Louis Arnaud Reid

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Louis Arnaud Reid
Born(1895-02-18)18 February 1895
Ellon, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Died26 January 1986(1986-01-26) (aged 90)
London, United Kingdom
Alma materEdinburgh University
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
epistemology, aesthetics
Notable ideas
embodied meaning

Louis Arnaud Reid (18 February 1895 - 26 January 1986[1]) was a British philosopher who held the foundation Chair in Philosophy of Education at the London University Institute of Education.[2] He was a founding contributor to the British Journal of Aesthetics, and is best known for his writings on epistemology and aesthetics. He influenced figures as diverse as Susanne Langer, Lionel Trilling[3] and Harold Osborne.[4] Jacques Barzun said that Reid's A Study in Aesthetics was the book that most influenced him in his life.[5]

As A.J. Ayer recounts in his autobiography, Reid is also remembered as the candidate preferred by the philosophers on the appointment committee for the chair in philosophy at the University of London. The philosophers were outvoted by the lay members of the committee, who appointed Ayer instead.[6]

Reid was born in the manse at Ellon, north of Aberdeen, the descendant of Presbyterian and later Free Church ministers.[7] He later became an Anglican and later still an agnostic. He went to school at the Leys in Cambridge, where he knew Mr Chips, and then briefly flirted with the idea of a career in engineering. He also volunteered as a sapper in the Royal Engineers early in the First World War, though he was invalided out on the basis of rheumatic fever.

It was at about this period that he first read Bergson, and found his vocation in philosophy, going on to study at Edinburgh from which he graduated in 1919. His first lectureship was at Aberystwyth, during which time he wrote the (realist) PhD which became his first book, under the supervision of the leading idealist, J.H. Muirhead. From Aberystwith he moved to Liverpool as a senior lecturer in 1926, and then in 1932 to a chair in philosophy at the Armstrong College, Newcastle, a college of Durham University.

In 1947 he was invited to move to the Institute in London, where he remained until his retirement in 1962. He continued to write and teach for many years afterwards.

Theory of perception[edit]

In his first book, Knowledge and Truth, Reid argued against the representational theory of perception.[8] This is the view implicit in Locke that when we see an object we in fact see an image (a representation) in our mind which is the product of the stimulation of our optic nerves by light. The problem with this account is that it makes the image the immediate object of perception, and thus leaves us with no direct evidence of the physical world. It leaves us vulnerable to Berkeley's idealism (the view that there is no physical world).

Reid (anticipating Mary Warnock)[9] argued that the representational theory is faulty.[10] When we see, he argued, we are not ‘seeing’ an image or sense datum in the mind: we are ‘seeing’ the world, albeit not in the direct fashion imagined by the naïve realist. The ‘seeing’ is in fact the act by which the image or datum is constructed in the first place. Imaging can thus be compared to the act by which a blind person constructs an ‘image’ of the external world on the basis of information transmitted through his or her white cane; for though our visual sense is much more sophisticated and appears immediate, it is in fact mediated by light (a physical intermediary like the cane), and involves the same kind of construction. ‘Imaging’ is thus an object-directed, mental act. (This is the basis of Reid’s qualified realism.)

It follows that the sense datum is not what is known but is an active way of knowing the world. Moreover, the sense datum per se is an abstraction rather than a substantial entity, though sensing (conceived as an act) is very real. Sense qualities (qualia) are in a radical sense secondary qualities; not representations of the world, but instead presentations, or the way in which we understand the world.

Embodied meaning[edit]

It follows that there is no problem in understanding how the qualitative aspects of art can embody meaning, given that qualia are paradigmatically mental, and interpretative. This solves one of the central puzzles about how art works. It is the basis for Reid's argument that art embodies meaning.[11]


Reid goes further, and makes the epistemological claim that the arts are a way of knowing.[12] He rejects the common view of knowledge as paradigmatically propositional, regarding propositional meaning as something which the mind abstracts from concrete experience. What is in our propositions is first in our sensory or concrete understandings of the world, though that in turn (as a construction) is influenced by our conceptual understanding.


