Instinct and explanation in Thomas Reid’s theory of action

Lindsay, C. (2018) Instinct and explanation in Thomas Reid’s theory of action. Ruch Filozoficzny, 74(3), pp. 57-74. (doi: 10.12775/RF.2018.027)

196579.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives.


Publisher's URL:


In his account of what he calls the ‘mechanical principles’ of action, Thomas Reid distinguishes between deliberate, willed actions and those caused by instincts or habits. He holds that that agents can only be held morally responsible with respect to willed actions, as it is only in such cases that the agent acts freely on his libertarian model of agency. Nevertheless, in his later writings Reid seems to suggest that instinctual behaviour is both prior to and a precondition for the performance of free action. In this brief paper, I want to first introduce Reid’s theory of action and then expand upon this account in order to show that it goes some way to mitigate the criticisms raised by Louis Loeb and others against Reid, namely that Reid is content to rest with an account that rejects any attempt to explain the origin of beliefs that arise from human nature. Loeb portrays Hume as the superior philosopher due in part to his willingness to open up the black box of the mind for scientific inspection. I want to claim that Loeb misses the mark here; despite the fact that Hume does attempt to give us a psychological account of the origins of certain beliefs, it is crippled by the implausible restrictions Hume places on his system. Reid’s account, in contrast, employs a different conception of explanation and, as a result, offers a more plausible account that is not hindered by an unnecessary emphasis on introspection.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Lindsay, Dr Chris
Authors: Lindsay, C.
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Journal Name:Ruch Filozoficzny
Publisher:Polish Philosophical Society
ISSN (Online):2545-3173
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2019 The Author
First Published:First published in Ruch Filozoficzny 74(3):57-74
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons license

University Staff: Request a correction | Enlighten Editors: Update this record