- Common Sense in the Scottish Enlightenment ed. by Charles Bradford Bow
This excellent collection of essays on Scottish common sense philosophy arose from the 2014 annual conference for the British Society for the History of Philosophy at The University of Edinburgh. It explores how common sense philosophy emerged during the eighteenth century in response to the ‘Ideal Theory.’ The selected chapters are complementary, offering insight into the philosophical and historical importance of common sense philosophy as well as underlining the breadth of research in the history of Scottish Philosophy.
The collection begins and ends with essays that consider under-researched aspects of Scottish Philosophy. It is widely perceived that Reid developed common sense via his reaction to Hume’s skepticism and through his rejection of the theory of ideas. In “Common Sense and Seventeenth Century Philosophy,” Giovanni Gellera suggests that this replicates what occurred during the preceding century: university regents at Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Glasgow anticipated some of the views held by Reid. Just as Reid reacts to Hume, the seventeenth-century regents reacted to the Cartesians and defended their Aristotelian, Scholastic principles from the threat of skepticism. Gellera seeks to highlight the views of this overlooked century of Scottish philosophical thought and makes the interesting case that there is a degree of continuity in the content of Scottish philosophical thought from the mid-seventeenth century until the early-nineteenth century. Indeed, the whole volume seems to confirm this insight since, while it begins with the seventeenth century, it ends looking forward into the nineteenth. In the final chapter, Bow discusses common sense philosophy at the end of the Enlightenment, focusing on Dugald Stewart’s program of moral education and the early reception of Kant and German Idealism.
Reid, as the most important figure of common sense, is unsurprisingly the focus of several substantial essays. Yet, the selections cover new ground and give a sense of the richness of his philosophy. For instance, Claire Etchegaray and Giovanni B. Grandi provide further insight into Reid’s unpublished manuscripts in their respective essays on Reid’s account of our mental constitution and the development of his views on sensation. Additionally, it is interesting to read Gordon Graham’s essay alongside Esther Engels Kroeker’s as they are at opposite ends of the debate as to whether or not Reid was a moral realist.
James Beattie is a lesser-known figure in the history of Scottish philosophy and he prominently figures in three of the essays in this volume, providing some insight into his importance during the eighteenth century despite his relative obscurity now. In “Hume [End Page 560] and the Common Sense Philosophers,” James A. Harris focuses on Hume’s skepticism and its reception by common sense philosophers such Reid and Beattie. He argues that Hume’s academic skepticism and general approach to philosophy was quite radical for the times, given that the business of philosophy was thought to be practical and connected to the improvement of one’s character. For Hume, philosophy is descriptive—it explains how the mind operates—but it does not signify how one should act. So, both Beattie in his ad hominem manner, and Reid with his more sober and philosophical approach, reacted to what they perceived to be the dangerous implications of Hume’s skepticism. In “The Common Sense of a Poet: James Beattie’s Essay on Truth (1770),” Robin J. W. Mills deconstructs the popular view that Beattie was a lesser Reid, and simply someone who accepted and popularized his ideas without offering anything original of his own. Mills argues that, in fact, Beattie was critical of Reid and dismissive of metaphysics in general, approaching his critique of Reid and account of common sense from a literary and moral perspective. Both the Harris and Mills essays are complemented by Paul B. Wood’s thorough account of the reception of Reid, Beattie, and Oswald in Britain by Joseph Priestley, Joseph Berington, and Philip Skelton. In particular, in “The ‘New Empire of Common Sense’: The Reception of Common Sense Philosophy in Britain...