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PHL100Y1 Lecture Notes - Uncertainty Principle, Compatibilism, Determinism

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Peter King

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[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] Reductive Determinism. The most popular version of reductive determinism goes
something like this:
Everything is material, and the laws regulating the human mind are explained by the
same laws which regulate matter; these laws are deterministic; hence there is no freedom
of the will.
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