SH2 Mind and Knowledge in the Scottish Enlightenment

This course will compare the works of the two major Scottish philosophers of the Enlightenment period, David Hume (1711-1776) and Thomas Reid (1710-1796).

We will begin by studying David Hume's influential views on central philosophical issues such as knowledge, causation, personal identity and free will, as found in his first great work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739). In the Treatise, we find the core epistemological method of the British Empiricist tradition developing into a position that appears to combine serious sceptical challenges to our core pre-philosophical beliefs about the self, causal relations and our knowledge the external world with the development of a new, naturalist approach to epistemology that grants a central place to human nature.

Thomas Reid's common sense philosophy - a direct response to Hume and the empiricist tradition as a whole - seeks to develop an alternative metaphysical and epistemological framework that undermines the sceptical challenges found in Hume's writings by providing a notion of justification grounded in first principles based in human nature. In doing so, he gives us a theory that, while sharing an emphasis on human nature with Hume, involves a radically different account of the self and its epistemological relationship with the external world.

We will also explore the respective methodologies of the two philosophers and look at the influence of Enlightenment science, specifically Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton, on them.

historical oil portrait of David Hume - a white middle-aged man with dark red turban, short-collared white shirt under a lush dark red coat with edge embroidery

Course lecturer: Dr Chris Lindsay
Semester: 2
Lecture hour & venue: see Honours timetable

Preliminary reading: Prospective students might read the Introduction and first section of the Treatise for a flavour of Hume's writing. A glance at the Noonan introductory text will provide a good idea of the range of issues we will be covering, and John Biro's paper 'Hume's new science of the mind' in Norton and Taylor provides an introduction to one of the core issues. Wolterstorff's book is probably the best introduction to Reid available at the moment. 

Key texts: ‌

  • David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature*
    (recommended edition: ed. Selby-Bigge and Nidditch, OUP)
  • David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding*
  • Thomas Reid, An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense*
  • Thomas Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man*
  • Thomas Reid, Essays on the Active Powers of Man*

It is strongly recommended that you purchase a copy of the Treatise. There is no need to purchase copies of the other works, although you might want to consider buying on of the following anthologies of Reid's writings:

  • Thomas Reid (ed. Giovanni Grandi), Thomas Reid: Selected Philosophical Writings, Imprint Academic 2012 (a 25% discount is available for students when purchased direct from the publisher - please contact CL or see Moodle)
  • Thomas Reid (ed. Keith Lehrer and Ronald Beanblossom), Inquiry and Essays, Hackett 1983

historical oil painting of Thomas Reid: a white old man wearing a dark red turban and black coatSecondary texts:

  • David Fate Norton and Jacqueline Taylor (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Hume (2/e), CUP 2009*
  • Donald Ainslie & Annemarie Butler, (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Hume's Treatise, CUP 2015*
  • Saul Traiger (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to Hume's Treatise, Blackwell 2006
  • John P. Wright, Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature, CUP 2009
  • Harold Noonan, The Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Hume on Knowledge, Routledge 1999*
  • David Pears, Hume's System, OUP 1990*
  • Barry Stroud, Hume, Routledge 1977*
  • James van Cleve, Problems from Reid, OUP 2015*
  • Terence Cuneo and Rene van Woudenberg, The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Reid, CUP 2004*
  • Nicholas Wolterstorff, Thomas Reid and the Story of Epistemology, CUP 2001

* indicates that an electronic version is available through GUL or Moodle.
I would recommend ensuring you read at least one of the above secondary texts on Hume. The Noonan book is the most introductory, with Wright's pitched at a slightly higher level, and Norton & Taylor is the best collection of papers.

Teaching resources for this course will be made available on the Philosophy Moodle site.

Intended learning outcomes:

After completing the course, students should be able to:

  • Expound and critically assess Hume's Theory of Ideas;
  • Expound and critically assess Hume's discussion of the concept of causation;
  • Expound and critically assess Hume's account of our belief in the external world;
  • Expound and critically assess Hume's discussion of the nature of the self;
  • Expound and critically assess Hume's doctrine that human action is causally determined;
  • Compare and contrast competing sceptical and naturalist readings of Hume's philosophy;
  • Expound and critically assess Reid’s reasons for rejecting the Theory of Ideas;
  • Expound and critically assess Reid's common sense alternative to Humean empiricism;
  • Expound and critically assess Reid's Reid’s libertarian account of human action;
  • Compare and contrast the respective methodologies of Hume and Reid with particular reference to their naturalist and Newtonian commitments