The Main Empiricists
A New Method
Sir Francis Bacon is known as the father of empiricism (Locke is the father of 'modern' empiricism). He advocated
inductive reasoning ('bottom up’ reasoning) where general principles are developed from observations. Bacon’s
great work is “Novum Organum” (1620). Bacon called it the ‘great instauration’ – a New Method. He was
among the first to establish an epistemological
approach to science and scientific
Bacon conducted two types of experiments:
1) Experimenta Lucifera (‘Light-shedding experiments’). Systematic studies of
the influences of one event on another, otherwise known as causality – cause & effect. Baconian fact
gathering: turn on the lights and find out what’s there.
2) Experimenta Fructifera (‘Fruit-bearing experiments’). Systematic studies
which identify the cause of things, not just the effects. The experiments that bear fruit.
Influence of Isaac
Newton credited much of his work in Principia to the Baconian method.
Bacon has been referred to as the ‘prophet’ whose prophesies were redeemed by Newton.
The Baconian Theory of Shakespeare Authorship holds that Bacon wrote the plays
attributed to William Shakespeare. Many claims have been proved to be forgery. Baconians have argued that since
Shakespeare's work shows detailed scientific knowledge ‘proves’ that Bacon is the real author. The common objection
is that Bacon was far too busy with his own work to have had time to create the entire canon of another
John Locke (1632-1704)
John Locke’s key influential works are ‘Two
Treatises of Government’ (1689) and ‘An Essay Concerning Human
Tyranny of the Ancien
The early 18th-century was the time of the ancien regime, a time of bungling politicians, of nobles feeding off the
labors of masses of peasants, of immorality and corruption among Europe's ruling elites. ‘Two Treaties of
Government’ attacks absolute monarchical power of English Patriarchalism. Locke argues against the
divine rights of kings; that the state should be the consent of the governed or
a social contract (legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual).
Human Freedom & Liberty
John Locke’s influential ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding’ (1690) marks the beginning of the philosophical
enlightenment with its emphasis on reason – a reason to dispel the sources of intolerance and encourage people to
think for themselves and to promote the cause of human freedom and liberty. Locke was adamantly opposed to all
forms of tyranny - political, moral or religious.
Although though many of Locke's conclusions have been cast aside
by contemporary philosophers the spirit of his inquiry remains with us today: the exploration of what is
possible for human minds to know and those areas that cannot be known.
“Father of Empiricism”
Locke is known as the
“Father of Modern Empiricism” since his essay was the first of its kind to make a serious and systematic
inquiry in the problems of epistemology.
‘Human Understanding’ is primarily a philosophical one, however it includes discourse on religion, ethics,
education and government.
'Human Understanding' comprises four books:
Ideas. Innatism is a philosophical doctrine that holds that the mind is born with
ideas or knowledge and that the mind is not a blank
slate (“tabula rasa”) at birth. The belief that not all knowledge is gained from experience
and the senses goes back to the dialogues of Plato and to the writings of Descartes. In Book 1 of ‘Human Understanding’ Locke rejects innatism and
attempts to refute Descartes’ stance of throwing out all sense data as a source of knowledge. Realizing that the
senses can sometimes give false information (eg, optical illusions), Locke put the ‘brakes’ on Descartes’
extreme ‘Rationalist’ position and developed ‘Primary’ and ‘Secondary’ qualities of perception (see
'Representational View of Perception').
2) Theory of Ideas. For Locke ‘theory of ideas’ means mental
representations (important). Simple ideas; sensation: ‘red’, ‘sweet’; Complex ideas (numbers, causation &
connection: what the mind wills & the body does, abstract ideas, God & the infinite).
3) Language. Meanings of words.
4) Knowledge. Three types:
1. Intuition – immediate awareness (not representation). A priori knowledge or
truth by definition. Logic: A=A. Geometry: sum of the 3 interior angles equal 180 degrees. We accept
certain propositions intuitively; difficult to doubt (“I have a body”, “Black is not white”, and even, “God
2. Demonstrative – to demonstrate something by logical proof. To connect simple ideas to form complex
ones (eg, heat of the Sun compared with the heat of fire – both made of similar substances). A posteriori
knowledge because it may change.
