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Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
R. E. Hobart (Dickinson Miller)

R. E. Hobart is the pseudonym of Dickinson S. Miller, a student of William James who was later one of his closest personal friends and for some years a colleague in the Harvard philosophy department. Hobart (Miller) criticized the core idea of The Will to Believe, namely that it was acceptable to hold religious faith in the absence of evidence for or against that faith. James referred to Miller as "my most penetrating critic and intimate enemy."

Nearly 25 years after James' death, R. E. Hobart published a short article in Mind in 1934 that is considered one of the definitive statements of determinism and compatibilism. The title of the article was "Free Will as Involving Determination, and Inconceivable Without It."

Hobart's compatibilism followed earlier landmark positions by Thomas Hobbes and David Hume, and refined the 19th-century compatibilist views of John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, and F. H. Bradley.

Unlike his compatibilist predecessors, however, Hobart explicitly does not endorse strict logical or physical determinism. He uses the word "determination," not determinism. And he explicitly endorses the existence of alternative possibilities, which can depend on absolute chance. Remember that Hobart is writing about six years after the discovery of quantum indeterminacy.

He says:

I am not maintaining that determinism is is not here affirmed that there are no small exceptions, no slight undetermined swervings, no ingredient of absolute chance. (Mind, Vol XLIII, No. 169, January, 1934, p.2)

"We say," I can will this or I can will that, whichever I choose ". Two courses of action present themselves to my mind. I think of their consequences, I look on this picture and on that, one of them commends itself more than the other, and I will an act that brings it about. I knew that I could choose either. That means that I had the power to choose either. (p.8)

Here Hobart seems to agree with William James that there are ambiguous futures. One could parse the previous paragraph as supporting the two-stage model of free will - first "free" courses of action present themselves, then an adequately determined "will" chooses between them, in a temporal sequence.

Note that Hobart sees clearly that courses of action "present themselves" (William James' exact phrase). Our thoughts "come to us." The will brings the act about - our actions "come from us."

Hobart refers to G.E. Moore's idea that one could have done otherwise - "if" one had chosen otherwise. But Hobart seems convinced that we have that real power.

Thus it is true, after the act of will, that I could have willed otherwise. It is most natural to add, "if I had wanted to"; but the addition is not required. The point is the meaning of "could". I could have willed whichever way I pleased. I had the power to will otherwise, there was nothing to prevent my doing so, and I should have done so if I had wanted. (p.9)
Hobart finds fault with the indeterminist's position, but he gives the typical overstatement by a determinist critic, that any chance will be the direct cause of our actions, which of course would clearly be a loss of freedom and responsibility
Indeterminism maintains that we need not be impelled to action by our wishes, that our active will need not be determined by them. Motives "incline without necessitating". We choose amongst the ideas of action before us, but need not choose solely according to the attraction of desire, in however wide a sense that word is used. Our inmost self may rise up in its autonomy and moral dignity, independently of motives, and register its sovereign decree.

Now, in so far as this "interposition of the self" is undetermined, the act is not its act, it does not issue from any concrete continuing self; it is born at the moment, of nothing, hence it expresses no quality; it bursts into being from no source. (p.6)

In proportion as an act of volition starts of itself without cause it is exactly, so far as the freedom of the individual is concerned, as if it had been thrown into his mind from without — "suggested" to him — by a freakish demon. It is exactly like it in this respect, that in neither case does the volition arise from what the man is, cares for or feels allegiance to; it does not come out of him. In proportion as it is undetermined, it is just as if his legs should suddenly spring up and carry him off where he did not prefer to go. Far from constituting freedom, that would mean, in the exact measure in which it took place, the loss of freedom. (p.7)

It is very likely that Hobart has William James in mind as "the indeterminist." If so, despite knowing James very well, he is mistaken about James's position. James would not have denied that our will is an act of determination, consistent with, and in some sense "caused by" our character and values, our habits, and our current feelings and desires. He simply wanted chance to provide alternative possibilities for actions and a break in the causal chain of strict determinism.

