ethics was an adaptation of the system of natural law and natural rights published by Francis Hutcheson. Knud Haakonssen has reconstructed it here for the first time from Reid's manuscript lectures and papers, and it provides a considerable addition to our understanding not only of Reid but of the thought of the Scottish Enlightenment and of the education system of the time. The present work is a revised version of a work first published by Princeton University Press in 1990, which has long been out of print.

About the author (2007)

The founder and greatest representative of Scottish commonsense philosophy was a Presbyterian minister who was born in Aberdeen and studied at Marischal College, Aberdeen. In 1751 he was made regent at King's College, Aberdeen, and after 1764 was professor of moral philosophy there. Reid's chief works are An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764), Essay on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1785), and Essay on the Active Powers of Man (1788). Reid was greatly influenced by Hume's empiricist skepticism, to which his whole philosophy may be seen as a systematic reply, although he also devoted attention to answering Berkeley's antimaterialism and Locke's theory of personal identity. He attacked the theory of ideas was based on false analogies between mental and physical objects, and led to a series of unwarranted conclusions repugnant to common sense. He maintained that mental perceptions are "natural signs" of things, analogous in their function to words, though their meaning is innate rather than learned. In moral philosophy, Reid was a realist, holding that moral properties are not merely the projections of our feelings but possess genuine objectivity and a unique content. Reid's "commonsense" philosophy is based not on an uncritical acceptance of what most people believe but rather on a set of principles that he thinks do a better job of accounting for the use of our mental powers than the principles appealed to by previous philosophers. Reid's approach to philosophy was taken up by other Scottish philosophers, among them James Beattie, Dugald Stewart, and William Hamilton. He also had an important influence on several later philosophical defenders of common sense, including Pierre Royer-Collard, Charles Sanders Peirce and George Edward Moore.

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