3. Sensitive – knowledge that relies on the senses (a posteriori knowledge).
Dr. Arthur Holmes, professor of philosophy, Wheaton college,
outlines Locke’s tenuous position: "Setting the stage that way Locke is opening himself up to problems about
whether or not we can show that there are external material bodies outside the mind. Whether or not there are
other minds other than one's own. Whether or not there is an objectively real God rather than just the
idea of God. Whether or not if there are objectively real binding moral obligations rather than just our
ideas…The fundamental question being ‘Can we know any more than appearances - phenomena - as distinct from
reality in itself?’. That question is still with us in contemporary debates over realism and
Another important philosophic inquiry that
Locke addresses is the question of the justification of belief - a crucial epistemological issue in
contemporary philosophy. Professor Holmes informs that Locke is an 'evidentialist' – that one is justified to
believe something if and only if that there is evidence to supports ones belief. This outline review on ‘The
Main Empiricists’ ends with the Scottish Realist who justifies belief with ‘natural
Locke’s philosophical works has been called the first “Newtonian psychology”. One
feature of Newtonian science is its ontology.
Newton begins with the assumption that the ultimate constituents of reality are not visible to the senses.
Newton uses the term ‘corpuscular’ to describe light and that reality comprises an atomic
Representational View of
Locke’s investigation of perception led to a representational view of perception –
Realism or ‘representative realism’ – in which he refined and popularized the terminology
of 'primary' and 'secondary' qualities (originally invented by Robert
Boyle). Locke states that material objects possess Primary qualities which are not in our mind
but belong to things itself like shape, size, motion and quantity – all which can be empirically measured (the
concept of ‘Primary’ qualities later led to the philosophical position known as 'reductionism’ - reducing an
object into component parts). Secondary qualities are subjectively perceived: color, taste, smell, sound, hot
and cold (qualia). Not surprisingly, subjective experience does lead to philosophical disputes: how ‘orange’ is
that orange? and how sweet is it taste? (on the empirical side – drinking fresh orange juice on an empty stomach
does cleanse or
detoxify the body).
Thomas Reid (Scottish Realism) outrightly opposed the ‘representational’ view and the ‘subjectivity’ of qualities
(ideas don’t smell, roses smell!).
A visualization of
Indirect Realism shown below using Integral Theory’s AQAL
Political Theory –
Sovereignty of State & Individual
In regards to
political theory, Locke thought that men naturally possess certain rights – life, liberty & property – and that
a contract should exist between a government and its subjects: people give up a part of their rights in return for
a just rule, and the ruler hold his power only so long as he uses it justly. The American Declaration
of Independence is largely influenced by Locke’s teachings.
Bishop George Berkeley
Bishop George Berkeley (Bishop of Cloyne) was
an Anglo-Irish philosopher and theistic idealist who advanced a theory he called ‘immaterialism’ (later known as
‘subjective idealism’) where external objects have actual being or real existence only when they are perceived
by an observer.
In his ‘A Treatise
Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge’ (1710), Berkeley took empiricism to its logical conclusion
leading to the dismantling of Locke’s ‘Primary’ and ‘Secondary’ ideas of perception. As an empiricist, Berkeley
believed that all knowledge comes from sensory experience and reflection, however, on the other hand, Berkeley
attempts to prove that the outside world is composed solely of ideas. When Berkeley asks, “how do we know the
shape of that orange?”, the Lockian reply is that it is a primary quality and that it is immediately
perceivable. Berkeley’s insight was that you don't perceive some qualities of a object while totally
disregarding others. You can't detect an orange’s shape without also detecting its color. You can't detect any of
the primary qualities without considering the secondary ones. You can't see a colorless orange. You can't feel a
texture-less orange. Remove all the secondary qualities and the orange is non-existent. Berkeley's conclusion:
there's no such thing as matter, there's only perceptions.
Berkeley’s ‘subjective idealism’ philosophy in
a nutshell: Esse est percipi – to be is to be perceived.
