Reid and Berkeley on Scepticism, Representationalism, and Ideas

Journal of Scottish Philosophy 17 (3):191-210 (2019)
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Both Reid and Berkeley reject ‘representationalism’, an epistemological position whereby we perceive things in the world indirectly via ideas in our mind, on the grounds of anti-scepticism and common sense. My aim in this paper is to draw out the similarities between Reid and Berkeley's ‘anti-representationalist’ arguments, whilst also identifying the root of their disagreements on certain fundamental metaphysical issues. Reid famously rejects Berkeley's idealism, in which all that exists are ideas and minds, because it undermines the dictates of common sense. Reid also charges Berkeley with not only accepting but furthering the progress of ‘the Way of Ideas’, a longstanding tradition which has drawn philosophy away from true science and common sense. From Berkeley's perspective, Reid is a ‘materialist’; that is, he dogmatically accepts that mind-independent things exist. I argue that these important differences can be explained by both thinkers’ construal of certain ‘philosophical prejudices’. Finally, I conclude that despite these differences, both ought to be characterised as ‘anti-representationalists’ in light of their shared epistemological concerns.

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Peter West
Northeastern University London


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