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History of Philosophy|
The Scottish School
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)
|While German philosophers, inspired by the idea of counteracting the
scepticism of Hume, were evolving systems of transcendental philosophy
from the principles laid down by Kant, there was developing in Hume's
own country a school of philosophy which, although it made common cause
with transcendentalism against scepticism, reached conclusions very
different from those of the transcendentalists. Indeed, in the first
stages of its development, tbe Scottish school was as much opposed to
transcendentalism as it was to scepticism; for the doctrine of common
sense is not merely an affirmation of dogmatism, but also a protest
against absolute idealism.|
McCosh, whose work on The Scottish Philosophy  is a standard
authority, regards Reid as the first "fit representative" of the
Scottish school, although Sir William Hamilton traces the history of
the school back to Carmichael and Hutcheson.
 The Scottish Philosophy (London, 1875; New York, 1890). A
recent work on the Scottish School is Laurie's Scottish Philosophy in
its National Development (London and Glasgow, 1902).
Life. Thomas Reid (1710-1796), who succeeded Adam Smith as
professor of philosophy at the University of Glasgow, is the author of
An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense
(1764), Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1785), and
Essays on the Active Powers of Man (1788). The edition of Reid's
works begun by Hamilton (1827) was completed after the latter's death.
The seventh edition appeared in 1872.
There are in Reid's philosophy two points of doctrine which deserve
special attention: his theory of perception and his doctrine of common
Theory of Perception. Reid rightly traced the immaterialism of
Berkeley and the scepticism of Hume to the Cartesian doctrine that what
we directly and immediately perceive is not the external object, but a
subjective modification which is an image of the object, -- a doctrine
which he falsely attributes to the schoolmen.  In opposition to this
representative theory of perception, Reid maintains the presentative
theory, -- that our knowledge of external things is immediate.
Startled, however, by his own boldness, as Hamilton observes, he
proceeds to deliver the whole case into the hands of his opponents by
declaring that the perception of external objects is to be exempted
from the region of consciousness, so that while he holds that we have
an immediate perception of external objects, he does not admit that we
are conscious of such perception. 
 Works (ed. 1863), p. 952.
Doctrine of Common Sense. "Philosophy," Reid teaches, "has no
other root but the principles of common sense; it grows out of them and
draws its nourishment from them. Severed from this root, its honours
wither, its sap is dried up, it dies and rots."  Zeno the Eleatic,
Pyrrho the sceptic, Berkeley the immaterialist, and Hume the
phenomenalist overlooked this
truth. Hobbes and Descartes, who were equally neglectful of the claims
of common sense, are accountable for "the present unprosperous state"
 Cf. Hamilton, Metaphysics, Lect. XIII.
 Works, p. 101.
The principle on which Reid's philosophy is grounded is the following:
"All knowledge and all science must be built upon principles that
are self-evident; and of such principles every man who has common
sense is a competent judge."  Self-evident truths, such as the axiom of
causality, are to be exempted from critical inquiry; they are primary
data of intellectual thought.
 Op. cit., p. 422.
In developing this fundamental principle Reid takes advantage of the
twofold meaning of the term common sense, namely: (1) the
combination of qualities constituting good sense, or the faculty of
sound judgment; (2) the aggregate of original principles planted in the
minds of all men. Hamilton has shown that if we take the latter meaning
of the term, Reid's argument is a valid and legitimate refutation of
 Cf. Note A to Hamilton's edition of Reid's Works, pp.
Historical Position. Not even the most enthusiastic of Reid's
admirers claim for him the title of great philosopher. "He has not,"
writes McCosh, "the mathematical consecutiveness of Descartes, the
speculative genius of Leibnitz, the sagacity of Locke, the spirituelle
of Berkeley, or the detective skill of Hume."  Reid himself was of
opinion that "it is genius and not the want of it that adulterates
philosophy." The greatest benefit that Reid conferred on philosophy was
the importance which he attached, and succeeded in causing others to
attach, to introspection, or self-observation.