At first glance of these claims the
sense man or the first semester philosophy student would advance that Berkeley’s position is
not philosophical but psychological. In ‘The unconscious origins of Berkeley's
Philosophy' (1953) professor of philosophy J.O. Wisdom comments, “Berkeley strove to expound a philosophy of
though with only partial success, while he succeeded at the same time in portraying a philosophy of Solipsism.”
‘Principles of Human Knowledge’ consist of 156
sections. Berkeley’s introductory
#1 sets the tone of his project: to discover why the various sects of philosophy have fallen
into “doubtfulness and uncertainties…absurdities and contradictions”.
Bringing God Back
to the Center Stage
Berkeley's day was a period where materialism was on
the rise. Deism of the day was
built upon the foundation of Newtonian physics where nature operates according to its own fixed
mechanical laws. As a theist Berkeley viewed the materialist rise as a threat: God's intimate role in
nature was beginning to be seen as superfluous. The growing tendency of scientists, mathematicians and
philosophers to push God to the periphery and adopt a mechanistic view of how the universe worked – of a ‘God’
to merely crank the starting handle of the great world-machine – motivated Berkeley to see that Deism was not a
religious alternative to Christianity. In essence, Berkeley’s ‘project’ was to bring God back
to the center stage.
To get God ‘back on stage’ Berkeley’s argument
focused on the uniformities of our experiences. That we live in a common sense experience of common order and
predictability. And the cause of that uniformity is a greater mind, a supreme intelligence, an infinite spirit –
God. God is the other mind. God informs our minds and we participate in God's ideas; all our sensations and
reflections are mental constructs, ultimately built by God.
Dr. Arthur Holmes, professor of philosophy,
notes that Berkeley’s God argument is “sort of an empiricist's equivalent of saying the human logos participates in
the divine logos - the human mind participates
in the divine mind. In his ‘A History of Philosophy’ courses (Wheaton college) Professor
Holmes discusses an anecdotal story of one of his philosophy students who came from a Christian
Science background. When they talked about Berkeley the student would say "that's the way I
was brought up to think".
There is a lot of
validity for ‘esse est percipi’: most of the qualities we perceive in the external world are secondary qualities
(qualia), made in the brain, so it is ‘ideal’ rather than ‘material’. Berkeley’s position as an idealist is that
matter does not exist. All that exists is minds and mental states. Berkeley discounts materialism for it is an
untenable metaphysics and an untenable ontology, because the material world itself does not have an
independent existence (“not mind-dependent”).
When Berkeley says “there is no material world”
is he denying the existence of substances?; that there is no top to the highest mountain unclimbed or that
there was no other side of the moon until the Apollo program? No, he would not say that. According to
Berkeley the material world is a collection of attributes (big, blue, sweet, hot, cold) which are perceptions.
Absent perception they are not attributes. For a thing to be, it has to have the potential for perception. So
Berkeley asks, “when you take away the physical attributes or perception, what do you have?”
Berkeley's ‘immaterialism’ still begs the
philosophical question: “Can something exist without being perceived?” Like the question –
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear
it, does it make a
sound?” It depends on your philosophical point of view
regards to ‘objective’ knowledge of nature Berkeley and his 18th-century compatriots did not know about the
concepts of time and
space and that matter and
energy are a relation rather than fixed separate
Moving from 18th-century Age of Reason to the 19th-century ‘Democratic Age'
the emphasis shifts to innate resources, not knowledge, but the soul’s creative expression. As an
empiricist Berkeley’s idealism focused on the passivity of the human mind as a recipient of sense data as
opposed to the creative resources of
the human spirit.
The Problem of Evil
One of the major problems of metaphysical idealism, from a traditional theistic
position, is the Problem of Evil. If there is no real materiality, no real physical forces then all of the
things that constitute the ‘Problem of Evil’ (physical pain, cancer, earthquakes, including death) appear to
exhaust the explanations from traditional religious authorities.
However, it is specious to claim that, since you do not have physical causes to explain physical
evils, Berkeley’s ‘subjective idealism’, taken at face value, – which denies the ‘existence of material substances'
– makes God responsible for the ‘evil’. Big problem there.
