REIDBETWEENEXTERNALISMANDINTERNALISMJHP5.doc

At least for visual and tactile evidence is an

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at least for visual and tactile evidence, is an internal condition, and furthermore that Reid understood it to be so. (This line of reasoning of course suggests that all other condition for PES involving evidence are likewise internal, and furthermore that Reid understood them to be so. Still, a closer look at the other kinds of evidence will be helpful.) 11
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What I have been saying for visual and tactile evidence also holds for the evidence of smell, taste, and hearing. Subjects typically can tell by reflection alone whether or not any of these kinds of evidence is present. Furthermore the evidence is such that without awareness of the evidence, beliefs would either not be formed, or, if already formed, no longer maintained the moment the subject thinks he has no evidence for them. Hence, condition [v] is, quite generally, an internal condition, and, I submit, Reid understood it to be so. Before moving on to the other kinds of evidence that Reid lists, I should like to do two more things—first, indicate how my take on evidence of the senses relates to what Reid says about “signs”, and second make an important qualification to what I have said so far about [v]’s being an internal condition. First, then, a point about “signs”. I have said that it is natural to take ‘the evidence of the senses’ to be sensations. Now Reid over and over again talks of sensations as ‘signs’: the sensations one has when one, for example, perceives an apple (tactile, visual, etc.) are natural signs of the apple’s qualities, they indicate to us the presence of the qualities of the apple. 10 As I pointed out earlier, Reid holds that sensations do not intrinsically represent mind-external qualities: the sensation one has upon pricking one’s finger with it doesn’t intrinsically represent the sharpness of the needle, but it does signify (it is a sign of) the needle’s sharpness. Reid’s point is that there is no necessary connection between sensations and what they signify—and no necessary connection between this sensation (sign) and the ensuing belief that something has a certain quality. What does this mean 10 An excellent discussion of Reid’s theory of signs is Nichols’ Thomas Reid’s Theory of Perception chapters 3 & 4. Especially good is the discussion (86-91) of the various kinds of natural signs that Reid distinguishes: experiential signs (e.g. the sound of the fire engine signifies the presence of a fire engine), instinctual signs (e.g. an acrid smell signals not to ingest that which is emanating the smell) and constitutional signs (e.g. certain sensations of touch inform us of the hardness of bodies). Constitutional signs are the building blocks of all perceptual beliefs, and are the signs upon which the experiential signs are built. Another discussion of Reid on signs is Esther R. Kroeker, “Reid on Natural Signs, Taste, and Moral Perception”, in Sabine Roeser (ed.), Reid on Ethics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010): 46-66.
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  • Fall '19
  • Test, Belief, Internalism and externalism, Thomas Reid

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