Philosophy Thomas Reid
Terence Cuneo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 December 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0101


Along with his contemporaries Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, and Adam Smith, Thomas Reid (b. 1710–d. 1796) was one of the giants of the Scottish Enlightenment. While all these philosophers made important contributions in different areas, Reid alone was a genuine polymath. He had expertise in a wide range of areas, including mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, physics, rhetoric, and more standard philosophical areas, such as epistemology, action theory, and ethics. For better or worse, it is because Reid emphasized the methodological importance of appeals to common sense that he is known as the father of common sense philosophy. For roughly one hundred years after his death, the “commonsense school” (as it was sometimes called) was extremely influential, especially in America and France. But this influence proved to be relatively short lived, as Reid eventually fell out of the philosophical canon with the rise of Kantianism and pragmatism. However, in the last thirty-five years there has been a resurgence of interest in Reid’s work. Consequently, there is now a growing body of such literature. This article focuses primarily on the secondary literature on Reid written within this period of resurgence.

General Overviews

There are relatively few publications that offer a more or less comprehensive overview of Reid’s work. Lehrer 1989 is an exception, although it focuses on An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Commonsense (IHM) and Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (EIP). Cuneo and van Woudenberg 2004 is a collection of essays, written by Reid scholars, that considers the full span of Reid’s philosophical work and attempts to situate Reid’s contribution in its historical context. Finally, the Nichols and Yaffe 2009 entry on Reid in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers a brief but helpful overview of Reid’s work.

  • Cuneo, T., and R. van Woudenberg, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Reid. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    This is probably the best book to turn for a reasonably accessible introduction to the full scope of Reid’s work. Contributors include A. Broadie, P. Wood, N. Wolterstorff, L. Falkenstein, P. Kivy, W. Rowe, J. Van Cleve, and others.

  • Lehrer, K. Thomas Reid. New York: Routledge, 1989.

    This book also offers a general treatment of Reid’s work, although it is mostly expository, quoting heavily from Reid’s texts. It dedicates relatively little space to exploring the philosophical puzzles generated by and implications of Reid’s positions.

  • Nichols, R., and G. Yaffe. “Thomas Reid.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2009.

    This is a helpful introduction to Reid’s thought, which covers in brief much of what Reid had to say about various topics such as perception, conception, personal identity, and aesthetics. A subentry on memory is written by R. Copenhaver, while another on ethics is written by T. Cuneo.

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