Date of Award


Publication Type

Master Thesis

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The traditional reading of Hume is that he is a regularity theorist about causation and a compatibilist on the issue of human freedom and moral responsibility. I argue that these readings are mutually exclusive---i.e. endorsement of the one entails the rejection of the other---as they diverge on a fundamental premise, namely, the truth of causal determinism. Relatively recent "New Hume" scholarship has claimed that he is a causal realist---i.e. that he believes in the objective (mind-independent) existence of necessary connections or causal powers. I argue against this "new" reading and offer analysis in support of one type of the traditional regularity strain. The main claim I wish to establish is that the misguided compatibilist attribution derives from the illegitimate bifurcation of Hume's necessity and liberty arguments on the part of commentators on both sides of the dispute, a bifurcation which distorts and invariably undermines Hume's 'reconciling project'. In other words, Hume's redefinition of the terms of the free will debate rules out the standard compatibilist reading, as Hume is not presupposing, or even concerned with, the truth (or falsity) of determinism; rather, he is concerned with the psychology of our subjective experience (and/or idea) of necessity, i.e. with how and why necessity (and/or the idea of necessity) proves essential to human experience or to human nature. Specifically, I argue that Hume's treatment of necessity may be best understood as pointing to pragmatic considerations: his ultimate concerns are the ways in which our experience(s) of necessity serve(s) us in the way of prediction, predictability, and/or the ability to predict natural events, including human actions and choices. This line of thought is especially clear in Section 7 'Of Liberty and Necessity' of An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, while the psycho-subjective aspect constitutes the focus of Hume's discussion of necessary connections in the Treatise. What is clear from a survey of each of these texts is that Hume's treatment of necessity is not to be confused with a compatibilist's causal determinist account of the same.