4 Thomas Reid on Causation & Active Powers


Professor Dan Robinson gives the fourth of eight lectures on Thomas Reid’s critique of David Hume at Oxford. “It is evident that a power is a quality, and therefore can’t exist without a subject to which it belongs…This (Humean) suggestion— There exists some power that cannot be attributed to any thing, any subject, which has the power —is an absurdity…No principle seems to have been more universally acknowledged by mankind ever since the first dawn of reason than that every change we observe in nature must have a cause…Another argument to show that all men have a notion or idea of active power is that there are many mental operations—performed by everyone who has a mind, and necessary in the ordinary conduct of life—which presuppose that we have active power”.

Under “David Hume”, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy begins with, “The most important philosopher ever to write in English”. His most formidable contemporary critic was the fellow Scot, Thomas Reid, the major architect of so-called Scottish Common Sense Philosophy. The most significant features of Hume’s work, as understood by Reid, are the representive theory of perception, the nature of causation and causal concepts, the nature of personal identity and the foundations of morality. Each of these topics is presented in a pair of lectures, the first summarizing Hume’s position and the second Reid’s critique of that position.

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