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Hume Studies Volume 33, Number 2, November 2007, pp. 339-344 Ryan Nichols. Thomas Reid's Theory ofPerception. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. 317. ISBN 9780199276912, Hardback, $74. In his introduction to this book, Nichols reprises and refers readers to a statement of his views of the history of philosophy that appears in an earlier essay ("Why is the History of Philosophy Worth Our Study?" Metaphilosophy 37.1 (2006): 34-52). In that essay, Nichols provides an illustration of valuable work in the history of philosophy that is also an exact precis of his project in this book. He summarizes the perceptual relativity problem for contemporary direct realist theories of perception, and then proposes that renewed consideration of Reid's notion of "visible figures" may be helpful in this regard: Thomas Reid is the foremost historical defender of direct realism, so it stands to reason that turning to his work will bear fruit in evaluating this [perceptual relativity] argument___Here good exegetical and philosophical history can be conducted in concert to understand one option a direct realist has to respond to this argument. By doing the history of philosophy—by articulating, then analyzing and evaluating, Reid's resolution to this problem—we will discover one creative response to this problem. Reasoning that Reid was a brilliant philosopher, and also a direct realist. . . leads us to explore the contemporary direct realist's options via interpreting Reid as accurately as possible... . The Reidian "visible figure" is a relational property between eyes and objects. Since it is itself mind-independent, and since its geometrical features are proof theoretically equivalent to the mind-independent objects of sight, it can save direct realism about vision. (Nichols, "Why is the History of Philosophy Worth Our Study?" 46-7) In the essay, Nichols frames his views on the history of philosophy with the question "Why is the history of philosophy worth our study?" His answer is that it is worth it when we "utilizfe] doctrines associated with or endorsed by a historical figure to create a new theory" and at the same time "[s]uppose the primary goal of doing history of philosophy is identical to the primary goal of analytic philosophy—finding philosophical truths and avoiding philosophical falsehoods through analysis of arguments—and suppose this is to be achieved via the supplementary goal of getting the truth-values of authorial propositions right" (48). Nichols's book-length treatment of Reid is a contribution to this effort, for, as Nichols remarks in the essay, "on this particular point contemporary analyses Volume 33, Number 2, November 2007 340 Book Reviews of visual perception have not caught up to Reid's subtle treatment of perceptual relativity of vision" (47). This emphasis on the importance of Reid's views for contemporary theories of direct realism forms the first of two main organizing principles of Nichols's argument. The second of these principles is an emphasis on Reid's philosophical development as a reaction to the "Way of Ideas" or "the ideal theory." Nichols sets aside historical and interpretive controversies about Reid's understanding of his predecessors identified with the Way of Ideas and about a definite set of claims properly attributed to it, in order to "follow Reid's unrestrained use of the term to refer in general to his predecessors' views" (7). In two chapters following the introduction, Nichols first summarizes the methodological (Newtonian and introspective) and metaphysical presuppositions Reid brings to his treatment of perception. Second, Nichols explains Reid's theory of the intentionality of mental states as a reaction to the Way of Ideas and its skepticism about mind-independent objects as intentional objects, which Nichols characterizes as skepticism about the knowability of intentional contents. In this discussion Hume appears as the representative Way-of-Ideas figure for both Reid and Nichols. I will return to this discussion in a moment. The next six chapters review and evaluate elements of Reid's theory of perception , covering touch, vision, sensations, qualities, and Reid's distinction between original and acquired perception. Throughout, Nichols sets up Reid's views as reactions to the indirect realism, anti-realism, or skepticism of the Way of Ideas and pursues the proper statement, potential...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 339-344
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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