Solving the ‘Problem of Evil’ cannot be accomplished with traditional theistic viewpoints.
Contemporary idealist metaphysical ‘religions’ or ‘societies’ solve the problem with a higher understanding of
‘Divine Power’. The upshot is that is a dark planet for entities to learn to be positive in a
negative world. Negativity abounds in the world. Did God create it? No. Man alone is responsible for
it. Through free will choice, some people invert good to make a negative. We all have free choice of a path
of Light or Darkness. The principle is almost like electricity: a rise in light or goodness is matched a rise in
darkness or evil. What is evil? Basically greed (if it’s not god-centered). At the heart of every evil is
greed (important to not confuse having abundance with greed; an abundance ‘for the greater good’). God is pure and
constant in Their
love. People are erratic and subject to petty behavior. Never ascribe to God such pettiness,
for that makes God imperfect - that is not in Their nature. Earthquakes? Cancer? The metaphysical
Gnostic reply on the
former: ‘cleansing of the Earth’; the latter: your ‘exit point’ to go back ‘Home’.
Metaphysical publications on evil: 'Journey of the Soul'
series and ‘The Art of Being
David Hume (1711-1776)
"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for
money." – Dr. Samuel Johnson
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher and
modern skeptic who’s project was the exploration of the psychological conditions that define human nature – a
“naturalistic science of man”. An approached that focused on the passions of human behavior rather than
Hume was an agnostic and opposed the idea of an
soul and felt the question of God's existence was beyond human reason. He was one the
early major thinkers to refute dogmatic religious and moral ideals in favor of a more sentimentalist approach to
human nature. His belief system would help to inform the future movements of Utilitarianism
Hume’s significate work is the monumental
“A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental
Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion” (1739–40).
Due to the lack of public attention and acceptance (Hume lapsed into a semi-depression), he reworked the ‘Treatise’
and released ‘An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding’ (1748) and ‘An Enquiry
Concerning the Principles of Morals’ (1751). In ‘A Treatise of Human Nature’ (1739) Hume ‘decapitates’ scientific
morality (ethics) with his famous Hume’s Guillotine.
Impressed by Isaac
Newton's achievements in the physical
sciences, Hume’s project became an empirical investigation into human nature and human psychology with the
aim of discovering the "extent and force of human understanding". Against the rationalists, such as Descartes, Hume argues that the passions rather than
reason are the causes behind human behavior.
‘Treatise’ consists of three Books:
Book 1: Of the Understanding. Of ideas of space
& time, of knowledge & probability, of the skeptical.
Book 2: Of the Passions.
Of pride & humility; of love & hatred; of will & passions.
Book 3: Of Morals. Of virtue
& vice; of justice & injustice.
Hume's Theory Knowledge
Hume’s theory of knowledge is one
that is always mediated. That we never have an immediate knowledge of the external world, only the
mediated knowledge that comes by way of this intermediary, namely by our perceptual or sensory
Hume separated knowledge into two types – known
as “Hume’s Fork”:
1) Empirical. Relations of Facts – statements about the world.
Knowledge based on experience in the material world gained through empirical evidence (eg, ‘diamond is harder than
steel’; ‘fresh orange juice detoxifies the body’). Statements that can be falsified and
are classified as synthetic, contingent and knowable a posteriori - things
we know through the senses and experience (eg, “an orange tastes sweet”). A synthetic a posteriori statement
could be false: “Bachelors age poorly” (drink that fresh OJ – on
an empty stomach ;-)
Rational. Relations of Ideas – statements about ideas or values. Knowledge based solely
on ideas or reason (rationalism). Rational statements are analytic, necessary (tautology) and knowable a priori – things we
know through thought alone. Analytic a priori statements: ‘1+2=3’, ‘all bachelors are unmarried’, ‘triangles
have three sides’.
In Hume’s court the two prongs of his fork -
rationalism - can never touch. So according to David Hume only two valid propositions
exist: 1) synthetic a posteriori and 2) analytic a priori.
