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Hume- EHU 5.pdf

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University of Toronto St. George
Peter King

HUME: LIBERTY AND NECESSITY [1] Hume applies his analysis of causation to other problems in philosophy, perhaps most no- tably the controversy between free will and determinism. Though he initially declares that the dispute is merely verbal, Hume himself defends the view that free will and determinism are com- patible (he is a ‘compatibilist’). The main outlines of his argument are clear: in Enquiry VIII.1 Hume argues (a) that we have the same kinds of reasons to ascribe necessity to human action as to physical events, namely that the same kinds of constant conjunctions hold in each sphere, and even the causal inferences we draw are not dissimilar; (b) ‘liberty’ is a matter of the absence of direct constraint or coercion; (c) so understood, necessity and liberty are compatible. In Part Two of Enquiry 8 Hume argues for a stronger thesis, namely that ascriptions of freedom require underlying necessities and are inconceivable without them—if we could not rely on bringing about events by performing certain actions, then we could not act freely at all, but rather be at the mercy of chance. [2] Before we can make sense of Hume’s arguments, however, we should clear up some of the terminology and sort out the issues. There are four separate kinds of determinism on the table in Hume’s discussion: [D1] Predictive Determinism. If it can reliably be predicted in advance what you will do in any given situation, or at least in any situation you will encounter, can you be said to act freely? Note that there is no presumption here about how someone might be in a position to make such a prediction. The limiting case of this is posed by God’s omniscience: He knows how you will act in every situation. [D2] Psychological Determinism. Human beings may be so constituted in their psychological make-up as to determine how they will behave in any given situation. (This sometimes called “the compulsion of character.”) Whether we or anyone can know enough about the relevant psychological laws or the particular case histories of individuals, it may nevertheless be true that we are constituted such that our responses to any given situ- ation are determined. This too seems to remove freedom: just as we do not consider someone caught in the grips of a hopeless compulsion “free to have done otherwise,” so too if all psychological states are like this. [D3] Causal Determinism. This is the ‘classical’ determinist position. It asserts that every event was determined by some set of prior causes. It is a further, and much stronger, hy- pothesis that the causes which determine events can be grouped into types and thence into laws; but this move is strictly irrelevant for causal determinism. (Note that if such causes can be grouped into laws then we may also be able to have predictability in principle, as suggested by [D1]. If it is also the case that such laws are organized along subject-lines, then we may get something like [D2] as well. Of course, [D2] is at best a limited case of [D3].) [D4]
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