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Thomas Reid and the Problem of Secondary Qualities

Christopher A. Shrock

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Defends Reid's Common Sense philosophy against the claim that perception does not allow us to experience the physical world

With a new reading of Thomas Reid on primary and secondary qualities, Christopher A. Shrock illuminates the Common Sense theory of perception. Shrock follow's Reid's lead in defending common sense philosophy against the problem of secondary qualities, which claims that our perceptions are only experiences in our brains, and don't let us know about the world around us. At the same time, Schrock maintains a healthy optimism about science and reason.

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Part I: Why Secondary Qualities are a Problem

1. Why Direct Realism?

2. General Exposition of the Problem of Secondary Qualities

3. Why Direct Realism Needs Objective Secondary Qualities

Part II: How Thomas Reid Solves the Problem

4. Primary and Secondary Qualities in Reid’s Theory of PercePartion

5. Answering the Problem of Secondary Qualities

6. Understanding Reid’s Distinction

Part III: Eight Objections with Replies

7. Scientific Objections

8. Philosophical Objections

9. A Historical Objection

10. Conclusion

About the Author

Christopher A. Shrock is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio Valley University.


Shrock uses Reid’s ideas to defend direct realism against a serious objection—that the things we perceive have secondary qualities, such as colors and tastes, but these cannot be qualities of external things. Clearly and engagingly written, this book is exemplary both as exposition and interpretation of Reid and as philosophical problem solving.

- James Van Cleve, University of Southern California

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