Thomas Reid

Strayed across some correspondence between  Lord Kames and Thomas Reid while looking for something else. Not come across Thomas Reid before but trying to gain more of an insight into the philosophical current in this period of Scottish history, he looks rather interesting.

Essays On The Intellectual Powers of Man


Change of Course

Starting to read through the possible influence of legal philosophy on Lord Monboddo has been a bit of a revelation. However the main revelation at the moment is I know nothing about the subject.

My interest is with the development of ethnological thought in the enlightenment and the fictive element in tales of the wild man and man like apes. This remains the case, but a clear understanding of the history of the legal philosophy rather than an understanding of natural history would appear to be essential particularly in regard to Monboddo at the moment but I expect the argument will extend further.  Still remains to be seen if these legal arguments shaped the narrative entertainments and descriptions that interest me.

Will give myself 6 months on this, one Saturday a week in the library looking at the development of laws of slavery and captivity as they develop in Greece and Rome them medieval Europe, ending with the way this subject and its history is used in Edinburgh during the enlightenment.  Meantime will start to gather examples I have worked with on the blog, starting with man like apes and also Lord Monboddo’s French excursion in search of wild children escaping slavery and French legal attitudes with regard to status of captured slaves.

Hogo Grotius: On The Law of War and Peace

Of The Differences Between Men and Other Animals

The distinction found in the books of the Roman Law, assigning one unchangeable right to brutes in common with man, which in a more limited sense they call the law of nature, and appropriating another to men, which they frequently call the Law of Nations, is scarcely of any real use. For no beings, except those that can form general maxims, are capable of possessing a right, which Hesiod has placed in a clear point of view, observing “that the supreme Being has appointed laws for men; but permitted wild beasts, fishes, and birds to devour each other for food.” For they have nothing like justice, the best gift, bestowed upon men.

Cicero, in his first book of offices, says, we do not talk of the justice of horses or lions. In conformity to which, Plutarch, in the life of Cato the elder, observes, that we are formed by nature to use law and justice towards men only. In addition to the above, Lactantius may be cited, who, in his fifth book, says that in all animals devoid of reason we see a natural bias of self-love. For they hurt others to benefit themselves; because they do not know the evil of doing willful hurt. But it is not so with man, who, possessing the knowledge of good and evil, refrains, even with inconvenience to himself, from doing hurt. Polybius, relating the manner in which men first entered into society, concludes, that the injuries done to parents or benefactors inevitably provoke the indignation of mankind, giving an additional reason, that as understanding and reflection form the great difference between men and other animals, it is evident they cannot transgress the bounds of that difference like other animals, without exciting universal abhorrence of their conduct. But if ever justice is attributed to brutes, it is done improperly, from some shadow and trace of reason they may possess. But it is not material to the nature of right, whether the actions appointed by the law of nature, such as the care of our offspring, are common to us with other animals or not, or, like the worship of God, are peculiar to man.

“Polybius, relating the manner in which men first entered into society, concludes, that the injuries done to parents or benefactors inevitably provoke the indignation of mankind…”

Caught my eye in relation to Lord M’s statement in the last post, he does not appear to support the gentleman’s conclusion.

“And I know a gentleman who saw in Batavia two favages brought from New Holland, that appeared to him to be perfectly ftupid and idiotical”

“animals devoid of reason we see a natural bias of self-love. For they hurt others to benefit themselves; because they do not know the evil of doing willful hurt.”

Again Monboddo is describing this as a feature of the human species following Comte de Buffon.

Grotius opening paragraph on unchangeable right and the Law of Nations, examine next.


Hugo Grotuis, On the Law of War and Peace at constitution org

Stoic Acceptance

Monboddo makes the argument that language is an acquired art and noting interest in feral children as idiots and inhuman he makes a contrary suggestion that the are fully human but that language acquisition is a very difficult processes.

Diodorus Siculus in his third book, has given us an account. They were Fituated upon the coaft of the Indian ocean, near to the ftraits which join that ocean to the Arabian gulf. Ptolomy king of Egypt, the third of that name, having heard, he fays, much of their brutifhnefs and ftupidity, had the curiofity to fend one of his friends to bring him an account of them; who accordingly went, properly attented. and brought back to the king a report, which iin fubftance amounted to this: That they neither defired the company of strangers, nor fhunned it: That no appearance, however ftrange, feemed to move them; for they kept their eyes always fixt, and never altered their countenance: That, when any perfon advanced upon them with a drawn fword, they did not run away; and they bore all kinds of infults and injuries without fhewing the leaft fign of anger. Nor did thofe of them who were fpectators of fuch injuries fhew any indignation at what they faw their countrymen fuffer. He adds, That they carried their infenfibility fo far, that, when their wives and children were killed in their prefence, they were even then unmoved, fhewing no figns, either of pity or anger. In fhort fays he, in the moft terrible fituations, they seemed perfectly tranquil, looking ftedfastly at what was doing, and, at every event that happened, giving a nod with their heads. Thus far diodorus; and with this account many of the relations of our modern travllers, concerning people living in the loweft ftate of barbarity, agree. And I know a gentleman who saw in Batavia two favages brought from New Holland, that appeared to him to be perfectly ftupid and idiotical, though he haf no reafon to think that they were more fo than the other natives of that country.

