Liberty and necessity

Notes for Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Main ideas

Hobbes and Bramhall debated the relationship between freedom and necessity in the seventeenth century. Not much has changed since. We used this session to introduce some vocabulary and talk about the logic of compatibilism.

Hobbes and Bramhall

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

Hobbes could not imagine anything happening without a cause. He also thought that causes make their effects necessary. So he was a determinist, meaning he believed that all events are caused and necessary.

Hobbes also denied that there is such a thing as free will. The will, like everything else, is caused. However he was a compatibilist about the freedom of action and responsibility for what we do. That means he thought freedom and responsibility are compatible with the causal determination of the will.

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.

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.

This page was written by Michael Green for Seminar on Punishment, Philosophy 185B, Fall 2014. It was posted December 9, 2014.
Seminar on Punishment