Kant Crosses Hume’s Fork
Kant's ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ (1781) boils down to the justification for
using both empiricism and rationalism. Kant rebuts “Hume’s Fork” and validates the justification by proving the
existence of a synthetic a priori statement (not permitted by Hume).
In essence Kant’s crossing of ‘Hume’s Fork’ bridged the idealists – those who thought that all reality was in
the mind – and the materialists - those who thought that the only reality lay in the things of the material
world (18th-century example of Integral
Thinking). Kant referred to his new ‘worldview’ or philosophical system as “transcendental
idealism” – knowledge that transcends mere consideration of sensory evidence and requires a
higher understanding of the mind’s interpretation of sensory information. In ‘Critique of Pure
Reason’ Kant held that the world of appearances (phenomena) is empirically real and transcendentally ideal. The
mind plays a central role in influencing the way that the world is experienced: we perceive phenomena through
time, space and the categories of the understanding (Quantity, Quality, Modality, Relation). Kant’s insight,
supposedly missed by Hume, is that Time is not a stimulus that works on a sense organ, so time can’t be provided
by experience. In the chapter ‘Pure Intuitions of Time & Space’ ‘pure’ signifies that time and space are a
priori intuitions – a ‘higher understanding’, that.
As a classic skeptic Hume
questioned Rationalism and the concept of Causation. Rationalism or rational
analysis gave us the discovery that every effect has a cause. Nothing shall come of
nothing. ‘Cause & Effect’ is the foundation of all the sciences which are devoted to
discovering the causes of things. Likewise, it is the bedrock of religious faith that God is the cause of all
The Law of Associationism has been the engine
behind empiricism since the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment. The core principles Associationism:
1) constantly conjoined in experience (principle of Repetition)
2) events that occur together closely in space and time (Principle of Contiguity)
Even though the laws of science do predict
events, Hume pointed out that is simply invoking the principle according to which the future is under the
obligation to mimic the past. He informs us that experience does not tell us much. Of two events, A and B, we say
that A causes B when the two always occur together, that is, are constantly conjoined.
The subject of causation (‘Cause & Effect’)
can be vexing and lengthy discussion of it is beyond the scope of this web-site (refer to Stanford Philosophy
Encyclopedia for an academic review). Cause, according to many philosophers, means a force
that produces an effect. For Aristotle crucial understanding of proper knowledge of a thing is when we
have grasped its true cause and have avoided the delusion of causal fallacy otherwise known as post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy (‘after this, therefore
because of this’). For example, the effect of "the rooster crows before sunrise” results in the fallacious
causal claim: “the rooster causes the sun to rise."
When David Hume concluded his analysis of causation it turned out to be a habit of the mind and that there is
nothing in our sensory experience corresponding to our ordinary notion of the causal relation. In the end Hume
posits that we cannot know if that they are cause & effect connections.
Hume’s position is exemplified in his
explanation of billiard balls striking one another. He concludes that that we have absolutely no idea of why
one event would cause another.
When Hume see one billiard ball strike another
billiard ball, he tells us 'I don't see some third term betwixt them'. That is, at the level of experience there is
nothing that he can account for a 'cause'. There's movement, contact, movement – “can't see a cause” says Hume.
(possibly similar to looking for a cause of why an apple falls from a tree – we can’t ‘see’ gravity). Looking at
the billiard table all Hume can report is the motion of one ball striking another ball and the second ball having
motion somehow imparted to it: “there is not, in any single, particular instance of cause
and effect, anything which can suggest the idea of power or necessary connexion”.
Some came to believe Hume while others, with an
understanding of Newtonian physics, concluded that the second ball’s movement is not a case of post hoc ergo
propter hoc fallacy.
Scottish Realist Thomas
Reid dismissed the ‘constantly conjoined’ position (and the subject of association) claiming
that it appeared to require no other original quality of mind but the power of habit to explain the spontaneous
recurrence of trains of thinking when they become familiar by frequent repetition. Another shortcoming of
the ‘constantly conjoined’ principle is where superstitions can arise (“I wear my special cap at the game
because my team wins more”).