Since Hobart accepts alternative possibilities, It is arguable that his analysis is actually consistent with Jamesian free will, properly understood. His title includes "determination," not determinism. And he sincerely believes we make free, determining choices:

In daily life we are all determinists, just as we are all libertarians. We are constantly attributing behaviour to the character, the temperament, the peculiarities of the person and expecting him to behave in certain fashions. The very words of our daily converse, as we have so amply observed, are full of determinism. And we see nothing inconsistent in being aware at the same time that he is free in choosing his course, as we know ourselves to be. (p.21)
Misquoting Hobart's Title
Philippa Foot's misquote of Hobart's landmark article led to its wide citation as support for determinism and compatibilism.

She titled her 1957 article for Philosophical Review "Free Will as involving Determinism," and in her references she substituted determinism where Hobart had said determination.

Nevertheless, we know Foot read and understood Hobart, because she agrees with his argument completely.

This can't be said for several other philosophers who also misquote the title. Indeed, it may suggest that philosophers do not read very much philosophy, even their most important references!

They likely did not read the Hobart. Some may never have seen his correct title, so widely misquoted!

These following books (and some articles) misquote Hobart as saying "determinism."

Robert Kane, Free Will and Values, 1984
Galen Strawson, Freedom and Belief, 1986 (and still uncorrected in 2010 edition, p.5)
Ted Honderich, The Consequences of Determinism, 1988
John Martin Fischer, Metaphysics and Free Will, 1995
Alfred Mele, Autonomous Agents, 1995
Derk Pereboom, Living Without Free Will, 2001
Oxford Handbook of Free Will, 2002
Robert Kane, Contemporary Introduction to Free Will, 2005
Alfred Mele, Free Will and Luck, 2006
Arthur Danto, "Freedom and Forbearance", in Keith Lehrer, Freedom and Determinism, 2006
John Martin Fischer, et al., Four Views on Free Will, 2007
Joseph Keim Campbell, Free Will, 2011

I have found five who get it right:

Herbert Feigl, Philosophical Embarassments of Psychology, 1958
Bernard Berofsky, Free Will and Determinism, 1966 (he reprints the original Hobart)
Peter van Inwagen, Essay on Free Will, 1983
Laura Waddell Ekstrom, Free Will, 2000
Nicholas Rescher, Free Will, 2009

David Widerker and Michael McKenna's 2003 Moral Responsibility and Alternative Possibilities were another odd exception, they said it was "Free Will as involving Indeterminism"!

I wonder how many authors just copied it from earlier mistaken bibliographies? They should all be required to read the original very important article!

It's important for Information Philosopher, because I am now saying that Hume and Hobart reconciled freedom with some determinism, and that James and I reconciled free will with some indeterminism.

For Teachers
For Scholars
(excerpt from Mind, Vol XLIII, No. 169, January, 1934, p.1)
The thesis of this article is that there has never been any ground for the controversy between the doctrine of free will and determinism, that it is based upon a misapprehension, that the two assertions are entirely consistent, that one of them strictly implies the other, that they have been opposed only because of our natural want of the analytical imagination. In so saying I do not tamper with the meaning of either phrase. That would be unpardonable. I mean free will in the natural and usual sense, in the fullest, the most absolute sense in which for the purposes of the personal and moral life the term is ever employed. I mean it as implying responsibility, merit and demerit, guilt and desert. I mean it as implying, after an act has been performed, that one "could have done otherwise" than one did. I mean it as conveying these things also, not in any subtly modified sense but in exactly the sense in which we conceive them in life and in law and in ethics. These two doctrines have been opposed because we have not realised that free will can be analysed without being destroyed, and that determinism is merely a feature of the analysis of it. And if we are tempted to take refuge in the thought of an "ultimate", an "innermost" liberty that eludes the analysis, then we have implied a deterministic basis and constitution for this liberty as well. For such a basis and constitution lie in the idea of liberty.

