Determination, Chance and David Hume: On Freedom as a Power

In Marco Hausmann & Jörg Noller (eds.), Free Will: Historical and Analytic Perspectives. Springer Verlag. pp. 267-280 (2021)
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Abstract

Hume thought that if actions were not determined causally by prior events they could depend on nothing more than chance. But we seem to think that even actions undetermined by prior events need not happen by mere chance. They could be still determined by their agents; they could therefore be free. What does this belief in freedom involve? Is it simply the theory that substances, in the form of agents, can be causes, and not just events? The chapter argues that this is not so. Our conception of freedom is of a power radically unlike ordinary causation, not simply in respect of the bearer of the power, but in the way that the power determines outcomes. A cause determines an outcome only when its power excludes alternatives. But freedom is a power that far from excluding alternatives, makes them available. The chapter explores this difference between the two kinds of power, and the implications of Hume’s failure to distinguish them.

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Thomas Pink
Kings College

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