Molyneux's Problem in the Scottish Enlightenment

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Charles Bradford Bow University of Aberdeen

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This article examines the “progress” of Scottish metaphysics during the long eighteenth century. The scientific cultivation of natural knowledge drawn from the examples of Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626), John Locke (1632–1704), and Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) was a defining pursuit in the Scottish Enlightenment. The Aberdonian philosopher George Dalgarno (1616–1687); Thomas Reid (1710–1796), a member of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society known as the Wise Club; and the professor of moral philosophy at Edinburgh University Dugald Stewart (1753–1828), contributed to that Scottish pattern of philosophical thinking. The question of the extent to which particular external senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) might be improved when others were damaged or absent from birth attracted their particular interest. This article shows the different ways in which Scottish anatomists of the mind resolved Molyneux's Problem of whether or not an agent could accurately perceive an object from a newly restored external sense.

Contributor Notes

Charles Bradford Bow is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Aberdeen and Deputy Director of the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies. His research revolves around the global intellectual history of Scottish Enlightenment philosophy. He is the editor of Common Sense in the Scottish Enlightenment published by Oxford University Press in 2018 and recently completed an intellectual biography of Dugald Stewart. His current research involves two book projects concerning the Aberdeen Enlightenment and Scotland's Imperial Enlightenment. He is also coediting with Michael Brown a volume on the history of the University of Aberdeen forthcoming with Aberdeen University Press in 2020. Email:

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