 Realistic Philosophy, II, 175.
James Oswald (1727-1793) and James Beattie (1735-1803)
popularized and applied to theological controversy the principles of
the philosophy of common sense. Mention must also be made of a
contemporary of Reid, the eccentric author of Ancient
Metaphysics, or the Science of Universals (Edinburgh, 1779-1799),
namely, James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1714-1799).
The philosophy of the Scottish school was developed by Stewart, Brown,
and Mackintosh before reaching its final phase as represented in the
philosophy of Hamilton.
Life. Dugald Stewart (1753-1828) was the most eminent of the
followers of Reid. His principal work is entitled Elements of the
Philosophy of the Human Mind. His Collected Works were
published in ten volumes by Hamilton (Edinburgh, 1854-1858).
Stewart accepts Reid's analysis of perception. While vindicating Reid's
empirical method of self-observation, he attached greater importance
than Reid had done to the association of ideas. He protested, however,
with the utmost vigor against the materialism of the first
associationists, Hartley, Priestley, and Erasmus Darwin. 
 Cf. Philosophical Essays, pp. 166 ff. (first American
edition, Philadelphia, 1811).
Life. Thomas Brown (1778-1820), after studying law and medicine
at the University of Edinburgh, was appointed in 1810 associate
professor with Dugald Stewart. His chief works are An Inquiry into
the Relation of Cause and Effect (1804) and Lectures on the
Philosophy of the Human Mind (1820).
Brown retains the fundamental doctrine of the Scottish school, namely,
the existence of indemonstrable first principles. He is, however, more
inclined than were his predecessors to restrict the number of these
principles and to give larger scope to association in accounting for
the origin of our universal and
necessary beliefs. In his analysis of the processes of sensation he
attaches great importance to the muscular sense. With regard to
causation, he teaches that, while the relation of cause and effect is
merely one of invariable succession, our judgment concerning that
relation is not the result of association or custom, but a primitive,
or intuitive, belief.
Life. Sir James Mackintosh (1765-1832) was no less distinguished
as a statesman, historian, essayist, and critic than as a philosopher.
His principal philosophical works are a Dissertation on the Progress of
Ethical Philosophy (contributed in 1830 to the Encyclopaedia
Britannica), and a Discourse on the Law of Nature and Nations
Mackintosh, while adhering to the original speculative principle of the
Scottish school, even going so far as to accuse Brown of openly
revolting against the authority of Reid, departed from the ethical
tradition of the followers of Hutcheson to the extent of admitting that
benevolence is the universal characteristic of human virtue. But
although he betrays here the influence of the utilitarians, he does not
maintain that the happiness of others is the universal criterion of
moral conduct. He is inclined rather to side with the intuitionists and
to insist on the supremacy of the immediate judgment of conscience.
The next representative of the Scottish school is Sir William Hamilton,
who, under the influence of Kantian principles, developed the
philosophy of his predecessors, Reid and Stewart, into a more
comprehensive system. It was, however, inevitable that the introduction
of foreign elements of speculative criticism should react on the
dogmatism of the founders of the school, and lead to a partial
scepticism, which, in the nineteenth century, proved a no less
formidable foe to theism in religion and
to absolutism in philosophy than was Hume's scepticism in the
SIR WILLIAM HAMILTON
Life. Sir William Hamilton was born at Glasgow in 1788. After
completing his studies in the department of arts in the university of
his native city, he took up the study of medicine at Edinburgh. In 1807
he went to Oxford. After leaving Oxford he began the study of law, and
in 1813 was admitted to the Scottish bar. In 1821 he was appointed to
the chair of civil history in the University of Edinburgh. In 1836 he
was appointed to the chair of logic and metaphysics, which he held
until his death in 1856.
