Hume's Legacy and the Idea of British Empiricism

In Alan Bailey & Dan O'Brien (eds.), The Continuum Companion to Hume. Continuum. pp. 377 (2012)
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David Hume’s views on the subject of free will are among the most influential contributions to this long-disputed topic. Throughout the twentieth century, and into this century, Hume has been widely regarded as having presented the classic defense of the compatibilist position, the view that freedom and responsibility are consistent with determinism. Most of Hume’s core arguments on this issue are found in the sections entitled “Of liberty and necessity,” first presented in Book 2 of A Treatise of Human Nature (1739) and then in his An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748). Although the general position in both these works is much the same, there are some significant points of difference relating to the way in which the core position is presented and also in the specific range of arguments covered. The focus of my concerns in this essay will not, however, lie with the relationship between the Treatise and the first Enquiry versions of “Of liberty and necessity.” My discussion will center on the contrast between two alternative interpretations of Hume’s views on this subject, with particular reference to the version presented in the Treatise. It will be my particular concern to explain and defend the naturalistic as against the classical compatibilist account and to explain the general significance of the naturalistic account for the contemporary debate.

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Paul Russell
Lund University


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