PHL220: Hume's Enquiry, sections VIII
Hume's Enquiry, sections VIII
Hume, Section VIII
In this section, Hume grapples with the question of free will.
- Hume notes that all we can mean by "necessity" now (or,
think of this as acting according to natural laws) is that
something appears to follow a commonly observed correlation.
"[This] fire necessarily causes heat" just means that in the
past we have seen that things similar to this fire and were
accompanied in our experience by heat.
- We tend to believe that such necessary correlations
exist, and often mean something more than this by "necessary."
Are human actions an exception? Are they different than other
kinds of actions?
- Hume argues no
- We understand the actions of people from distant places
- We understand the actions of others in the distant past
- We must assume others are consistently acting in
certain ways in order to work together
- From this, it is plausible that there is (some) universal
human nature, or maybe just commonalities in human behavior,
which allows us to say there are necessary human causes and
- Why are we reluctant to admit this? It seems to deny
free will or liberty.
- Hume defines liberty, however, as "a power of acting or
not acting, according to the determinations of the will."
- Thus, we are free if we can say our will caused our
- This is called "compatibilism."
- Note that what Hume has done is argue that this problem
in part goes away if we get clear about our concepts. He
defines or redefines liberty in such a way that we can be
free and also our actions can be necessary.
Views of Free Will
- The view that all (relevant) events must
happen as they do, given past events, is called
- The view that we are free only if we can
escape determinism is called "libertarianism"
(not to be confused with the political views!).
- The view that we can be free and that determinism can be
true of human actions is called compatibilism. Hume gives the
first very clear and compelling version of compatibilism.
- Defining freedom is very hard. Generally,
the idea is that we could have done differently.
However, it is also generally agreed that randomness
does not make you free.