Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7ccbd9845f-dxj8b Total loading time: 0.442 Render date: 2023-01-29T10:53:30.294Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Hume's Determinism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Peter Millican*
Hertford College, OxfordOX1 3BW, UK


David Hume has traditionally been assumed to be a soft determinist or compatibilist, at least in the ‘reconciling project’ that he presents in Section 8 of the first Enquiry, entitled ‘Of liberty and necessity.’ Indeed, in encyclopedias and textbooks of Philosophy he is standardly taken to be one of the paradigm compatibilists, rivalled in significance only by Hobbes within the tradition passed down through Locke, Mill, Schlick and Ayer to recent writers such as Dennett and Frankfurt. Many Hume scholars also concur in viewing him as a determinist, for example (in date order) Norman Kemp Smith, Barry Stroud, A. J. Ayer, Paul Russell Don Garrett, Terence Penelhum, George Botterill, John Bricke, and John Wright. My main purpose in this paper will be to provide the evidence to substantiate this traditional interpretation, which has hitherto been widely assumed rather than defended. In the absence of such a defence, the consensus has been left open to challenge, most notably in a recent paper and a subsequent book by James Harris, who boldly claims that Hume ‘does not subscribe to determinism of any kind, whether Hobbesian or merely nomological.’

Research Article
Copyright © The Authors 2010

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ayer, A. J. 1980. Hume. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Born, Max ed. 1971. The Born-Einstein Letters. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
Botterill, George. 2002. ‘Hume on Liberty and Necessity,’ in Millican, Peter ed., Reading Hume on Human Understanding: Essays on the First Enquiry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 277300.Google Scholar
Bricke, John. 2008. ‘Hume on Liberty and Necessity,’ in Radcliffe, Elizabeth S. ed., A Companion to Hume. Oxford: Blackwell, 201–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Butler, Joseph. 1736. The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature. Dublin.Google Scholar
Clarke, Samuel. 1705. A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God. London. Quotations taken from the eighth edition, London: 1732.Google Scholar
Clarke, Samuel. 1717. Remarks upon a Book, Entituled, A Philosophical Enquiry concerning Human Liberty. London.Google Scholar
Collins, Anthony. 1717. A Philosophical Inquiry concerning Human Liberty. London.Google Scholar
Falkenstein, Lorne. 1998. ‘Hume's Answer to Kant,Noûs 32: 331–60.Google Scholar
Garrett, Don. 1997. Cognition and Commitment in Hume's Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Haddon, Walter. 1581. Against Ierome Osorius, Byshoppe of Siluane in Portingall and against his slaunderous Inuectiues. London. (Haddon having died in 1572, this edition was ‘continued’ by John Foxe and ‘Englished’ by James Bell.)Google Scholar
Harris, James A. 2003. ‘Hume's Reconciling Project and “The Common Distinction betwixt Moral and Physical Necessity,”British Journal for the History of Philosophy 11: 451–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Harris, James A. 2005. Of Liberty and Necessity. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hobbes, Thomas. 1656. The Questions concerning Liberty, Necessity, and Chance: Clearly stated and debated between Dr. Bramhall Bishop of Derry, and Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury. London.Google Scholar
Honderich, Ted. 1993. How Free are You? Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Hume, David. 1739-40. A Treatise of Human Nature: A Critical Edition, 2 vols., Norton, David Fate and Norton, Mary J. eds. Oxford: Clarendon Press 2007 (references indicated by ‘T’).Google Scholar
Hume, David. 1741-77. Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, Miller, Eugene F. ed.,Classics, Liberty second edition 1987 (‘Essays,’ references given to paragraph number and to page number).Google Scholar
Hume, David. 1745. A Letter from a Gentleman to his Friend in Edinburgh, included in Hume (1739/40) as above (references indicated by ‘L,’ and given to paragraph number).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hume, David. 1748. An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, Peter Millican, ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007 (references indicated by ‘E’ and given to section and paragraph number, except when giving page references for additional material such as the editorial introduction).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hume, David. 1932. The Letters of David Hume, J.Y.T. Greig, ed., 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press (references indicated by ‘HL’).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kames, Lord Henry Home. 1751. Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, Edinburgh. The third edition (1779) provides the basis for the edition by Mary Catherine Moran (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 2005).Google Scholar
Kane, Robert. 2005. A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Kemp Smith, Norman. 1941. The Philosophy of David Hume. London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Millican, Peter. 2002. ‘Hume's Sceptical Doubts concerning Induction,’ in Millican, Peter ed., Reading Hume on Human Understanding. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 107–73.Google Scholar
Millican, Peter. 2007a. ‘Humes Old and New: Four Fashionable Falsehoods, and One Unfashionable Truth,Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 81: 163–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Millican, Peter. 2007b. ‘Against the “New Hume,”’ in Read, Rupert and Richman, Kenneth A. eds., The New Hume Debate: Revised Edition, London: Routledge, 211–52.Google Scholar
Millican, Peter. 2009. ‘Hume, Causal Realism, and Causal Science,Mind 118: 647712.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Millican, Peter. Forthcoming. ‘Hume's “Scepticism” about Induction,’ in Bailey, Alan and O’Brien, Dan eds., The Continuum Companion to Hume. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
Papineau, David. 2000. ‘The Rise of Physicalism,’ in B. Loewer, ed., Physicalism and its Discontents. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Penelhum, Terence. 2000. ‘The Freedom of the Will,’ in Penelhum, Themes in Hume: The Self, the Will, Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 156–76.Google Scholar
Pitson, Tony. 2006. ‘Liberty, Necessity, and the Will,’ in Traiger, Saul ed., The Blackwell Guide to Hume's Treatise. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Price, Richard. 1758. A Review of the Principal Questions and Difficulties in Morals, London. Excerpts from the third edition (1787) are included in L.A. Selby-Bigge, ed., British Moralists. Oxford: Clarendon Press 1897, vol. ii, 103-84.Google Scholar
Reid, Thomas. 1764. An Inquiry into the Human Mind, on the Principles of Common Sense, Edinburgh. The fourth edition (1785) provides the basis for the edition by Derek R. Brookes (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Reid, Thomas. 1790. Essays on the Intellectual and Active Powers of Man. Dublin, 3 vols.Google Scholar
Russell, Paul. 1995. Freedom and Moral Sentiment: Hume's Way of Naturalising Responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Russell, Paul. 2008. The Riddle of Hume's Treatise: Skepticism, Naturalism, and Irreligion. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Strawson, Galen. 2004. ‘Free Will,’ in Craig, Edward ed., Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge, updated and revised February 29, 2004. Online version retrieved from Scholar
Stroud, Barry. 1977. Hume. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
Taylor, Richard. 1967. ‘Determinism,’ in Edwards, Paul ed., The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York: Macmillan, vol. 2, 359–73.Google Scholar
Yolton, John W. 1983. Thinking Matter: Materialism in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Hume's Determinism
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Hume's Determinism
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Hume's Determinism
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *