Paul Russell's 1995 book Freedom and Moral Sentiment provided a new interpretation of David Hume's naturalism and moral sentiments. Russell also explored their connection to the reactive attitudes of Peter Strawson.
Russell argues that Hume's arguments for "naturalism" provide a better understanding of Hume's ideas about human freedom than simply identifying his ideas with Thomas Hobbes's "voluntarism." Russell tries to show that for Hume, responsibility is more than just acting with freedom of action, i.e., with no external constraints. In his experimental study of man as part of human nature, Hume claimed to see clearly the basis for morality in the moral sentiments that he observed in man. Hume's naturalism is to discover laws of human nature, not by a priori analysis using reason alone, nor by supernatural theological analyses, but because "feelings" in the mind impose "natural beliefs" like causality. Russell introduces the standard view of Hume's thought - as the principal source for "classical compatibilism" - one that he hopes to correct:
Hume's discussion of the problem of "liberty and necessity" was first presented in the Treatise (II, iii, 1-2) and, then, in a slightly amended form, in the first Enquiry (Sec. 8). It is widely held that what Hume has to say on the subject of the nature and conditions of moral responsibility is very largely limited to these important sections of his work. More specifically, Hume's concern with the problem of moral responsibility is generally interpreted in terms of his discussion of the nature of "liberty," or moral freedom, and the way in which it is related to causation and necessity. From this perspective, once we have acquired a proper grasp of Hume's arguments that show how liberty and necessity are related (i.e. that they are compatible), there is little else to learn from him about the nature and conditions of moral responsibility. This general perspective on Hume's views on responsibility suggests that Hume, like many other philosophers writing on this subject, believes that the problem of responsibility just is the problem of "free will and determinism". According to this approach, any adequate interpretation and discussion of moral responsibility must begin with, or develop out of, some relevant and appropriate account of the nature of moral freedom. I believe that this perspective on Hume's views on responsibility fundamentally misrepresents his approach.In the Treatise of Human Nature, Hume identified the "voluntarism" of Thomas Hobbes with the liberty of spontaneity. Hume contrasted this with the liberty of indifference, which he took to be synonymous with chance and absence of causes in our actions. Russell is concerned that as the question of free will and determinism has become clouded in recent years, it is worth noting that Hume had a separate defense for morality. Hume's project to reconcile liberty and necessity depends critically on moral sentiments and Hume's naturalistic account of moral responsibility.
It is of some contemporary importance that Hume continues to be interpreted in this manner. The reason for this is that there is an increasing consensus among philosophers in the field that the classical compatibilist strategy has now been effectively discredited or surpassed by more recent developments in compatibilist thinking. Insofar as Hume continues to be read as holding to the classical compatibilist position, his views will inevitably be judged as of less immediate contemporary interest and significance. In other words, if the classical reading of Hume's compatibilism is indeed correct and it is also true that compatibilist thinking has now advanced well beyond the confines of this general strategy, then we must conclude that Hume's thinking on this subject is now somewhat dated and passé. The crucial question, therefore, is whether or not Hume has been properly interpreted by his commentators.Modern followers of Hume are sometimes called the "new compatibilists," perhaps starting with Peter Strawson, who argued that whether or not determinism is true, we can defend morality on the basis of universal "reactive attitudes" to actions. We cannot fail to assign praise and blame to others. And we feel guilt and pride in our own actions. For some thinkers, this is freedom enough. Russell is a critic of these "new compatibilists." He is correct that Hume's insight into moral sentiments has made an enormous contribution to the modern debate, especially via Strawson. But by conflating the question of moral responsibility with freedom of the will, many of these modern thinkers, including Russell, commit what we call the ethical fallacy, which confuses all responsibility with moral responsibility. We cannot defend freedom of action simply because we are observed experimentally to act morally. Nor can we say the free will is merely "the control condition for moral responsibility," as has become popular lately. Some new compatibilist philosophers argue for moral responsibility even if determinism is true. The weakness of their argument is perhaps seen in the fact that some of their incompatibilist skeptic colleagues deny moral responsibility on the very same grounds - the standard two-part argument against free will.
In a more recent work, Russell tries to explain the conflicts in the Treatise of Human Nature between Hume's empiricism - with its skeptical attack on causality and its denial that "ought" can come from "is" - and Hume's naturalism, where Hume defends causality in a transcendent external world and finds the moral sentiments.
The general claim that the project of the Treatise should be understood in terms of "Hume's ambition to be the Newton of the moral sciences" is now a commonplace in introductory textbooks and general histories of philosophy." Moreover, Hume's "Newtonian" project in the Treatise has produced several studies that are devoted to a detailed analysis and exegesis of this aspect of his thought. Even those who accept Kemp Smith's (Hutchesonian) naturalistic interpretation are generally willing to place equal emphasis on Hume's "science of man" as inspired (supposedly) by Newton. There is, however, a fundamental difficulty for views of this kind. How do we reconcile Hume's ambitions to be the Newton of the moral sciences, not only with his skeptical principles, but with a form of "naturalism" that teaches "that reason, as traditionally understood, has no role in human life" — a claim that, on the face of it, sits uncomfortably with Hume's (Newtonian) "scientific" ambitions. The skeptical/naturalism divide in Hume's intentions gives his whole project a Janus-faced appearance. Indeed, the situation is more problematic than this, since it may be argued that the whole project in the Treatise is actually broken-backed. That is to say, both the skeptical and naturalistic dimensions of Hume's thought seem to be equally essential to what he is trying to achieve but are nevertheless inherently opposed and irreconcilable."