Problem of Induction
In his research of the ancient Greek skeptic philosopher Sextus
Empiricus Hume found a contradiction in the method of induction (informally ‘bottom-up’
thinking). Hume’s famous ‘Problem of Induction’ argues that we cannot rationally justify our belief in causality
since our perception only allows us to experience events that are typically conjoined and that
causality cannot be empirically asserted as the connecting force in that relationship. In Hume’s judgment
human beings lack the capacity to achieve a true conception of the self that – that our conception is merely a
“bundle of sensations” that we connect to formulate the idea of the self.
The astronomer cannot guarantee that the sun
will rise tomorrow. The probability that the sun will rise tomorrow is so enormously large and from a common-sense
point of view the matter is certain. However, the truth remains: the probability that the sun will fail to
rise tomorrow is not zero. It is computable and from a scientific viewpoint sunrise cannot be
Is Hume skeptical about science’s ability to
predict things? Georgetown University professor Daniel N.
Robinson comments: “No, Hume is not being skeptical, he simply wants to record the
psychological dimension of all we know, all we feel, all we value and outside the human context of thought and
feeling everything is in a shadow.” Hume argued against moral absolutes. He speculated that people’s
ethical behavior toward and treatment of others is compelled by emotion, sentiment and passion – both
positive (eg, love, happiness, interest) and negative (eg, fear, greed, envy). And that people are generally
inclined to positive toward behaviors that result in desirable
Hume was the first to point out the
question (Hume’s Guillotine) which in essence disconnects (‘decapitates’) scientific
moralism's notion that knowledge of empirical facts or premises (‘what
is’) dictates human values or moral statements (‘what ought to be’). A statement
using IS describes the world (descriptive or positive statement). A statement using OUGHT prescribes value
judgments (prescriptive or normative statement).
In his lecture titled "Maps of Meaning: The
Architecture of Belief" (2017), Dr. Jordan
Peterson comments on Hume’s Is-Ought: “Simply knowing the objective facts does not tell you
how to implement those facts in your life…You could say that is a necessary consequence of the scientific
endeavor. One of the things you're trying do as a scientist is to strip away the value of the object – ‘I don't
care what your idiosyncratic notion of what the object is - I want to know how you perceive the object such that
everyone else will perceive it that way’. That (view) takes the subjectivity completely out of it. The
(scientific method) does not have a morality in it…I buy Hume's argument - you can't derive an ought from an is
– but it is a problem. You have factual knowledge but you don't know how to implement it ('Problem
of Knowledge'). Should you spend money on AIDS research or cancer research or higher
education? How can you calculate that rationally? You can't - you don't have the information at
hand. For example, the UN has a list of important things to do to help the world - but there is no
agreement on the order.”
Metaphysical ‘Is-Ought’ example where the ‘IS’
is subjective, rather than objective:
‘What Is’ Premise: Spirituality is not about liking and caring for
every single person. There is something wrong with your personality if you try to do that. You are not
a whole person. Spirituality is about doing one’s best to love another’s soul and
wish them the best. You certainly do not have to like them or their acts. To stay around a person
that you intensely dislike is wrong. It causes, guilt, heartache and stunts your spiritual growth.
‘What Ought to’ Statement: “You ought to like
The metaphysical ‘What Is’ premise takes the
position that something innate within us (‘divine
within') allows us to recognize what is morally right or wrong.
Skeptic: Where does ‘divine within’ come
Metaphysical Philosopher: Different approaches to take: spiritual understanding of
God; Plato's Theory of
Forms (moral values derive from their Perfect Moral Form which live in the world of Forms); just knowing
(different from belief).
Skeptic: Both seem impossible to prove especially through an empirical lens which leaves intuitionism or anything
that ‘smells’ metaphysical hanging from faith alone.
Metaphysical Philosopher: If science is defined as “knowledge” (not instrumentally
validated knowledge) then contemplative religion becomes a form of science (eg, science of yoga, science of
mediation, science of creative intelligence, Science of Mind).
Physics becomes a branch of the Tree of Science: The Medium, The
Mystic and The Physicist. The transmission of Buddha's
enlightenment over the centuries disproves the claim religious experience is private and
d'Avigon - Beauty or Beast?
