Determinism and compatibilism

Notes for April 1

Main points

The goal of today’s class was to introduce the vocabulary and basic positions that we will discuss for the next two sessions.

Bramhall was an incompatibilist, meaning he thought that freedom of action is incompatible with the causal determination of the will. Since he believed that the will is free, he was a libertarian.

Hobbes was a compatibilist, meaning he thought that freedom of action is compatible with the causal determination of the will. We are free if there are no external impediments to doing what we will; it does not matter that the will is causally determined. Hobbes could not imagine anything happening without a cause, so he was a determinist.

Bramhall’s objections

Bramhall had two broad points.

The first was that many things that do, in fact, make sense would not make sense if determinism were true. For instance, it would not make any sense to ask someone for advice if your actions were causally determined.

As Emily noted, Hobbes’s answer to this sort of point is that the advice could be part of the cause. If I ask you for advice and what you tell me makes sense to me, that will cause me to act in the ways you advised. So there is a point to asking for advice, thinking about what to do, and so on even if determinism is true.

Bramhall’s second point is harder for Hobbes to overcome. He said it would be unjust to punish people for what they could not help doing. Hobbes said in reply that we punish out of a kind of self-defense and in order to deter others. Neither point directly answers Bramhall.

Key concepts

  1. determinism
  2. free will, libertarianism
  3. compatibilism
  4. incompatibilism
  5. Bramhall’s point about justice
This page was written by Michael Green for Philosophy of Law, Philosophy 34, Spring 2014. It was posted April 8, 2014.
Philosophy of Law