Russell on Free WillRussell offers a concise statement of the standard two-part argument against free will.
...the well-known dilemma of determinism. One horn of this dilemma is the argument that if an action was caused or necessitated, then it could not have been done freely, and hence the agent is not responsible for it. The other horn is the argument that if the action was not caused, then it is inexplicable and random, and thus it cannot be attributed to the agent, and hence, again, the agent cannot be responsible for it. In other words, if our actions are caused, then we cannot he responsible for them; if they are not caused, we cannot be responsible for them. Whether we affirm or deny necessity and determinism, it is impossible to make any coherent sense of moral freedom and responsibility.
But then Russell attempts to reconcile some chance with otherwise determined actions. His suggestion is very close to a resolution of the Randomness Objection, but we suggest that he should move randomness back into the alternative possibilities and allow both will and action to be adequately determined. Then "will" as an act of determination agrees better with the common sense use of the term.
The success or force of the antilibertarian argument, it seems, depends very largely on a particular interpretation of the libertarian position. Contrary to what compatibilists generally suppose, liberty of indifference and liberty of spontaneity may not be incompatible with each other. What, then, is the alternative interpretation to be considered? According to the antilibertarian argument (on the classical interpretation), if actions were not caused, then it would be unreasonable to attribute them to the agent or hold the agent responsible for them. The target here is liberty of indifference interpreted, on this account, as the view that our actions are uncaused. However, it may be argued that this is not the only position which is available to libertarians or defenders of "free will". They may locate the requisite "break in the causal chain" elsewhere. It is important to distinguish between the following two types of liberty of indifference: a notion of liberty of indifference which suggests that actions are not caused or determined by antecedent conditions and a notion of liberty of indifference which suggests that our willings are not caused or determined by antecedent conditions (our willings being understood as the causal antecedents of action). For convenience, let us call the first liberty of indifference in acting (LIA) and the second liberty of indifference in willing (LIW). Both of these notions of liberty of indifference are vulnerable to well-known objections, but LIA is open to some objections to which the LIW is not liable. The libertarian may seek to evade the antilibertarian argument by conceding that our actions must be caused by our antecedent willings, thereby rejecting LIA, but refuse to abandon or reject LIW. By rejecting LIA, the defender of "free will" can avoid the main thrust of the antilibertarian argument, namely, that liberty of indifference would render actions random and capricious and would make it impossible to attribute such actions to the agent. Those who accept LIW may, quite consistently, maintain that free action is determined by the antecedent willings of the agent and thus reject any suggestion that they licence random events at the level of action. Any randomness that LIW permits (assuming, as we do, that any alternative metaphysical conception of causation is excluded) occurs only at the level of the determination of the will. The presence of random events at the level of willing will not prevent an agent from enjoying liberty of spontaneity. Such an agent may well be able to act in accordance with the determinations of her (capricious) will. Nor would it be impossible to attribute actions to such an agent, because it would be her (capricious) motives, desires, and so on, which caused them. Clearly, then, liberty of indifference, interpreted in terms of LIW, is compatible with, and thus need not exclude, liberty of spontaneity. It is true that the actions of an agent who enjoys LIW will be quite unpredictable, and it is also true that her future actions will not be amenable to the conditioning influences of punishments and rewards. In this way, LIW is still liable to other serious criticisms (especially if one interprets responsibility in terms of amenability to the conditioning influence of rewards and punishments). However, the actions of an agent who enjoys LIW share much with those of an agent whose will is necessitated by (external) antecedent causes. Liberty of spontaneity does not require that agents be able to determine their own wills, and it therefore makes little difference, on the face of it, whether our wills are determined by external causes or are merely capricious. In this way, it may be argued that the (classical) antilibertarian argument is not straightforwardly effective against the libertarian position when the notion of liberty of indifference is interpreted in terms of LIW rather than LIA. It is, perhaps, tempting to suggest that the significance of these observations lies with the fact that they reveal certain limitations of the antilibertarian argument and that they may, therefore, open up new avenues of defence for the libertarian position. I believe that the real interest and significance of these observations lies elsewhere. What they bring to light are certain serious inadequacies in the spontaneity argument. An agent who enjoys LIW may also enjoy liberty of spontaneity, and this is a point that many defenders of classical compatibilism may find rather awkward and embarrassing. It follows from the fact that liberty of spontaneity is compatible or consistent with LIW that we may reasonably hold an individual responsible for actions caused by her capricious, random willings. Clearly, then, there is, in these circumstances, as much, or as little, reason to hold an agent responsible for actions due to a capricious will as there is to hold an agent responsible for actions that are due to a will that is conditioned by antecedent external causes. Both agents may equally enjoy liberty of spontaneity. If we have reason to conclude that LIW constitutes an inadequate foundation for freedom and responsibility, then surely we must also conclude that there is more to freedom and responsibility than liberty of spontaneity. In short, compatibilists must either concede that agents whose actions are due to LIW are nevertheless free and responsible or else acknowledge that the spontaneity argument provides us with an inadequate and incomplete account of freedom and responsibility.