Sources. Besides the Discussions on Philosophy, Literature,
and Education (1852), the Lectures on Metaphysics (second
edition, 1866), the Lectures on Logic (second edition, 1866),
and many important articles in the Edinburgh Review (from 1829
to 1839), Hamilton contributed to English philosophical literature his
valuable editions of Reid's and Stewart's works. Consult: J. S. Mill's
Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (London, 1865;
fifth edition, 1878); Wight's Philosophy of Sir William Hamilton (New
York, 1854); Bowen's Metaphysics of Sir W. Hamilton (Cambridge, Mass.,
1867); and Veitch's Hamilton (Blackwood's Philosophical Classics,
Edinburgh and Philadelphia, 1882).
General View of Philosophy. Hamilton defines philosophy as the
knowledge of effects in their causes, -- a definition which, as
Hamilton himself observes, implies that all the sciences are to be
viewed as so many branches of philosophy.  Philosophy, however,
differs from the other sciences in having for its primary problem to
investigate and determine the conditions of knowledge. Consequently, it
makes mind its first and paramount object of consideration.  In
logic, ethics, politics, the philosophy of the fine arts, and
natural theology the mind is studied "in certain special
applications," while in metaphysics the mind is studied in itself. Now
metaphysics, or psychology (for the terms are synonymous), has a
threefold task: (1) the
observation of facts and phenomena of the mind (phenomenology of
mind); (2) the study of the laws which regulate these facts
(nomology of the mind); and (3) the study of the "real results"
which we are warranted in inferring from these phenomena
(ontology, or metaphysics, properly so called).
 Metaphysics, Lect. III.
Logic. Hamilton's most important contribution to logic is his
Theory of the Quantification of the Predicate. This theory is
based on the postulate that "we be allowed to state explicitly in
language all that is implicitly contained in thought," and on the
alleged fact that in thought we quantify the predicate as well as the
subject of a judgment. The innovation would necessitate a complete
change in the system of logical notation, and was destined (so, at
least, its author claimed) to reform the entire science, to reduce
propositions to equations, to simplify the doctrine of conversion, and
to abolish the figured syllogism. 
 Cf. Lectures on Logic, Appendix IV. For criticism of
this theory, cf. Mill's Examination, II, 195 ff.
Psychology. Hamilton divides the phenomena of the mind into
cognitions, feelings, and conative phenomena (volitions
and desires). The cognitive states are subdivided according as they are
referred to one or other of the cognitive faculties; namely, the
presentative, the conservative, the reproductive,
the representative, the elaborative, and the
The presentative faculty includes external and internal
perception, the former being synonymous with consciousness of states of
the not-self, and the latter with self-consciousness, or consciousness
of states of self. For, whether it is question of external or of
internal perception, all that we perceive is the phenomenon; so that
our knowledge of matter, as well as our knowledge of mind, is confined
to phenomenal states. "Our whole knowledge of mind and matter,"
Hamilton writes, "is thus only relative; of existence,
absolutely and in itself, we know nothing."  In this sense Hamilton
is a relativist, -- a relativist, however, of a class altogether
different from that to which
are assigned those who, like Protagoras, held that man is the measure
of all things.
 Metaph., Lect. VIII.
The qualities of external reality as perceived by us are reduced to
three classes, -- primary, secundo-primary, and
secondary, -- according as the knowledge element or the feeling
element predominates in the perception.  Of these qualities we have
an immediate, or presentative, not a mediate, or representative,
knowledge. Hamilton is, therefore, an advocate of natural
realism, of which he says Reid is the first champion in modern
 Cf. Reid's Works, Note D, p. 858.
The conservative and reproductive faculties include the
retentive and resuscitative functions of memory. The resuscitative
faculty is governed by the laws of association, to which
Hamilton devoted special attention. 
 Metaph., Lect. XXIV.
 Reid's Works, Notes D** and D*** also Metaph.,
Lects. XXXI and XXXII.
The representative faculty, or imagination, is defined as
the power of representing in consciousness and of keeping before the
mind the knowledge presented, retained, and reproduced. 
 Op. cit., Lect. XX.
The elaborative faculty is the faculty of comparison. It
includes generalization (simple apprehension), judgment, and reasoning.
The regulative faculty is what the ancients called
intellect, and what Reid and Stewart designated as common sense.
The phenomena with which it is concerned are not data of experience,
but rather the native cognitions of the mind, which are the
conditions of all experience.
Passing over the nomology of the mind, we next come to the questions of
ontology, that is to the inferences drawn from the study of the mind.
Ontology. Since we know only the relations of things, since
relativity in this sense is a quality of all human knowledge, it
follows that we cannot know the unconditioned. "Conditional limitation
is the fundamental law of the possibility of thought. . . . To know is
to condition."  The unconditioned, however, is not in itself a
contradiction; its inconceivableness does not preclude the possibility
of its existence. It is inconceivable as a concept, and its existence
is unknowable so far as reason, intuition, and experience go. Hamilton,
however, admitting that "our faculties are weak, not deceitful," 
holds that a supernatural revelation of the Absolute supplements our
ordinary knowledge of it.
 Cf. Logic, Lect. V.
With regard to self and not-self Hamilton, while holding
that the doctrine of relativity applies to these objects of knowledge,
-- that self and not-self are per se unknowable as to their substance,
-- concedes that our mental experience reveals self as a unity amid
successive changes, and that our experience of the external world
warrants us in representing it as a reality which is permanent as to
the quantum of existence, although the forms of existence are
constantly changing. 
 Discussions, p. 15.
 Cf. Veitch, Hamilton, pp. 261 ff.
It is scarcely necessary to point out here the ambiguity of the term
"relativity" as applied to human knowledge. Between the
propositions "We know only the relations of things" and "We know the
related thing only in so far as it is related to us" there is a vast
difference, -- a difference to which the difference between agnosticism
and theism is ultimately reduced.
Hamilton explains the universal belief in causation by the
inability of the human mind to think anything except under the
conditions of space and time.
Historical Position. Hamilton brought to bear on the study of
philosophy an erudition less common than it ought to have been among
British philosophers in the early part of the nineteenth century. It
was by encouraging historical research in connection with the study of
philosophy, and by fostering a spirit
of scholarship rather than by stimulating constructive effort, that
his influence as a writer and teacher was most widely felt. Exception
must, however, be made in favor of his doctrine of relativity, which
may be said to be the philosophical basis of modern agnosticism,
although it is quite certain that Hamilton never intended that his
criticism of rational knowledge should become a criticism of belief.
Henry Longueville Mansel (1820-1871) was the first to apply the
doctrine of relativity to the defense of religion. In the Limits of
Religious Thought (Bampton Lecture, 1858) and the Philosophy of
the Conditioned (1866) he endeavors to refute rationalism by
showing, in conformity with Hamilton's principles, that the only
knowledge of the unconditioned which the human mind can acquire is
"negative," and that in matters of religious belief a scientific system
is impossible. He insists that the difficulty of believing arises not
from revelation but from the inability of reason to form a positive
concept of God,  and concludes that reason must be corrected and
supplemented by faith. The constructive aspect of Mansel's system was,
however, neglected; its destructive aspect was promptly seized upon and
converted into a justification of agnosticism.
 "Of the nature and attributes of God in His Infinite Being,
Philosophy can tell us nothing; of man's inability to apprehend that
nature, and why he is thus unable, she tells us all that we can know
and all that we need know" (Limits of Religious Thought, p.
James Frederick Ferrier (1808-1864), author of the Institutes
of Metaphysic (1854), is sometimes reckoned among the members of
the Scottish school. His attitude was, however, one of antagonism to
the doctrines of that school, and especially to the identification of
metaphysics with psychology, which was, as we have seen, a tenet common
to all the Scottish philosophers. He divided philosophy into
epistemology (the theory of knowing), agnoiology (the
theory of ignorance), and ontology (the theory of being). 
 Cf. Ueberweg, History of Philosophy, English trans.,