Research Of The Determinism Of Human Actions Based On The Studies Of David Hume And Immanuel Kant

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In my essay I want to discuss the notion of ’cause-and-effect’, meaning that our actions are predetermined or another way saying that they are caused by prior event, by looking at two philosophers: David Hume and Immanuel Kant. I will be relaying arguments of both sides on the books that I have read: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Chapter 8) by Hume and Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals by Kant. I will look into similarities of the determinist theories and then write about the points that differ between two philosophers. Also important part in the essay is the objections to both of the philosophers concerning the determinist theory which is very closely related to the causation theory. Theories of causation are united in the belief that the moral value of actions ought to be determined based on the outcomes of the previous actions.

David Hume- An Enquiry concerning the Human Understanding, section 8 (Of Liberty and Necessity)

David Hume talks about the concept of causation of the events ( on the topic if our actions are determined and weather or not we have a free will ). He is a compatibilist (Russel,2007), saying that the view that freedom and moral responsibility can be reconciled with (causal) determinism. Compatibilism is the theory which is known as soft determinism saying that free will and determinism are compatible ideas, it is possible to believe in both and not be inconsistent. The theory says that you are free as long as no-one is pushing you to do something or you are not forced to do the way you were told to. Compatibilism theory shows that yes, there are some cases when you are free to do as you want. However there will be always some restrictions,

Similar motives produce similar actions and similar causes produce similar events. So our actions depending on the emotions still becoming a cause of our character for our actions. Without morality we cannot possible judge an action, approve/disapprove an action. For actions are objects of our moral sentiment [= ‘feeling’ or ‘opinion’] – are indicators of our character. Which means that we have natural belief in the causality of the actions, because we can imagine how one action is causing another on the example of domino, how if you push one domino it will cause others in the chain to fall.

The natural feeling though cannot be proved logically as it is something that we have in our minds from the nature. “ It seems certain that, even when we imagine we feel a liberty within ourselves, an onlooker can commonly infer our actions from our motives and character” (Chapter 8, part 1). Meaning that it is just a feeling of freedom in us, nothing more than that. Test of raising the arm left or right – when you raise your left hand, you have a thought that you have chosen the right and then raise right hand as a proof of your free will, but this action is cause by your previous one. However this is just an illusion. By this example Hume shows that the notion of a cause- effect is simply a manner of speaking that we use when we talk about events that regularly occur one after another.

All the events occurred because of necessity, because of the previous cause, God must share the guilt because he is the ultimate cause and author of our actions. Because he was the only who put everything in place and started the whole process, made a cause for every other action, so he becomes the agent-cause. For Hume, without the caisation notion there will be no then empirical evidence, our observations of the world, at all, therefore we cannot doubt that each event has a cause. Basing the arguments on that is quiet vague as the evidence are not observable nor there is logic in it. Furthermore empirical evidence restricts each person’s knowledge of the world to the personal knowledge and point of view All knowledge then becomes subjective and not quiet reliable.

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From that we can conclude the compatibilist ideas of David Hume in believing the causation effect at the same time believing in free will, as he could not prove for sure his deterministic ideas.

Immanuel Kant – Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals

Immanuel Kant starts this topic with talking about ‘priori’ notion, before actually talking about the deterministic notion of our actions. According to Kant there two ways that philosophy can divide, into empirical basis or pure basis. Metaphysics is the pure philosophy that is basing on ‘priori’, reason and logic that are applied to understand the world. While empirical basis ‘posteriori’ are used to explain the world around us and also deals with the objects that we are surrounded with. In order to fully understand metaphysics of morals to all rational beings it needs to be based solely on priori (pure) grounds and avoid empirical grounds of morals that can be applied to a particular case and circumstances. Because pure grounds came before our experience which are the empirical grounds. In the book Kant wanted to only rely on the pure philosophy and abstract himself from the empirical observations so that they have universal validity.

Every time we try to analyze the events in our experiences we are coming to the cause-and-effect notion, because we see as this. Therefore we are coming up with the causation explanation of the events being the way they were. In fact, an action that is guided by pure reason is the only free action possible that is not caused by external motive. Because it can be then determined by the external forces – desire. Yet such an action cannot be a part of our experience – empirical basis, since it is formed and explained by our concepts of cause-and-effect. The point is that it cannot be though explained solely by the experience that we have or from the observations that we make of the world, but needs to be something more solid to explain it.

Here is the difference between Kant and Hume. When Hume thought that reason could not motivate actions of people, but the driving forces – desires in form of passion, feelings, moral sentiments. Which further create the natural belief in humans according to which the causation theory is formed. Here Immanuel Kant says that people actions must be driven by the demand of reason, by ‘priori’, that is also mind in itself. It also helps to strengthen our moral principles that we should act upon. That is the contrast of Hume’s idea which is too fundamental and is simply a manner of speaking and showing things. Kant’s ‘priori concept’ is used to make the sense out of things happening around us, that all events are caused by prior events. So the causation is the fundamental concept of reason.

At the end I would like to say that philosophy does not provide the definite answers to the question, it gives us food for thinking. Both of the theory of Hume and Kant are abstract theories about the world, whose information content is validated by experiments and not by reasoning. To note that we do behave in a certain manner is not necessarily to prove that we ought to behave that way.

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