The school of Reid refers to the Scottish School of Common Sense, a school of philosophy founded by Thomas Reid in the late 1700s. Reid's Theory of Common Sense — the basis for his Essays on the Active Powers of Man, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, and his other philosophical works — centers on a number of basic axioms, which the school sought to defend: that a person's conscious thoughts define his or her identity, that events distinctly remembered did really happen, that some degree of free will exists, that other people are alive and intelligent, and so forth. Essentially, Reid established the Scottish School of Common Sense to respond to the skepticism and philosophical paradox described in the works of René Descartes and David Hume (The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

In "Signs of the Times," Carlyle describes Reid's reaction to the views of Hume, who believed that morality and human nature could be examined scientifically. According to Carlyle, the idea that ethics can be reduced to a science "brought [the School of Common Sense] into being," with Reid unleashing "Instinct" — the notion that basic senses of perception should be trusted, and to have beliefs contradictory to common sense "is to be in deep conflict with one's nature as a human being"(The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) — as his initial, somewhat immature counterargument. Later on, Reid "tugged lustily at the logical chain" put forth by Hume, attempting to find a halfway point between science and Common Sense. According to William C. Davis's Thomas Reid's Ethics: Moral Epistemology on Legal Foundations, Reid believed in a "moral sense" analogous to hearing, sight, and touch (Davis 3). The "moral sense" concept proved problematic for several reasons, relating primarily to the untraceable origins of "moral sensations"(Davis 3), and as a result, Carlyle says, the chain between Hume and Reid eventually snapped. Hume's ethics and Reid's ethics, science and morality, proved irreconcilable, with the resulting tragedy being that people stopped caring about the dispute altogether.

Related Material


Davis, William C. Thomas Reid's Ethics: Moral Epistemology on Legal Foundations. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006.

"Thomas Reid." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 20 Feb 2009. Accessed 29 March 2009.

Last modified 26 March 2010