Let ‘mental constitution’ stand for whatever is invariant and basic in the nature of the human mind, and let it be acknowledged that among all the actions we take as agents—roughly, things we do rather than suffer, and things we do with some reason and with some aim—a considerable part of them aims at changing or sustaining mental states or processes (as opposed to changing or sustaining physical things or processes).

I will explore a salient but underappreciated trait of Thomas Reid’s conception of the human mind, namely the trait that, while we are in no position to change our mental constitution or nature, we are more or less constantly engaged in relating to, or engaging in, our constitution. I will discuss (for want of better terms) ‘singular short term engagements’ such as paying attention and trying to remember, and ‘general long term engagements’ such as resolving to always be a good citizen or developing one’s reasoning skills.

I hope to show that, according to Reid, not only do actions of the sort permeate mental life; they also make the difference between success and failure in our efforts to improve living conditions. Indeed, many of the powers we are endowed with we receive, Reid says, in a “rude and barren” state, and it is only through a “culture of the mind” that they become fully useful to us. Therefore, the extent to which we manage to relate successfully to our unchangeable mental constitution or nature, and manage to make the most of its deliverances, determines who we are and who we become. Relating to our nature is part of our nature.

Höstens Program