Universal “Everyone ought to” statements about morality are susceptible to the moral hazrds of
Hume makes the comparison to art. Few people would
argue that we all need to share the same aesthetic values and think the exact same things are beautiful or ugly.
But there are some certain works of art that require us to engage and think critically to appreciate. Our first
reactions to something might not be the most authentic expression of our values. Hume wanted to us to resist
those first impressions; to study, reflect and work to see how our morals apply.
Hume’s Inconsistent View on
Dr. Arthur F. Holmes, professor of Philosophy, paraphrases religious philosopher Keith Yandell's analysis of Hume's
views on religion: "Hume says in effect that the self is simply a bundle of mutually independent and isolated ideas
and impressions. With no underlying mind or soul substance that we can know of. Yet, paradoxically, Hume also says
is that human nature has certain natural tendencies that persuade us! Curious. There's no relationship between the
bits and pieces in the consciousness, but somehow or another we join them together in certain standard ways. You
see Yandell argues that's an inconsistency in Hume, he's got two different views of the self that don't belong
Professor Robinson on Hume: “Hume tells us, once he left the privacy of his study, he thinks the way the ordinary
person thinks. He quite understands common confusions here, because they are his own confusions. It was
only in the solitude of his philosophical reflections that he was able to produce the philosophy he produces…Quite
a chap, David Hume. We live with his bequest and all sorts of problems that go with that bequest and we
wrestle with them seven days a week”.
Thomas Reid will fixate on that thought and say, “so we see
that Mr. Hume’s philosophy is very much like a hobby horse, which a man is ill and keep at home with him and
ride to his contentment. But should he bring it into the marketplace, his friends would quickly empanel
a jury and confiscate his estates. That is to say, Reid’s common-sense philosophy puts a certain
requirement on the philosopher – namely the willingness to live according to the terms of his
The Scottish School of Common
Scottish Common Sense Realism was a school of philosophy that
sought to defend naive or direct
realism against philosophical paradox and skepticism found within the likes of British empirical
philosophers and the ‘Theory of Ideas’ system that began with Descartes' concept of the limitations of sense experience.
The prominent founder of Common Sense Realism was Thomas Reid
(1710-1796), known as “The Father of Common Sense Philosophy”. Reid’s “An Inquiry
into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense” (1764) argued that Common Sense is much closer
to the truth of things than the philosophical tradition of the “Idea Theory” that preceded from the British
Empiricists and Descartes.
Common Sense Realism
Two key tenets of Common Sense Realism:
1) independent existence of material objects and their qualities. Independent of
minds. The objects of our knowledge are there and exist whether we know them or not.
They are not mind-dependent as Berkeley would say.
2) true knowledge of that independent reality - that we have actual knowledge of what
it is that exists independently.
From a nature perspective, some say
Darwinian, Reid uses the ‘lowly caterpillar’ analogy to explain how the principle of common sense operates:
the lowly caterpillar will crawl across a thousand leaves until it finds the right one for its diet. From a
societal perspective Reid’s Common Sense does not suggest ‘wisdom of the crowds’ prevailing opinions or the
settled ethos of a given community. From an individual perspective Common Sense reflects the beliefs of the
'non-philosophical' man who possess, more often than not, a greater wisdom than the academic ‘philosophical’
Reid has largely been forgotten.
Common Sense Realism was very popular in the 18th and 19th
centuries. Very influential in French secondary schools. Before the Civil War, every major American college was
a disciple of common sense realism.
In an Oxford University lecture on 'Reid's Critique of Hume'
Professor Daniel N.
Robinson comments: “The reason why we are not studying Thomas Reid is because his directness,
his utter accessibility, his resonance with core principles of common sense carried by everyone 24 hours a day
in the serious business of living life just doesn't look sophisticated enough to maintain close philosophical
attention. That is to say Reid does not know how to go about confusing you. And that
renders his entire position suspect.”
Common Sense Realism is not without it shortcomings as in any
of philosophy or
theory of social science has. CSR’s fall from
‘philosophical attention’ has been ascribed to the ‘thousand cuts’ of a radical academic (eg, post-structuralists) agenda: rejection of the U.S. Founder's vision, the
Constitution, the Electoral College and the Founding Fathers themselves.
