Pamela Huby earned her B.A. and M.A. (1947) from Oxford University . She was a lecturer in philosophy at St. Anne's College, Oxford (1947-49). She then joined the faculty at Liverpool University, where she was named a senior lecturer in 1971. Her philosophical works include Greek Ethics
(1967) and Plato and Modern Morality
As a classicist Huby read the works of Epicurus
and decided he was the first philosopher to recognize the traditional free will problem
- the conflict between free will and determinism. She also said Epicurus was concerned with an earlier free will problem, the conflict between free will and the foreknowledge of the Gods.
It is unfortunate that our knowledge of the early history of the Stoics is so fragmentary, and that we have no agreed account of the relations between them and Epicurus. On the evidence we have, however, it seems to me more probable that Epicurus was the originator of the freewill controversy, and that it was only taken up with enthusiasm among the Stoics by Chrysippus, the third head of the school.
The outlines of Epicurus' approach are familiar enough. He took over the atomic theory of Democritus almost unchanged, but introduced one significant new point, the swerve of the atoms, a slight change of direction that could occur without any cause. According to tradition this was to solve two problems for him: the change of direction would enable atoms otherwise falling all in the same direction and at the same speed to collide and so enter into larger combinations, and the fact that it occurred without cause would break the otherwise continuous chain of causation and so allow room for freedom of action by men, whose minds were composed of atoms and therefore subject to the same laws as everything else.
In spite of the poverty of our evidence, it is quite clear that one main reason Epicurus had for introducing the swerve, or rather the swerve as a random, uncaused event, was as a solution to the problem of freewill. Unlike Aristotle, he fully appreciated that there was a problem. He believed in free will, because it seemed to him manifestly clear that men could originate action, but he could not, like Aristotle, regard this as the end of the matter. We may not think much of the solution he offers, but he deserves full credit for appreciating the problem.
There are now two main points to be cleared up: (1) was Epicurus the first to appreciate the problem, or was he anticipated by the Stoics or someone else? (2) If he was the first, how did he come to do so, and what exactly was the nature of the problem as he saw it?
...we have to explain why Aristotle was so resistant to determinism, and Epicurus so impressed by it. The answer must surely lie, in part at least, in their differing attitudes to Democritus. Aristotle was indeed steeped in Democritus, and had a considerable admiration for him, but at the same time found his system quite unacceptable. We can see why this was so. Aristotle's thought was dominated by a teleological view of causality, in which the paradigm of what guides change is the tendency of an organism to develop into a certain kind of thing. This made the idea of a causal chain in which the future is entirely determined by the past strange and irrelevant.
...in Book K (1064b 35) Aristotle takes his stand on the point that we know very well that some things happen kata symbebekos, which is in opposition to ex anankes, and that, in this context, means causally determined in our sense. What happens kata symbebekos is, then, undetermined. Aristotle then had two reasons for rejecting determinism, (i) that some things obviously happened kata symbebekos, and (ii) that men had free will [Aristotle only says some actions are "up to us."] At the same time it is putting it too strongly to say that he rejected determinism: rather it seems that it was for him a non-starter. This is clearly in sharp contrast to the views of Epicurus and the Stoics, both of whom made valiant if unsuccessful attempts to reconcile freedom and determinism.
...the fact remains, on the evidence of Cicero and Lucretius, that Epicurus still ultimately traced the freedom of the will to the swerve of the atoms. How exactly he did this remains a mystery.
The philosophical, as distinct from the historical, conclusion of my argument is twofold, first that it was possible for men like Plato and Aristotle to hold many educational and psychological beliefs in common with us without being aware of any freewill problem because they had no notion of thorough-going psychological determinism, and, second, that once the problem had been formulated it was appreciated by philosophers of many different schools throughout later antiquity as if it were indeed a natural problem.
(Pamela Huby, "The First Discovery of the Freewill Problem", Philosophy, 42 (1867), pp.353-62)
claimed in 2000 that Huby was mistaken about Epicurus' priority, because, she claims, he did not hold a libertarian view of free will, which she defines as chance (the swerve) directly causing human actions
Bobzien is correct that Epicurus did not hold such a view. He explicitly said human actions are caused by an autonomous agency
, a third cause beyond chance
. But Huby is right that Epicurus was first to see the traditional problem.
Epicurus' famous "swerve" of the atoms was meant only to break the causal chain of determinism, not to make it the cause of our actions as his critics maintained and as some modern radical libertarians
See our account of free will in antiquity
for more details and which ancient philosophers were first to take positions as determinist
, and compatibilist
Perhaps influenced by William James
, Huby was a member of both the Parapsychological Association and the Society for Psychical Research, London. She conducted experiments in group telepathy and clairvoyance, about which she wrote several papers, one of which she contributed to Philosophical Foundations of Psychical Research