Whether David Hume believes that freedom of action is sufficient for moral responsibility has become a point of much contention amongst Hume scholars. Hume's account of moral responsibility is complex. He outlines a remarkably unorthodox framework within which to understand moral sentiments and responsibility. Within this framing he addresses the problem of freedom and offers a distinct account of moral evaluation. The precise conceptual content of this account continues to be a subject of lengthy debate amongst philosophers who understand Hume as intervening as a compatibilist into the free will debate. What his compatibilism means in the context of responsibility is, however, entirely different according to naturalist and classical interpretations. Different interpretative models entail differing conceptions of Hume's theory of responsibility. To ascertain whether freedom of action is sufficient for moral responsibility it is necessary to examine both interpretations. To this end, we must also make sense of Hume's numerous ideas of freedom, his radical conception of necessity and the reconciling project which entails his categorisation as a compatibilist. Only then will it be possible truly to address what kind of freedom, or necessity, Hume understands to be the necessary condition of moral responsibility.
Before we begin an examination of Hume's work it is impo...
Only then will it be possible truly to address what kind of freedom, or necessity, Hume understands to be the necessary condition of moral responsibility.
Before we begin an examination of Hume's work it is important first to define the terms of the debate. What is in question here is the relationship between freedom and responsibility - two familiar notions that are, still, heavily disputed. If we are to address the free will debate through the lens of freedom we must see that there are, in essence, two central kinds of freedom: the freedom that 'really matter to us - freedoms from coercion, punishment, constraint, oppression' and what many understand to be the 'illusory freedom of the will' (Kane 2005: 4). It is around these two conceptions of freedom that the debate must turn. Yet, in Hume's work, freedom is relegated to a lesser important role as the definition of the nation and the nation's work is analysed in greater detail. In this sense, he provides a less realistic picture of freedom and disappoints as far as rendering an artistic and creative notion towards duty is concerned.
Equally, we can examine the free will debate through the lens of responsibility. 'Free will is also intimately related to notions of accountability, blameworthiness, and praiseworthiness for actions' (Kane 2005: 4). This constant focus on responsibility is what takes away from the basis of freedom and there is a need for Hume to regard this concept with a greater focus on history and events that have shaped the very conception of freedom.
We constantly question the amount of blame and praise that can be attributed to an agent on account of their actions. This is seen frequently in, for example, the criminal justice system. A