Scottish Common Sense Realism
Scottish Common Sense Realism, also known as the Scottish School of Common Sense, is a school of philosophy that originated in the ideas of Scottish philosophers Thomas Reid, Adam Ferguson and Dugald Stewart during the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment.
The Scottish School of Common Sense was a school of philosophy that flourished in Scotland in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Its roots can be found in responses to the writings of such philosophers as John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume, where its most prominent members were, among others, Dugald Stewart, Thomas Reid and William Hamilton, who combined Reid's approach with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. The peculiar influence it had on philosophers elsewhere in Europe, not to mention in the United States, exemplified by the American pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce, is of a considerable magnitude.
One central concern of the school was to defend "common sense" against philosophical paradox and scepticism. It argued that common-sense beliefs govern the lives and thoughts even of those who avow non-commonsensical beliefs and that matters of common sense are within "the reach of common understanding". The qualities of its works were not generally consistent; Edward S. Reed writes, e.g., "[Whereas] Thomas Reid wished to use common sense to develop philosophical wisdom, much of this school simply wanted to use common sense to attack any form of intellectual change."
Its basic principle was enunciated by its founder and greatest figure, Thomas Reid:
- "If there are certain principles, as I think there are, which the constitution of our nature leads us to believe, and which we are under a necessity to take for granted in the common concerns of life, without being able to give a reason for them — these are what we call the principles of common sense; and what is manifestly contrary to them, is what we call absurd.".
The school taught that every person had ordinary experiences that provided intuitively certain assurance of a) the existence of the self, b) the existence of real objects that could be seen and felt; and c) certain "first principles" upon which sound morality and religious beliefs could be established.
The approach was a response to the "ideal system" which, starting with Descartes' conception of sense experience, had led in John Locke and David Hume, to a skeptical outcome. This skepticism called Christianity into question. The Common Sense Realists found skepticism to be absurd and so contrary to common experience that it had to be rejected.
Common Sense Realism not only dominated Scottish thought in the 19th century, it had a major influence as well in France, the United States, and other countries. Victor Cousin (1792–1867) was the most important proponent in France.
Common Sense Realism swept American intellectual circles in the 19th century. James McCosh (1811–1894) brought it directly from Scotland 1868 when he became president of Princeton University, which soon became a major stronghold of the movement. Noah Porter (1811–1892) taught Common Sense realism to generations of students at Yale.
It greatly influenced conservative religious thought and was strongest at Princeton Seminary until the Seminary moved in new directions after 1929. The Princeton theologians built their elaborate system on the basis of "common-sense" realism, biblicism and confessionalism. James McCosh was brought from Queen's College, Belfast, to Princeton College's Chair of Moral Philosophy and Presidency because of his book "The Method of Divine Government", a Christian philosophy that was precursory to Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species" (1865). The Princeton Theologians followed McCosh to adopt a stance of theistic evolution). They heavily influenced John Gresham Machen (1881–1937), a leader of the Fundamentalists in the 1920s. McCosh's goal was to develop Princeton as a Christian university in North America, as well as forefront intellectual seminary of the Presbyterian Church. The faculty of the College and Seminary included both evolutionary thinkers and non-evolutionary thinkers. Much evangelical theology of the 21st century is based on Princeton theology and thus reflects Common Sense Realism.
- Boas, George (1957). Dominant themes of modern philosophy: a history. New York: Ronald Press Co. p. 660.
- Edward S. Reed, The Necessity of Experience, p. 16. Yale University Press, 1996.
- Cuneo and Woudenberg, eds. The Cambridge companion to Thomas Reid (2004) p 85
- James C. Livingston and Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, Modern Christian Thought: The Enlightenment and the nineteenth century (2006) p. 303
- Stanley J. Grenz, Brian McLaren, John R. Franke, Renewing the center: evangelical theology in a post-theological era (2006) pp 79, 177
- S. A. Grave, "Common Sense", in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards (Collier Macmillan, 1967).
- Peter J. King, One Hundred Philosophers (2004: New York, Barron's Educational Books), ISBN 0-7641-2791-8.
- Ahlstrom, Sydney E. "The Scottish Philosophy and American Theology," Church History, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Sep., 1955), pp. 257–272 in JSTOR
- Cuneo, Terence, and René van Woudenberg, eds. The Cambridge companion to Thomas Reid (2004)
- Hollinger, David A. "Scottish Common Sense Realism" in Richard Wightman Fox and James T. Kloppenberg, eds. A companion to American thought (1995) pp 618–20
- Graham, Gordon. "Scottish Philosophy in the 19th Century" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2009) online
- Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture (2006) excerpt and text search
- Rosenfeld, Sophia. Common Sense: A Political History (Harvard University Press; 2011) 346 pages; traces the history of common sense as a political ideal since England's Glorious Revolution (1688).
- Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Thomas Reid and the Story of Epistemology. Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-521-53930-7
- Selections from the Scottish Philosophy of Common Sense, ed. by G.A. Johnston (1915) online, essays by Thomas Reid, Adam Ferguson, James Beattie, and Dugald Stewart
- Naive realism
- Direct realism
- Francis Hutcheson (philosopher)
- James Frederick Ferrier
- James McCosh
- Thomas Brown (philosopher)
- Adam Smith
- History of philosophy in Poland