Although it is widely recognized that David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40) belongs among the greatest works of philosophy, there is little agreement about the correct way to interpret his fundamental intentions. It is an established orthodoxy among almost all commentators that skepticism and naturalism are the two dominant themes in this work. The difficulty has been, however, that Hume's skeptical arguments and commitments appear to undermine and discredit his naturalistic ambition to contribute to "the science of man". (...) This schism appears to leave his entire project broken-backed. The solution to this riddle depends on challenging another, closely related, point of orthodoxy: namely, that before Hume published the Treatise he removed almost all material concerned with problems of religion. Russell argues, contrary to this view, that irreligious aims and objectives are fundamental to the Treatise and account for its underlying unity and coherence. It is Hume's basic anti-Christian aims and objectives that serve to shape and direct both his skeptical and naturalistic commitments. When Hume's arguments are viewed from this perspective we can solve, not only puzzles arising from his discussion of various specific issues, we can also explain the intimate and intricate connections that hold his entire project together. This "irreligious" interpretation provides a comprehensive fresh account of the nature of Hume's fundamental aims and ambitions in the Treatise. It also presents a radically different picture of the way in which HUme's project was rooted in the debates and controversies of his own time, placing the Treatise in an irreligious or anti-Chrisitan philosophical tradition that includes Hobbes, Spinoza and freethinking followers. Considered in these terms, Hume's Treatise constitutes the crowning achievement of the Radical Enlightenment. (shrink)
In this book, Russell examines Hume's notion of free will and moral responsibility. It is widely held that Hume presents us with a classic statement of a compatibilist position--that freedom and responsibility can be reconciled with causation and, indeed, actually require it. Russell argues that this is a distortion of Hume's view, because it overlooks the crucial role of moral sentiment in Hume's picture of human nature. Hume was concerned to describe the regular mechanisms which generate moral sentiments such as (...) responsibility, and Russell argues that his conception of free will must be interprted within this naturalistic framework. He goes on to discuss Hume's views about the nature and character of moral sentiment; the extent to which we have control over our moral character; and the justification of punishment. Throughout, Russell argues that the naturalistic avenue of interpretation of Hume's thought, far from draining it of its contemporary interest and significance, reveals it to be of great relevance to the ongoing contemporary debate. (shrink)
Recent work in contemporary compatibilist theory displays considerable sophistication and subtlety when compared with the earlier theories of classical compatibilism. Two distinct lines of thought have proved especially influential and illuminating. The first developed around the general hypothesis that moral sentiments or reactive attitudes are fundamental for understanding the nature and conditions of moral responsibility. The other important development is found in recent compatibilist accounts of rational self-control or reason responsiveness. Strictly speaking, these two lines of thought have developed independent (...) of each other. However, in the past decade or so they have been fused together in several prominent statements of compatibilist theory. I will refer to theories that combine these two elements in this way as RS theories. RS theories face a number of familiar difficulties that relate to each of their two components. Beyond this, they also face a distinct set of problems concerning how these two main components relate or should be integrated. My concerns in this paper focus primarily on this set of problems. According to one version of RS compatibilism, the role of moral sentiments is limited to explaining what is required for holding an agent responsible. In contrast with this, the role of reason responsiveness is to explain what moral capacities are required for an agent to be responsible, one who is a legitimate or fair target of our moral sentiments. More specifically, according to this view, moral sense is not required for rational selfcontrol or reason responsiveness. There is, therefore, no requirement that the responsible agent has some capacity to feel moral sentiment. Contrary to this view, I argue that a responsible agent must be capable of holding herself and others responsible. Failing this, an agent’s powers of rational self-control will be both limited and impaired. In so far as holding responsible requires moral sense, it follows that being responsible also requires moral sense. (shrink)
This collection provides a selection of the most essential contributions to the contemporary free will debate. Among the issues discussed and debated are skepticism and naturalism, alternate possibilities, the consequence argument, libertarian metaphysics, illusionism and revisionism, optimism and pessimism, neuroscience and free will, and experimental philosophy.
