Philosophy, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Philosophical Books, Volume 49, Number 3 (July 2008), pp 257–261.

doi 10.1111/j.1468-0149.2008.467_5.x


Copyright © 2008 Jennifer McKitrick. Published by Wiley-Blackwell. Used by permission.


In Thomas Reid’s Theory of Perception, Ryan Nichols presents an interpretation and critique of the views of one of the most interesting thinkers of the early modern period, in particular, as the title indicates, those relating to perception. The book covers Reid’s Newtonian method, perception through touch and vision, the intentionality of perceptual states, the role of sensations in perception, perception of primary and secondary qualities, and the unity of perception via a discussion of Molyneux’s question regarding the perceptual abilities of one with recently acquired sight. Nichols’s book is somewhat challenging, more suitable to someone who is familiar with Reid’s theory of perception and ongoing debates in the secondary literature than to someone who is just looking to find out about Reid’s views. As Nichols notes, Reid’s own writing is very clear and there’s no reason to think that Reid was less than forthcoming about his views (p. 1). While Nichols claims to interpret and critique Reid’s views, I would have appreciated more indication of overarching themes, or guidance as to where the discussions were going. Fortunately, the efforts necessary to work through Nichols’s text are paid off by some very interesting and valuable discussions, particularly the sections on direct realism, acquired perceptions, and Molyneux’s Question. Rather than summarize and give further praise to those sections, I’ll turn my attention to those sections I found more problematic. In what follows, I’ll take issue with Nichols’s discussion of Reid’s ‘Blind Book’ argument, visible figure, and the primary quality/secondary quality distinction.

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