Analyzing an ‘insidious legacy.’

The debate of two Scotsmen who were born on the same day one year apart marked the high point of eighteenth-century philosophy. Thomas Reid, a devout Presbyterian minister, turned philosopher and waged a full-scale attack on the skepticism of his countryman David Hume. Reid prevented Humeanism from gaining widespread acceptance during his own lifetime. Yet his own thought has suffered from long neglect. Recently, philosophers have begun to recognize the importance of Reid’s ideas.

Reid was born in Kincardineshire on April 26, 1710, entered Marischal College at Aberdeen at the age of twelve, and was inducted to the parish of New Machar in 1737. During his fourteen years at New Machar he read A Treatise of Human Nature by the rising young philosopher David Hume. The position Hume espoused shocked Reid so violently that he committed himself to its complete philosophical destruction. Like Kant in Germany, who was “awakened from his dogmatic slumbers” by Hume, Reid knew that unless Hume’s system was stopped it would permeate the academies, filter down to the ordinary man, and eventually undermine Christian truth claims. Reid obtained a post at King’s College in Aberdeen, and there, in 1752, he began a critique of the elegant skeptic’s philosophy.

There are two standard interpretations of Hume’s work, one naturalistic and one skeptical. According to the former, what Hume said about the nature of reality, the existence of God, the continuity of the self, and the foundation of value seems to deny everything that is affirmed or presupposed by Christianity. According to the other interpretation, Hume neither affirmed nor denied any thesis in metaphysics, theology, or ethics but instead questioned the ...

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