Is Thomas Reid a Direct Realist about Perception?



The controversy over the interpretative issue—is Thomas Reid a perceptual direct realist?—has recently had channelled into it a host of imaginative ideas about what direct perception truly means. Paradoxically enough, it is the apparent contradiction at the heart of his view of perception which keeps teasing us to review our concepts: time and again, Reid stresses that the very idea of any mental intermediaries implies scepticism, yet, nevertheless insists that sensations are signs of objects. But if sensory signs are not mental intermediaries, what are they? Hasn't Reid merely swapped the common ‘sensation’ for the notorious ‘idea’, ending up with indirect realism?1 Current imaginative strategies answer negatively: Reid's sensory sign does not contradict direct perception, and those who think otherwise merely fail to understand what it means.