When I took a seminar on Thomas Reid from Jim Van Cleve, he presented Thomas Reid’s version of the history of philosopher’s views on perception (and how they’d all gone wrong) in cartoon form on the blackboard. When I teach Thomas Reid, I poorly recreate Van Cleve’s cartoon version on the board for my students.
Recently, Benjamin Lawrence, one of the graduate students at here UB, who happens to be quite talented artistically—his work was used previously for the poster for my conference—created a much nicer version than anything I’ve ever drawn on the board, and given me permission to share it here.
The image nicely encapsulate’s an abridged version of Reid’s history of perception. From roughly Aristotle up until Locke, you have the perceiver, the direct object of perception (an idea), the act of perception, and the indirect object of perception. The indirect object has both primary qualities (shape and size) and secondary qualities (color). Then (Reid’s) Locke comes along and suggests that secondary qualities in the indirect object are sort of idle, so we get rid of them. Berkeley realizes the same goes for everything about the indirect object, so the only tree there is, is the one inside the mind. Hume goes one step further, raising doubts even about the perceiver themselves. All of this was sort of nonsense for Reid, but the Humean conclusion was, for Reid, beyond the pale. According to Reid the mistake was not in any of the transitions between these steps, but in having a tree inside the perceivers head to begin with! If you don’t need to two trees in the picture to get the work done, why cut out the tree in the external world? Or, put more in the way Reid would prefer: why did you ever think there was a tree inside your mind to begin with, when the tree you saw was out in the world?
Another UB student, Jake Monaghan, is working on getting this image onto t-shirts, and if anyone is interested in buying such a t-shirt, I’ll keep people posted about his progress.