The thesis is not, like that of Green or Bradley, that the contending opinions are reconciled if we adopt a certain metaphysic of the ego, as that it is timeless, and identifies itself with a desire by a "timeless act". This is to say that the two are irreconcilable, as they are popularly supposed to be, except by a theory that delivers us from the conflict by taking us out of time. Our view on the contrary is that from the natural and temporal point of view itself there never was any need of a reconciliation but only of a comprehension of the meaning of terms. (The metaphysical nature of the self and its identity through time is a problem for all who confront memory, anticipation, etc.; it has no peculiar difficulties arising from the present problem.)

I am not maintaining that determinism is true; only that it is true in so far as we have free will. That we are free in willing is, broadly speaking, a fact of experience. That broad fact is more assured than any philosophical analysis. It is therefore surer than the deterministic analysis of it, entirely adequate as that in the end appears to be. But it is not here affirmed that there are no small exceptions, no slight undetermined swervings, no ingredient of absolute chance. All that is here said is that such absence of determination, if and so far as it exists, is no gain to freedom, but sheer loss of it; no advantage to the moral life, but blank subtraction from it. - When I speak below of "the indeterminist" I mean the free will libertarian indeterminist, that is, him who believes in free will and holds that it involves indetermination.

By the analytical imagination is meant, of course, the power we have, not by nature but by training, of realising that the component parts of a thing or process, taken together, each in its place, with their relations, are identical with the thing or process itself. If it is "more than its parts", then this "more" will appear in the analysis. It is not true, of course, that all facts are susceptible of analysis, but so far as they are, there is occasion for the analytical imagination. We have been accustomed to think of a thing or a person as a whole, not as a combination of parts. We have been accustomed to think of its activities as the way in which, as a whole, it naturally and obviously behaves. It is a new, an unfamiliar and an awkward act on the mind's part to consider it, not as one thing acting in its natural manner, but as a system of parts that work together in a complicated process. Analysis often seems at first to have taken away the individuality of the thing, its unity, the impression of the familiar identity. For a simple mind this is according to the wish (that is another law). A man has the power (sometimes) to act as he wishes. He has the power (whenever he is not physically bound or held) to act as he wills, He has the power always (except in certain morbid states) to will as he wishes. All this depends upon the laws of his being. Wherever there is a power there is a law. In it the power wholly consists. A man's power to will as he wishes is simply the law that his will follows his wish.

What, again, does freedom mean? It means the absence of any interference with all this. Nothing steps in to prevent my exercising my power.*

All turns on the meaning of "can". "I can will either this or that" means, I am so constituted that if I definitively incline to this, the appropriate act of will will take place, and if I definitively incline to that, the appropriate act of will will take place. The law connecting preference and will exists, and there is nothing to interfere with it. My free power, then, is not an exemption from law but in its inmost essence an embodiment of law.

Thus it is true, after the act of will, that I could have willed otherwise. It is most natural to add, "if I had wanted to" ; but the addition is not required. The point is the meaning of "could". I could have willed whichever way I pleased. I had the power to will otherwise, there was nothing to prevent my doing so, and I should have done so if I had wanted. If someone says that the wish I actually had prevented my willing otherwise, so that I could not have done it, he is merely making a slip in the use of the word "could". He means, that wish could not have produced anything but this volition. But "could" is asserted not of the wish (a transient fact to which power in this sense is not and should not be ascribed) but of the person. And the person could have produced something else than that volition. He could have produced any volition he wanted; he had the power to do so.

But the objector will say, "The person as he was at the moment — the person as animated by that wish — could not have produced any other volition". Oh, yes, he could. "Could" meaning not as applied to a momentary actual phase of a person's life, but to the person himself of whose life that is but a phase; and it means that (even at that moment) he had the power to will just as he preferred. The idea of power, because it is the idea of a law, is hypothetical, carries in itself hypothesis as part of its very intent and meaning - "if he should prefer this, if he should prefer that", — and therefore can be truly applied to a person irrespective of what at the moment he does prefer. It remains hypothetical even when applied.*

This very peculiarity of its meaning is the whole point of the idea of power. It is just because determinism is true, because a law obtains, that one " could have done otherwise "...

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