The present study was designed to explore the relationship between self-reported dissociative experiences and performance in tasks eliciting right-hemisphere processing load. Thirty-four participants performed a vigilance task in two conditions: with task-irrelevant negative-arousing pictures and task-irrelevant neutral pictures. Dissociation was assessed with the Dissociative Experience Scale. Consistent with theories positing right-hemisphere deregulation in high non-clinical dissociators, dissociative experiences correlated with greater vigilance decrement only in the negative picture condition. As both the vigilance task and negative picture processing are right lateralized, (...) this result provides support for a right-hemisphere dysfunction in high dissociators, at least in negative conditions. (shrink)
Compatibilists argue, famously, that it is a simple incompatibilist confusion to suppose that determinism implies fatalism. Incompatibilists argue, on the contrary, that determinism implies fatalism, and thus cannot be consistent with the necessary conditions of moral responsibility. Despite their differences, however, both parties are agreed on one important matter: the refutation of fatalism is essential to the success of the compatibilist strategy. In this paper I argue that compatibilism requires a richer conception of fatalistic concern; one that recognizes the _legitimacy_ (...) of (pessimistic) concerns about the origination of character and conduct. On this basis I argue that any plausible compatibilist position must concede that determinism has fatalistic implications of some significant and relevant kind, and thus must allow that agents may be legitimately held responsible in circumstances where they are subject to fate. The position generated by these compatibilist concessions to incompatibilism will be called 'compatibilist-fatalism'. (shrink)
David Hume is widely recognized as providing the most influential statement of the “compatibilist” position in the free will debate — the view that freedom and moral responsibility can be reconciled with (causal) determinism. The arguments that Hume advances on this subject are found primarily in the sections titled “Of liberty and necessity”, as first presented in A Treatise of Human Nature (2.3.1-2) and, later, in a slightly amended form, in the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (sec. 8). Although there is (...) considerable overlap in content between these two statements of Hume's position, there are also some significant differences. This includes, for example, some substantial additions in the Enquiry discussion as it relates to problems of religion, such as predestination and divine foreknowledge. While these differences are certainly significant they should not be exaggerated. Hume's basic strategy and compatibilist commitments in both works remain the same in their essentials.. (shrink)
The discussion in this paper begins with some observations regarding a number of structural similarities between art and morality as it involves human agency. On the basis of these observations we may ask whether or not incompatibilist worries about free will are relevant to both art and morality. One approach is to claim that libertarian free will is essential to our evaluations of merit and desert in both spheres. An alternative approach, is to claim that free will is required only (...) in the sphere of morality—and that to this extent the art/morality analogy breaks down. I argue that both these incompatibilist approaches encounter significant problems and difficulties—and that incompatibilist have paid insufficient attention to these issues. However, although the analogy between art and morality may be welcomed by compatibilists, it does not pave the way for an easy or facile optimism on this subject. On the contrary, while the art/morality analogy may lend support to compatibilism it also serves to show that some worries of incompatibilism relating to the role of luck in human life cannot be easily set aside, which denies compatibilism any basis for complacent optimism on this subject. (shrink)
: In this paper I argue that Hume's famous discussion of probability and induction, as originally presented in the Treatise, is significantly motivated by irreligious objectives. A particular target of Hume's arguments is Joseph Butler's Analogy of Religion. In the Analogy Butler intends to persuade his readers of both the credibility and practical importance of the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments. The argument that he advances relies on probable reasoning and proceeds on the assumption that our (...) past experience in this life serves as a reliable and effective guide for our expectations concerning a future state. In the relevant sections of the Treatise Hume aims to discredit this religious argument and the practical objectives associated with it. (shrink)
According to the central tenets of classical compatibilism, the only kind of control required for agents to be free and responsible is the ability to act according to the determination of their own desires and willings. Since this condition can be satisfied without denying the thesis of determinism, it is argued, we can dismiss the pessimistic worries of the incompatibilist as unfounded.1 While this view of things dominated compatibilism for many generations, by the end of the twentieth century it was (...) generally regarded as too crude and simple to serve as an adequate foundation for a plausible compatibilism. Recent compatibilist work on this subject has been shaped in large part by the related debate about whether or not moral responsibility requires that an agent “could have done otherwise” or had “alternative possibilities”. Among the most influential contributors to these debates have been Harry Frankfurt and Daniel Dennett. Both Frankfurt and Dennett have argued that we ought to sever the (assumed) link between alternate possibilities and the kind of control required for moral responsibility.2 Their work on this subject provides an important point of departure for the significant and valuable project that Fischer and Ravizza pursue in _Responsibility and Control_. (shrink)
"However that all objections may be taken off with more advantage and clearness, I beg leave to lay down the following principle... It is impossible the effect should be perfecter than its cause... [D]enying this principle leads to downright Atheism...".
In this paper I argue that Hume's famous discussion of probability and induction, as originally presented in the Treatise, is significantly motivated by irreligious objectives. A particular target of Hume's arguments is Joseph Butler's Analogy of Religion. In the Analogy Butler intends to persuade his readers of both the credibility and practical importance of the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments. The argument that he advances relies on probable reasoning and proceeds on the assumption that our past (...) experience in this life serves as a reliable and effective guide for our expectations concerning a future state. In the relevant sections of the Treatise Hume aims to discredit this religious argument and the practical objectives associated with it. (shrink)
Thomas Hobbes changed the face of moral philosophy in ways that still structure and resonate within the contemporary debate. It was Hobbes’s central aim, particularly as expressed in the Leviathan, to make moral philosophy genuinely ‘scientific’, where this term is understood as science had developed and evolved in the first half of the seventeenth century. Specifically, it was Hobbes’s aim to provide a thoroughly naturalistic description of human beings in terms of the basic categories and laws of matter and motion. (...) By analyzing the individual and society in these terms, Hobbes proposed to identify and describe a set of moral laws that are eternal and immutable, and can be known to all those who are capable of reason and science (L, 15.40). Even more ambitiously, it was Hobbes’s further hope that these ‘theorems of moral doctrine’ would be put into practical use by public authorities with a view to maintaining a peaceful, stable social order (L, 31.41). (shrink)
Andre Willis argues that although Hume is generally credited with being a “devastating critic” of religion, it is a mistake to view Hume solely in these terms or to present him as an “atheist.” This not only represents a failure to appreciate Hume’s “middle path” between “militant atheists and evangelical theists”, it denies us an opportunity to “enhance” our understanding and appreciation of the positive, constructive value of religion through a close study of Hume’s views. Willis’s study presents Hume as (...) committed to a “bifurcated approach to religion” that rests on the fundamental distinction between “false religion” and “true religion”. False religion, which includes Christianity, is a... (shrink)
We are naturally social beings; and given with our natural commitment to social existence is a natural commitment to that whole web or structure of human personal and moral attitudes and feelings, and judgments of which I spoke. Our natural disposition to such attitudes and judgments is naturally secured against arguments suggesting they are in principle unwarranted or unjustified ….
