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The Common Sense Realism Concept: Thomas Reid Views

Reid, a Scottish philosopher, held that common sense (sensus communis) should be the foundation of all modes of philosophical inquiry. He opposed the view of Hume on the subject (Forguson 23). The latter claimed that it was impossible for people to understand or know the external world since knowledge is limited to mental ideas. On the contrary, Reid claimed that the sensus communis is created for the sake of justifying the belief in the existence of an external world (Forguson 23). His moral philosophy, not unlike the Roman stoicism, focuses on the subject of self-control.

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This is underpinned by the fact that he often quoted Cicero from whom he originated the term sensus communis (Cobern and Loving 425). He claims that when one takes part in a philosophical argument, he or she implicitly presumes such beliefs as, “I am talking to a real person”, meaning that “I am immersed in a real world whose laws remain fundamentally unchanged” (Forguson 49). This paper argues that Reid’s assertions present implausible outlook. It discusses some of the weakest parts of the assertions and proposes ways through which a common sense realist might want to give responses to the points with the aim of defending his or her position.

He proposes that anyone who can deny the principles and claim they are not qualities is in contradiction with the first principle and should not be reasoned with. In a nutshell, posits that all knowledge originates from the basic building blocks of perception, which are self-evident truths such as the human awareness of pain pleasure and a sense of right and wrong. Reid assumes that humans do not need any philosophical justification to recognise these things since they are forced upon us by our physical abilities (Forguson 67).

His arguments based on the phenomenological insight project, a combination of realism and ordinary language philosophy (Cobern and Loving 427). In his demonstration, he asserts that he can conceptualise a centaur, which is an animal in his conception. Therefore, what he conceived in his mind is not an idea but a centaur.

This appears to resonate with Anselm’s ontological argument in which he posits that by virtue of the fact that he believes God exists. Thus, God must indeed exist in his belief that would be impossible if the supernatural being did not actually exist (Forguson 90). Ultimately, Reid considered his philosophy to be a form of publicly accessible knowledge, which can be accessed through introspection of the undertaking of the use of language.

The ideas of Reid were in contradiction in relation to the assertion of Descartes, who was a vehement critic of the idea of empiricism. He claimed that the information one receives through his or her senses is not necessarily accurate. After his revelation, he undertook his intellectual rebirth in which he deconstructed everything he had assumed to be true based on his senses. In fact, he attacked the very foundation of perception and concluded that the only thing that we can be sure that it exists is the fact that we are capable of doubt (Forguson 98).

Reid, on the other hand, takes a contrary position by claiming that anyone who questions the existence of things that can be proved empirically is not of sound mind and cannot be reasoned with in a competent way. Ultimately, while both arguments have both merits and demerits, Descartes has found more favour with thinkers who have on several occasions proved that even when one “sees” that he or she may not actually be observing what is actually right, but what he or she thinks is correct (Forguson 102).

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Ergo, the senses can indeed deceive people, which explains the existence of illusions and mirages. Reid proposes that he cannot conceive an image of a centaur, as most philosophers will claim, but rather the animal itself, and a specific colour shape and capacity for motion. The implication is that while not claiming that the animal exists in real life, it does exist in his imagination in an actual representation of itself. Nonetheless, it is illogical given that if the beast does not exist, then one is only capable of thinking of something like it rather than inventing a new beast altogether.

To prove that Reid cannot conceptualise something that does not exist, it would be critical to consider the many mythical beings that have over the centuries been “created” by human imaginations. A unicorn is a horse with a single horn on its forehead, and goblins are simply miniatures and in some cases “uglified” versions of human beings. Despite the fact that it is against the Christian religion to portray God in the form of images, those who attempt to do so only reproduce from what is already in existence rather than come up with an original image (Forguson 130).

The human mind cannot come up with something that does not exist, but it can only piece together elements of what already is in existence to create new forms. The centaur he uses, for example, is in reality just a combination of half of a man and half of a horse. People do not need to strain their faculties to conceptualise the ideas proposed by the renowned philosopher. It has, in fact, been claimed that centaurs originated from primitive tribes that could not understand the image of mounted warriors.

They assumed that they must be supernatural beings with half a man’s body and a horse combined. It underpins the possibility that humans are indeed capable of being deceived by their senses. Unless they are subjected to the philosophical and logical reasoning that is forwarded by Reid, then it would be necessary to provide evidence with regard to the human senses (Cobern and Loving 434).

From Reid’s point of view, an orange is an orange because it contains the colour orange so the fact that one can perceive it means it must indeed be the colour of the fruit. However, science has proved that the human eye determines the colours of objects. In some cases, people see things differently from each other, which explains why some people are colour blind. Ergo, if we were to assume that the senses are correct and need no philosophical support, then we would mislead ourselves.

This view, however, does not hold any water if pitted against Descartes apparently much more probable suppositions. The senses can indeed deceive persons. Thus, if this would not the case, then humans would not be capable of making mistakes or misjudgments. After all, the very idea of a mistake presumes that one is capable of ‘seeing’ something that is not in existence. Supporters of the common sense realist school of thought have, however, come up with a number of supporting arguments.

They claim that Reid does not believe that the aforementioned empirical judgments are empirical at all (Forguson 24). For them, these are not self-evident, but rather necessary presuppositions for one to make any successful judgment on any subject. However, they also claim that the principles are reliable since philosophers have retrospectively suggested them, but are merely the most basic ones that have not yet been discovered by science.

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Dooyeweerd claims that even the cosmos is radically illegible to make, implying that humans presuppose that the cosmos will be likely to hide itself and even play tricks on the mind (Forguson 78). While he cannot presuppose that we know everything based on our inability to understand the universe, the scholar assumes that humans cannot trust their intuition, which can be distorted and lead people to off course in their thinking.

However, Reid holds that what is self-evident is absolute and cannot be corrected or proved wrong since all individuals can depend on the human intuition. Nonetheless, it is self-evident that the intuition can indeed mislead people on several occasions. Thus, it is critical to underscore that by virtue of simple logic, Reid’s assertions cannot be considered logical or even philosophically sustainable.

At the end of the day, it is unequivocal that Reid’s assertions cannot stand up to a critical examination. They are not founded on any concrete reality. In fact, no matter how much as he claims that common sense realism is a reflection of self-evidence, an absolute empirical reality is quite different. The senses are far from accurate and the invention of numerous technological gadgets that keep changing the way we perceive things constantly prove that there is no such thing as an absolute reality. Truth has been described as relative and circumstantial, and this has been frequently proved by studies through which popular assertions are found to have been erroneous.

Works Cited

Cobern, William, and Cathleen Loving. “An essay for educators: Epistemological realism really is common sense.” Science & Education 17.4 (2008): 425-447. Print.

Forguson, Lynd. Common sense. London, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2006. Print.

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StudyCorgi. 2020. "The Common Sense Realism Concept: Thomas Reid Views." December 2, 2020.


StudyCorgi. (2020) 'The Common Sense Realism Concept: Thomas Reid Views'. 2 December.

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