Reid's phenomenology also centred on the role of feeling in thinking, for he did not think of 'thinking' as some kind of computational manipulation of propositions. Instead, propositions codify our underlying feelings about the relations of things in the world. Feeling and thinking are two sides of the same coin.

By 'feeling' Reid is thus not referring to some kind of merely subjective quality. He regarded sensation as a paradigmatic kind of feeling, a kind of feeling which is cognitive and world directed. In this, he influenced Susanne Langer's[13] views on feeling, and anticipated Antonio Damasio's[14] somatic marker hypothesis as well the views of Nicholas Humphrey,[15] George Lakoff and Mark Johnson,[16] and others.

His views were largely developed independently of the Continental phenomenologists, whose works were not well known in Britain in the early inter-war period. He may have been unknowingly influenced by Coleridge, on whose philosophy his supervisor J.H. Muirhead wrote a seminal introduction.[17]


For Reid, education is not about the passive reproduction of propositional knowledge. It is about apprehension, about active and concrete understanding.[18]

The arts also have a central place in education, because they are a form of knowing.


For a by no means complete list of Reid’s books and articles, see [1]

  • Knowledge and Truth. London: Macmillan, 1923.
  • The Rediscovery of Belief. London: The Lindsey Press, 1930/1946.
  • A Study in Aesthetics. London: Macmillan, 1931.
  • Creative Morality. London, George Allen & Unwin, 1937.
  • A Preface to Faith. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1939.
  • Ways of Knowledge and Experience. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1961.
  • Meaning in the Arts. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1969.
  • Ways of Understanding and Education. London: Heinemann, 1986.
  • Yesterdays Today: A Journey into Philosophy. Canberra: Samizdat Press (CreateSpace), 2013.


  1. ^ Brown, Stuart (editor) (2005). Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Philosophers: 2 Volumes. Bristol, England: Thoemmes Continuum. p. 867. ISBN 9781843710967.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Richard Aldrich, The Institute of Education 1902–2002: A Centenary History.
  3. ^ Trilling wrote the introduction to the first American edition of A Study in Aesthetics (Reader's Subscription Inc, 1954).
  4. ^ There is a Wikipedia entry for Harold Osborne in Spanish.
  5. ^ Barzun, Jacques. Berlioz and the Romantic Century. Columbia UP (1969.) I.44n.
  6. ^ Ayer, A.J.. Part of My Life, Collins (1984.) 308.
  7. ^ Biographical details come from Reid's memoir, Yesterdays Today. Canberra: Samizdat Press (CreateSpace), 2013.
  8. ^ L.A. Reid, Knowledge and Truth, Macmillan (1923) 105, 113.
  9. ^ Mary Warnock, Imagination. London: Faber, 1976.
  10. ^ For an exposition of Reid’s views, see Nicholas Reid, Coleridge, Form and Symbol. Ashgate (2006) chapter 1.
  11. ^ See Meaning in the Arts. George Allen and Unwin (1969).
  12. ^ L.A. Reid, '’Knowledge and Truth'’, Macmillan (1923) chapter 9; and in many other places; 'Art and Knowledge'. British Journal of Aesthetics (1985) 25 (2):115–125.
  13. ^ Sussanne Langer, Feeling and Form. Routledge and Kegan Paul (1953).
  14. ^ Antonio Damasio, Descartes' Error. Putnam (1994).
  15. ^ Nicholas Humphrey, A History of the Mind. Simon and Schuster (1992).
  16. ^ George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. Basic Books (1999).
  17. ^ J.H. Muirhead, Coleridge as Philosopher. George Allen and Unwin (1930).
  18. ^ L.A. Reid, '’Philosophy and Education: An Introduction’’, Heinemann (1962).