In her influential and challenging paper “Skepticism about Practical Reason” Christine Korsgaard sets out to refute an important strand of Humean scepticism as it concerns a Kantian understanding of practical reason.1 Korsgaard distinguishes two components of scepticism about practical reason. The first, which she refers to as content scepticism, argues that reason cannot of itself provide any “substantive guidance to choice and action” (SPR, 311). In its classical formulation, as stated by Hume, it is argued that reason cannot determine our (...) ends. Our ends are determined by our desires and reason is limited to the role of identifying the relevant means to these ends. The second component, which Korsgaard calls motivational scepticism, suggests doubt about the scope of reason as a motive. The claim here, as Korsgaard interprets Hume’s view on this matter, is that “all reasoning that has motivational influence must start from a passion, that being the only possible source of motivation” (SPR, 314).2 Korsgaard’s fundamental objective in “Skepticism about Practical Reason” is to show that motivational scepticism must always be based on content scepticism. In other words, according to Korsgaard, motivational scepticism has no independent force. In this paper I argue that Korsgaard’s attempt to discredit motivational scepticism is unsuccessful. (shrink)
Hume’s famous and influential contributions to the philosophy of religion pursue two broad themes that have deep links with his general sceptical and naturalistic commitments throughout his philosophy as a whole.1 The first is his sceptical critique of the philosophical arguments and doctrines of various (Christian) theological systems. The second is his naturalistic account of the origins and roots of religion in human nature. Taken together, these two themes serve to advance Hume’s “Lucretian mission”, which was to discredit and dislodge (...) the role of religion in human life. In this paper I consider the criticism that Hume’s entire Lucretian mission is fundamentally misguided and misconceived as judged in terms of his own claims and hypotheses concerning religion. More specifically, it may be argued that if Hume is right about the foundations of religion in human nature and the human predicament, then his Lucretian mission is neither wise nor achievable. His project is, in other words, both theoretically self-refuting and practically self-defeating. Drawing from Hume’s writings on this subject, I will suggest a set of replies and responses to these criticisms. (shrink)
“This constant habit of surveying ourselves, as it were, in reflection, keeps alive all the sentiments of right and wrong, and begets, in noble natures, a certain reverence for themselves as well as others, which is the surest guardian of every virtue.”.
Such is the effect of the good or bad consequences of actions upon the sentiments both of the person who performs them, and of others; and thus, Fortune, which governs the world, has some influence where we should be least willing to allow her any, and directs in some measure the sentiments of mankind, with regard to the character and conduct both of themselves and others.
Hume’s views on free will have been enormously influential and are widely regarded as representing “the best-known classical statement of what is now known as compatibilism”.1 There are a number of valuable studies that consider his contribution on this subject from a contemporary, critical perspective, but this will not be my particular concern in this paper.2 My primary interest, consistent with the specific aims and objectives of this volume, is to explain the way that Hume’s arguments in T, 2.3.1-2 relate (...) to his fundamental intentions in the Treatise as a whole. Contrary to what is generally supposed, I will show that Hume’s arguments in these two sections are significantly concerned with problems of religion. More specifically, Hume’s necessitarian commitments, I argue, contain features that are systematically irreligious in character. These features of Hume’s views on this subject are indicative of his deeper and wider irreligious intentions throughout the Treatise. (shrink)
There are many questions in philosophy to which no satisfactory answer has yet been given. But the question of the nature of the gods is the darkest and most difficult of all…. So various and so contradictory are the opinions of the most learned men on this matter as to persuade one of the truth of the saying that philosophy is the child of ignorance… — Cicero, The Nature of the Gods..
When we thus despair of finding any force upon earth which can check the triumph of injustice, we naturally appeal to heaven, and hope, that the great Author of our nature will himself execute hereafter, what all the principles which he has given us for the direction of our conduct, prompt us to attempt even here … And thus we are led to the belief of a future state, not only by the weaknesses, by the hopes and fears of human (...) nature, but by the noblest and best principles which belong to it, by the love of virtue, and by the abhorrence of vice and injustice. (shrink)