Graduate studies at Western
|Abstract||Hume was certainly tackling a ‘long disputed question’ under his heading Of liberty and necessity. If our actions are causally determined, can we still maintain that we are capable of acting freely? Or does our deeply-rooted commitment to regarding other people as morally responsible agents also commit us to regarding them as exceptions to the general order of nature and, at some level, somehow exempt from the operation of causal laws? By now this has been disputed even longer, whether we call it the Problem of Free Will and (or versus) Determinism, or the topic of Moral Responsibility and Causal Determination. The basic issue is familiar enough to be referred to as an ‘old chestnut’ – which, in my view, implies we ought to have cracked it by now. Actually, I do believe that the position usually referred to nowadays as Compatibilism provides a solution to this problem, and no doubt this influences the view I take of Hume’s treatment of the topic. In order to relate Hume’s contribution to subsequent discussions and to the accumulated terminology of the debate, it will be useful to have a general scheme of the main positions in mind. Call the assumption that people – at any rate, normal adults – do have the capacity to act freely and are therefore morally responsible for their actions the Free Will Assumption. Evidently this is an assumption that we implicitly make in many different ways. For example, if a rottweiler attacks and injures a child, we may be shocked by the injuries and loathe and fear the dog that inflicted them. But we don’t blame the dog, because such an animal is not an appropriate target for that attitude: it cannot help the savagery which is part of its nature. And if the dog is put down, this is for reasons of safety, to prevent a repetition of the attack. It is not an execution. We take a different attitude to the dog’s owner, who should perhaps have foreseen the possibility of such an attack, and who in any case has a responsibility to control so dangerous a pet. What Hume calls ‘the doctrine of necessity’ is the Principle of Determinism, according to which all events (including all human actions) are entirely the result of prior causes..|
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Similar books and articles
Thomas Pink (2004). Free Will: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
Andrew Ward (2008). Proof and Demonstration: Hume's Account of the Causal Relation. International Philosophical Quarterly 48 (1):23-37.
Paul Russell (1995). Freedom and Moral Sentiment: Hume's Way of Naturalizing Responsibility. Oxford University Press.
Stephen J. Boulter (2002). Hume on Induction: A Genuine Problem or Theology's Trojan Horse? Philosophy 77 (1):67-86.
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