Monboddo’s position seems oddly ambiguous, looking at the legal arguments of the period these words are chilling. Yet it is clearly a subject that was unsettling despite the justifications being reached for.


O&P.O.L. Vol. 1. pp. 200

No 74: No Anser Given

Ignoti Nulla Cupido

Ic waes Faemne geong,    feaxhar cwene

ond aenlic rinc                           on ane tid;

Fleah mid fuglum     ond on flode swom,

deaf under ype               dead mid fiscum,

ond on foldan stop,      haefda fero cwicu.

I was a maiden light/ grey haired woman/queen

an excellent/ beautiful/ solitary warrior upon one time

flew with birds  upon water I swam

dived under wave, dead among the fishes

and upon ground I stepped, I had a living soul


D. Donoghue, ‘ An Anser for the Exeter Book Riddle 74, Words and Works: Studies in Medieval English Language and Litterature in Honour of Fred C Robinson.

The Slave and The Stick

captive_wild_womanMan in A Gorilla Suit: Loss of Legal Status

Starting to chew through Origin and progress of language for references to slavery before looking at Monboddo’s legal opinion on the subject.

And laftly, the great Orang Outang carries off boys and girls to make flaves of them, which not only fhews him, in my apprehenfion, to be a man* but proves, that he lives in fociety, and must have made fome progrefs in the arts of civil life, for we hear of no nations altogether barbarous who ufe flaves.

* It is given by Mr Buffon, as a certain proof of humanity, and a diftinguifhing mark of difference betwixt us and the brutes


O&P.O.L Vol. 1 pp. 345

Notes: Legendary Weapons

Monboddo later goes on to suggest that humanity expanded across the globe from Asia and could not have inhabited harsher climates such as Canada, in a natural state (without society and the arts). He sees humanity as starting in a natural state in milder climates then expanding as it civilized. Monboddo considers that faced with a multiplying population two choices could be made expansion into new territory or if blocked by geographical terrain Humanity would prey on other species of animals or each other. He believes that these set of circumstances could not be achieved by a solitary creature in a natural state but this competition was dependent on arts and communal living. He sees hunting as the first processes, like the stick used by the Orang Outangs or a bludgeon that a celebrated wild girl used.

These arguments would appear to be related to legal arguments of the time related to slavery and the legal debate in Lord Monboddo’s day as I am just beginning to find. Here we see old legendary motifs, that of abduction, and the use of weapons both which appear to stem from European tales of the wild man. The notion that slavery originated in the act of sparing captives in war was a live legal argument in this period in Scotland’s history serving to suggest the potential lack of conflict between Scots law and the notion of slave ownership.

Slaves had no clear legally established status in Scottish law of the period but slaves were at the time brought back from the colonies and used as  household servants and trained in trades for return to the colonies, they were treated as the property of the owners but this had no actual legally established basis.  Lord Monboddo was an active figure in these debates and his imaginative use of the orang utang would appear to have a potential relevance here.

Question would be how old is the relationship between the abduction motif and discussions of legal status? Was the transfer of the motif and that of weapon use to man like apes motivated by this ideological function?

Whilst it would seem an understanding of Lord Monboddo’s legal training and perspective on natural law is an essential element of his works it would be I think a mistake to highlight this one aspect and particularly start to throw the highly loaded modern term racist at it. It is a multifaceted work but this aspect is also an important strand detailing the wider context he was working and thinking in.

Personal Reminiscences

Chapter 5 Scottish Judges

Lord Monboddo (James Burnet, Esq. of Monboddo) is another of the well-known members of the Scottish Bench, who combined, with many eccentricities of opinion and habits, great learning and a most amiable disposition. From his paternal property being in the county of Kincardine, and Lord M. being a visitor at my father’s house, and indeed a relation or clansman, I have many early reminiscences of stories which I have heard of the learned judge. His speculations regarding the origin of the human race have, in times past, excited much interest and amusement. His theory was that man emerged from a wild and savage condition, much resembling that of apes; that man had then a tail like other animals, but which by progressive civilisation and the constant habit of sitting, had become obsolete. This theory produced many a joke from facetious and superficial people, who had never read any of the arguments of the able and elaborate work, by which the ingenious and learned author maintained his theory. Lord Kames, a brother judge, had his joke on it. On some occasion of their meeting, Lord Monboddo was for giving Lord Kames the precedency. Lord K. declined, and drew back, saying, “By no means, my lord; you must walk first, that I may see your tail.” I recollect Lord Monboddo’s coming to dine at Fasque caused a great excitement of interest and curiosity. I was in the nursery, too young to take part in the investigations; but my elder brothers were on the alert to watch his arrival, and get a glimpse of his tail. Lord M. was really a learned man, read Greek and Latin authors–not as a mere exercise of classical scholarship–but because he identified himself with their philosophical opinions, and would have revived Greek customs and modes of life. He used to give suppers after the manner of the ancients, and used to astonish his guests by the ancient cookery of Spartan broth, and of mulsum.



Reminiscences Of Scottish Life & Character By The Late Ramsey, LL.D., F.R.S.E. Dean of Edinburgh: And A Memoir of Dean Ramsey By Cosmo Innes, 1874


Anatomical illustration of a juvenile chimpanzee by William Cowper, engraved by Michael van der Gucht, in Edward Tyson,  Orang-outang, sive homo sylvestris: or the anatomy of a pygmie compared with that of a monkey, an ape and a man. 1699