Opposition to Idea Theory
The Idea Theory is the
proposition that all we know directly are our own ideas and we cannot accurately know what is bringing about
those ideas. According to Reid not having a direct knowledge of an object of the external world is odd
position – that of having some kind of mediate awareness transmitted by the sensor organs with absolutely no
way of determining how valid the sense organs do capture what is in the external world (in Inquiry,
Reid devotes consider attention to the subject of Seeing-CH6).
Common Sense Realists reject the skepticism of the “Idea Theory”
on the grounds that it is absurd and incompatible with common experience. The “Idea Theory” is a
representational theory - the view that the immediate object of our mental awareness is the idea in
our minds. The content of our own mind is all we have direct awareness of.
• The contents of consciousness are the result of copies made at the level of sense
• We never know the external world directly, but only by mediation of the
• Whatever the senses record, the mind must interpret.
According to Reid and Common Sense Realists the ‘Idea Theory’ is
fiction - productions of philosophical imagination. And that Ideas do not have Secondary qualities, as
expounded by Locke. Ideas, literally, don't smell. Its roses that smell. To talk about the subjectivity of
qualities seems to falsify what we seem to know already.
In philosophical jargon, Reid is arguing a presentational view of perception rather than a representational view of the Idea
Theory. The presentational view is an empirical philosophical view that objects are not represented to us by
ideas but are directly presented to the consciousness.
Professor Robinson continues: "To Reid, being a strict Newtonian
and Baconian, this is not the way science is done and why philosophy gets a bad name – of people sitting
around spitting off conjectures and theories with absolutely no access to methods by which to determine a
systematic and scientific way whether the theory is grounded or groundless."
Whew! Either you’re thinking, “what in the wide-world of
‘woo-woo’ is going here?” or ‘I’m glad I didn’t major in philosophy!”. A visualization of Common Sense
Realism along with other philosophical views discussed is shown below using Integral
Theory's AQAL model:
The question that divides a Common Sense Realist from a phenomenalist or
a subjectivist: when you look at an object that you strongly regard as being in the external world, is the
result of that inspection, the conscious result, an impression or idea, or is it the registration of the object
The question that divides a Common Sense Realist from a phenomenalist or
a subjectivist: when you look at an object that you strongly regard as being in the external world, is the
result of that inspection an impression or idea or is it the registration of the object itself? As opposed
to the 'Idealist' the realist believes in the independent existence of
matter where matter is primary and mind is secondary. The concept that whether matter is mind
independent or mind dependent is core to the “Mind over Matter” versus “Matter over Mind”
Integral theorist Ken Wilber sheds light on the representation
paradigm and the limitations of empirical map making of the sensory world. Using the ‘embrace and
extend’ philosophy the point is not to totally reject all values of the ‘Enlightenment’
movement - to not reject a ‘label’ but to recognize the good of its legacy amongst today’s and even tomorrow’s
Wishing to avoid the term ‘intuition’ or some other scholastic terminology, Reid
argues that ‘Natural Belief’ is a safer term for ‘Common Sense’. The problem with 'common sense' in one
culture may not be in another in another culture. The term 'Nature' was used by Aristotle for
there are beliefs that arise naturally.
Reid argued that we have natural proclivities toward
belief - natural beliefs. From our natural beliefs about the existence of the physical world, order-ness of
the physical world and the magnificent order of the
world of nature. The natural belief of mankind’s desire for freedom can be seen in ‘self-evident’ truths of the Declaration of
Reid posits that from natural beliefs we can produce deductive
arguments for the existence of God.
Theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience without reference to
supernatural revelation. Not a novel ideal - Descartes had a theistic justification for trusting one’s
rational faculties. So did Locke.
Aside from philosophical ponderings about abstract notions of cause and effect, the Pareto Principle or “80/20
Rule” provides an alternative pragmatic, ‘common sense’ principle: roughly 80% of the effects come from 20%
of the causes or 80% of the results come from 20% of the work.