Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy


Section Two: Period of the Thinking Understanding
Chapter II. — Transition Period
B. Scottish Philosophy


Thomas Reid, born in 1710, died as a professor in Glasgow in 1796.(1) He maintained the principle of common-sense. His endeavour was to discover the principles of knowledge, and the following are his conclusions: "(a) There are certain undemonstrated and undemonstrable fundamental truths which common-sense begets and recognizes as immediately conclusive and absolute." This hence constitutes an immediate knowledge; in it an inward independent source is set forth which is hereby opposed to religion as revealed. "(b) These immediate truths require no support from any elaborated science, nor do they submit to its criticism;" they cannot be criticized by philosophy. "(c) Philosophy itself has no root other than that of an immediate, self-enlightening truth; whatever contradicts such truth is in itself false, contradictory, and absurd." This is true for knowledge and "(d) Morality; the individual is moral if he acts in accordance with the perfect principles of the perfection of the whole and with his own duty as it is known to him."(2)


James Beattie, born 1735, was a professor of moral philosophy in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and died in 1803. He likewise made common-sense the source of all knowledge. "The common-sense of the plain human understanding is the source of all morality, of all religion, and all certainty. The confirmation of common-sense must be added to the testimony of our senses. The truth is what the necessities of my nature call upon me to believe. Belief signifies conviction in the case of truths which are certain, in that of those which are probable, approbation. The truth which is certain is known by means of intuition, the probable truth by means of proofs."(3) Such convictions as are quite certain form the basis of actions.


James Oswald, a Scottish clergyman, made use of an expression which indicates that we have the principles just mentioned as facts existing within us.(4) "The existence of the Divine Being is (according to him) a fact absolutely raised above all reasoning and all doubt, and immediately certain for the common-sense of morality."(5) The same principle was likewise established in Germany at this time - an inward revelation, a knowledge of the conscience, and specially of God and His Being.


To this school also belong Dugald Stewart, Edward Search,(9) Ferguson, and Hutcheson, most of whom have written on morals. The political economist Adam Smith from this point of view is likewise a philosopher, and the best known of them all. This Scottish philosophy is now given forth in Germany as something new. It is a popular philosophy, which, on the one hand, has the great merit of seeking in man, and in his consciousness, for the source of all that should be held by him as true, the immanence of what should be by him esteemed. The content is at the same time a concrete content; in a certain degree, it is the antithesis of metaphysics proper, of the wandering about in abstract determinations of the understanding. Of these Scots, Dugald Stewart, who is living still,(10) appears to be the last and least significant; in them all there is the same ground-work to be found, the same circle of reflection, namely, an a priori philosophy, though not one which is to be pursued in a speculative way. The general idea which pervades their principle is that of the healthy human understanding; to this they have added benevolent desires, sympathy, a moral sense, and from such grounds composed very excellent moral writings. That is certainly all very well in order to understand approximately, up to a certain degree of culture, what universal thoughts are, in order to narrate their history, to appeal to examples, and to explain them; but further it does not extend.

In more recent times this Scottish philosophy has passed to France, and Professor Royer-Collard, now president of the Second Chamber,(11) as also his disciple, Jouffroy, in conformity with it, pass from the facts of consciousness through cultured reasoning and experience, to a further stage in development. What by the French is called Idéologie (supra, p. 308) has also its place here; it is abstract metaphysics, in so far as it is an enumeration and analysis of the most simple thought-determinations. They are not treated dialectically, but from our reflection, from our thoughts, the material is derived, and in this the determinations therein contained are demonstrated.

French Philosophy (next section) — Contents

1. Tennemann's Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie von Wendt, 371, p. 442.
2. Rixner: Handbuch der Geschicte der Philosophie, Vol. III. 119, p. 259; ct. Thomas Reid; An Inquiry into the human mind on the principles of common sense (Edinburgh, 1810), chap. i. Sect. 4, pp. 19, 20 (translated into German, Leipzig, 1782, pp. 17, 18); chap. vi. Sect. 20, pp. 372-375 (pp. 310, 311), &c.
3. Rixner: Handbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. III. 120, pp. 261, 262; cf. James Beattie: Essays on the nature and immutability of Truth, &c. (Edinburh, 1772), Pt. I., chap. i., pp. 18-31 (translated into German, Copenhagen and Leipzig, 1772, pp. 24-42); chap. ii. Sect. 2, pp. 37-42 (pp. 49-55), &c.
4. Cf. James Oswald: An Appeal of common-sense in behalf of religion (Edinburgh, 1772), Vol. I. Book I. Introduction, p. 12 (translated by Wilmsen, Leipzig, 1774, p. 11).
5. Rixner, ibidem, 121, p. 262; cf. James Oswald, ibidem, Vol. II. Book II. chap. i. pp. 50, 51 (pp. 54, 55).
6. The name assumed by Abraham Tucker.-[Translator's note.]
7. Lectures of 1825-1826.
8. Lectures of 1829-1830.
9. The name assumed by Abraham Tucker.-[Translator's note.]
10. Lectures of 1825-1826.
11. Lectures of 1829-1830.

Hegel-by-HyperText Home Page @ marxists.org