Free Action

Free Action

Free Action

Free Action

Excerpt

That a science of human conduct is possible, that what any man may do even in moments of the most sober and careful reflection can be understood and explained, has seemed to many a philosopher to cast doubt upon our common view that any human action can ever be said truly to be free. The rosy Baconian promises of the benefits to be derived from a knowledge of nature have appeared to be hollow to many a thinker viewing the possible extension of the methods of natural science to the sphere of human conduct. It is a bit of irony that even as the seventeenth- century investigators of nature were exercising their newly won freedom as they laid the foundations of modern science, some philosophers of the new science came to view with suspicion the common-sense conviction that human beings are free and responsible, just as soon as they turned their attention to man himself and sought to lay out the ground plan of psychology. It is, of course, a familiar view that Hume once and for all time laid to rest the growing disquiets of this sort in his polemic on the subject of causation and necessity and in his apparently innocuous suggestion that free action is to be distinguished from action that is not free, not by the absence of causal conditions but by the presence of certain specific sorts of mental causes. But these reassurances have not sufficed to allay the fears of all of his self-styled tough- minded followers. Not only have the consequences . . .

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