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Reid's 'Common-Sense' (Scottish) Realism and Dooyeweerd

Thomas Reid suggested that all knowledge begins with those things we cannot help believing - 'self-evident truths', such as our awareness of pain and pleasure, our sense of right and wrong, that the physical world is real, and so on. As Nancy Pearcey [2004:312] puts it, Reid's view was that "things like these do not need any philosophical justification. They are virtually forced upon us by the constitution of our own nature in order to function in a world God had created. You might say that Common Sense realism is not so much a philosophy as an anti-philosophy - because it actually describes the experiential knowledge that forms the raw material for formal philosophy." ** But see Michael DeMoor's disagreement below.

This seems not only similar to Kant's a prioris but also chimes with at least five elements of Dooyeweerd's thought: his notion of law-side aspects, that we intuitively grasp, the respect he had for the everyday lifeworld, his contention that the cosmos is 'friendly' to human knowledge, and all this because it is created rather than being merely 'existent'.

Pearcey suggests [p.312-3] that one danger of Reid's Common Sense realism and notion of self-evidency is intellectual laziness. If certain things seem self-evident to us then we tend not to question them, investigate them, and we tend to rely too heavily on them. And, especially for Christians, there is the added danger that the Christian community will treat them as dogma which it is near-heresy to question and wrongly rely on their self-evidency as some kind of proof of God to be used against unbelievers. Pearcey bemoans this tendency among American evangelicals, but our concern here is philosophical and not religio-factional. ** But see Michael DeMoor's disagreement below.

It seems to me that Reid confused experience and intuition, and that be absolutized them.

A Dooyeweerdian Critique of Common-Sense Realism

Despite some apparent resonance with Dooyeweerd's thinking, Dooyeweerd would seriously critique Reid's ideas - though in such as was as to modify and enrich them rather than deny or destroy them.

See also more on intuition from a Dooyeweerdian point of view.

A Contrary View

Michael De Moor has written the following in response to what I wrote above. He disagrees with Pearcey's understanding of Reid. I find his comments very helpful (my added italics, and I have reformatted as bullets for easier reading):

"It's nice that you have put together a bit about Reid on the pages, but I must say that Pearcey presents a very poor picture of him. For one thing, her summary of his position puts a lot of emphasis on the "self-evidency" of the dictates of common sense. Reid's theory of rationality, then, is a pluralistic one (mutually irreducable forms of evidence based on the different faculties or functions of mind) and one intrinsically linked to the practices of everyday life (common sense as that taken for granted) as opposed merely to foundationalist a priori justification or empiricist foundationalism infereing from sense-data to reality. In other words, Reid was a much more sophisticated philosopher than Pearcey makes him out to be."


Pearcey N (2004) Total Truth. Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton, Illinois, USA: Crossway Books. [I am indebted to this book since the motivation for creating this page came from reading it.]
Tarnas R (1996) The Passion of the Western Mind. London, UK: Pimlico, Random House.
This page is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2004 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

Written on the Amiga and Protext.

Created: 26 January 2005 Last updated: 5 February 2005 cmts from MdM. 19 March 2008 link to intuition. 7 September 2017 rid counter.