Journal of the History of Philosophy 46 (4):pp. 646-647 (2008)

Benjamin Hill
University of Western Ontario
Early modern historians and philosophers interested in human freedom can profitably read this book, which provides a synoptic view of the eighteenth-century British free will debate from Locke through Dugald Stewart. Scholars have not ignored the debate, but as they have tended to focus on canonical figures , the author’s inclusion of lesser-known yet significant thinkers such as Lord Kames, Jonathan Edwards, and James Beattie is especially welcome. The main thesis of James Harris’s book is that the eighteenth-century British debate was animated by a general commitment to “experimentalism,” i.e., the view that we should be faithful to the data of our experiences of willing. Locke initiated the turn to experimentalism, but in Harris’s judgment it was Hume who first fully adopted it. Of course, Hume’s deflationary moves did nothing to slow the debate, let alone settle it, and necessitarians continued to battle libertarians
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DOI 10.1353/hph.0.0073
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