Reid on Direct Realism And Nonexistent Objects Of Conception

James Van Cleve
University of Southern California, Dornsife
February 7, 2014  3:00-5:00 pm  CHEM D300

Abstract: Reid holds that one of the distinguishing marks of conception is that “it is not employed solely about things which have existence.  I can conceive a winged horse or a centaur, as easily and as distinctly as I can conceive a man whom I have seen.” The first task of my paper is to determine whether Reid’s views on nonexistent objects of conception make him (as some have conjectured) a Meinongian before Meinong.  My answer is yes.

Reid is famous for espousing direct realism—the view that we perceive objects in the external world directly, not by the mediation of sense data or ideas.  One of the chief objections to direct realism is that we need to posit ideas or sense data to account for illusions and hallucinations, and that once ideas are admitted, they take over, becoming the immediate objects of veridical perception as well.  The second task of my paper is to determine whether Reid’s Meinongianism may be enlisted in defense of his direct realism.  My answer is yes—but it is not his best defense.