’Tis commonly allow’d that mad-men have no liberty. But were we to judge by their actions, these have less regularity and constancy than the actions of wise-men, and consequently are farther remov’d from necessity. Our way of thinking in this particular is, therefore, absolutely inconsistent; but is a natural consequence of these confus’d ideas and undefin’d terms, which we so commonly make use of in our reasonings, especially on the present subject.
David Hume (A Treatise of Human Nature, Book II Part III, Section I)
This time we’ll explore just how confus’d we can become when trying to make sense of the notions of free will and determinism. Are they compatible? If not, what conclusions would an ‘incompatibilist’ position lead to.
J.J.C. Smart ‘Praise and Blame’ sets out a ‘compatibilist’ position by trying to refute the ‘libertarian’ theory of free will – and reflects on whether his conclusions ought to modify common attitudes of praise and blame. [Go to More tab above for access]
Peter Van Ingwagen ‘The Incompatibility of Free Will and Determinism’ takes an opposite tack http://www.calstatela.edu/sites/default/files/dept/phil/pdf/res/van-inwagen-incompatibilism.pdf.
Van Ingwagen’s 1983 Essay on Free Will outlines a similar argument (around £16.00 from Amazon).
Galen Strawson ‘The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility’ addresses the entire issue of moral responsibility and argues that individuals cannot be morally responsible in the way that many people suppose. Can be accessed on
All these papers are in Free Will edited by Gary Watson (OUP, 2003) – about £13 second-hand on Amazon.
At this session, we can also review topics we might turn to in the autumn – hopefully we can reconvene in September.
Suggestions have included:
1. Philosophy of science – Kuhn, Popper and others.
2. Scepticism, relativism and absolutism.
3. Phenomenology – Husserl to Merleau-Ponty
4. Classical Greek philosophy