The Determinism and Free Will Philosophy Website, edited by Ted Honderich 

What Thomas Hobbes has to say of the nature of causation itself in Entire Causes and Their Only Possible Effects is carried further in the first of the two excerpts here -- although not at its start. His second subject in this imperfectly sequential piece of writing is determinism itself -- a deterministic philosophy of mind. In the mind, as elsewhere, each event has a 'necessary cause' -- a cause that necessitates the event. His third subject in the first excerpt is freedom, this being voluntariness, and its relation to the determinism. He gives a statement of what is now known as Compatibilism -- roughly the doctrine that determinism and freedom properly understood do not conflict with but are consistent with one another. We can be entirely subject to determinism or 'necessity' and also be perfectly free. Certainly a distinction between freedom as 'the absence of opposition', which can co-exist with determinism, and some other kind of freedom, had been made before Hobbes. But it will take a better historian than me to say if he was anticipated by someone else who said that the particular freedom consistent with determinism is all that we can properly mean by the term 'freedom'. Certainly he got in ahead of lovely Hume, who often seems to be given the credit. The second excerpt is an uncluttered statement of his Compatibilism. 

My Opinion About Liberty and Necessity

First, I conceive that when it cometh into a man’s mind to do or not to do some certain action, if he have no time to deliberate, the doing it or abstaining necessarily follows the present thought he hath of the good or evil consequence thereof to himself. As for example, in sudden anger, the action shall follow the thought of revenge; in sudden fear, the thought of escape. Also when a man hath time to deliberate, but deliberates not, because never anything appeared that could make him doubt of the consequence, the action follows his opinion of the goodness or harm of it. 

These actions I call voluntary my Lord, if I understand him aright that calls them spontaneous. I call them voluntary, because those actions that follow immediately the last appetite, are voluntary, and here where is one only appetite, that one is the last. Besides, I see it is reasonable to punish a rash action, which could not be justly done by man to man, unless the same were voluntary. For no action of a man can be said to be without deliberation, though never so sudden, because it is supposed he had time to deliberate all the precedent time of his life, whether he should do that kind of action or not. And hence it is, that he that killeth in a sudden passion of anger shall nevertheless be justly put to death, because all the time wherein he was able to consider whether to kill were good or evil, shall be held for one continual deliberation, and consequently the killing shall be judged to proceed from election. 

Secondly, I conceive when a man deliberates whether he shall do a thing or not do it, that he does nothing else but consider whether it be better for himself to do it or not to do it. And to consider an action is to imagine the consequences of it, both good and evil. From whence is to be inferred, that deliberation is nothing else but alternate imagination of the good and evil sequels of an action, or, which is the same thing, alternate hope and fear, or alternate appetite to do or quit the action of which he deliberateth. 

Thirdly, I conceive that in all deliberations, that is to say, in all alternate succession of contrary appetites, the last is that which we call the will and is immediately next before the doing of the action, or next before the doing of it become impossible. All other appetites to do, and to quit, that come upon a man during his deliberations, are called intentions and inclinations, but not wills, there being but one wil4 which also in this case may be called the last will, though the intentions change often. 

Fourthly, I conceive that those actions, which a man is said to do upon deliberation, are said to be voluntary, and done upon choice and election, so that voluntary action, and action proceeding from election is the same thing; and that of a voluntary agent, it is all one to say, he is free, and to say, he hath not made an end of deliberating. 

Fifthly, I conceive liberty to be rightly defined in this manner: Liberty is the absence of all the impediments to action that are not contained in the nature and intrinsical quality of the agent. As for example, the water is said to descend freely, or to have liberty to descend by the channel of the river, because there is no impediment that way, but not across, because the banks are impediments. And though the water cannot ascend, yet men never say it wants the liberty to ascend, but the faculty or power, because the impediment is in the nature of the water, and intrinsical. So also we say, he that is tied, wants the liberty to go, because the impediment is not in him, but in his bands; whereas we say not so of him that is sick or lame, because the impediment is in himself. 

Sixthly, I conceive that nothing taketh beginning from itself, but from the action of some other immediate agent without itself. And that therefore, when first a man hath an appetite or will to something, to which immediately before he had no appetite nor will, the cause of his will, is not the will itself, but something else not in his own disposing. So that whereas it is out of controversy, that of voluntary actions the will is the necessary cause, and by this which is said, the will is also caused by other things whereof it disposeth not, it followeth, that voluntary actions have all of them necessary causes, and therefore are necessitated. 

Seventhly, I hold that to be a sufficient cause, to which nothing is wanting that is needful to the producing of the effect. The same also is a necessary cause. For if it be possible that a sufficient cause shall not bring forth the effect, then there wanteth somewhat which was needful to the producing of it, and so the cause was not sufficient. But if it be impossible that a sufficient cause should not produce the effect, then is a sufficient cause a necessary cause, for that is said to produce an effect necessarily that cannot but produce it. Hence it is manifest, that whatsoever is produced, is produced necessarily; for whatsoever is produced hath had a sufficient cause to produce it, or else it had not been; and therefore also voluntary actions are necessitated. 

Lastly, that ordinary definition of a free agent, namely, that a free agent is that, which, when all things are present which are needful to produce the effect, can nevertheless not produce it, implies a contradiction, and is nonsense; being as much as to say, the cause may be sufficient, that is to say, necessary, and yet the effect shall not follow. 


For the first five points, wherein it is explicated (1) what spontaneity is, (2) what deliberation is, (3) what will, propension, and appetite are, (4) what a free agent is, (5) what liberty is; there can no other proof be offered but every man’s own experience, by reflection on himself, and remembering what he useth in his mind, that is, what he himself meaneth when be saith an action is spontaneous, a man deliberates; such is his will, that agent or that action is free. Now he that reflecteth so on himself, cannot but he satisfied, that deliberation is the consideration of the good and evil sequels of an action to come; that by spontaneity is meant inconsiderate action, or else nothing is meant by it; that will is the last act of our deliberation; that a free agent is he that can do if he will, and f’orbear if he will; and that liberty is the absence of external impediments. 

But to those that out of custom speak not what they conceive, but what they hear, and are not able, or will not take the pains to consider what they think when they hear such words, no argument can be sufficient, because experience and matter of fact are not verified by other men's arguments, but by every man's own sense and memory. For example, how can it be proved that to love a thing and to think it good is all one, to a man that doth not mark his own meaning by those words? Or how can it be proved that eternity is not nunc staus to a man that says those words by custom, and never considers how he can conceive the thing in his mind ? 

Also the sixth point, that a man cannot imagine anything to begin without a cause, can no other way be made known, but by trying how he can imagine it; but if he try, he shall find as much reason, if there be no cause of the thing. to conceive it should begin at one time as another, that he hath equal reason to think it should begin at all times, which is impossible, and therefore he must think there was some special cause why it began then, rather than sooner or later; or else that it began never, but was eternal. 

For the seventh point, which is, that all events have necessary causes, it is there proved, in that they have sufficient causes. Further let us in this place also suppose any event never so casual, as the throwing, for example, ames ace upon a pair of dice, and see, if it must not have been necessary before it was thrown. For seeing it was thrown, it had a beginning, and consequently a sufficient cause to produce it, consisting partly in the dice, partly in outward things, as the posture of the parts of the hand, the measure of force applied by the caster, the posture of the parts of the table, and the like. In sum, there was nothing wanting which was necessarily requisite to the producing of that particular cast, and consequently the cast was necessarily thrown; for if it had not been thrown, there had wanted somewhat requisite to the throwing of it, and so the cause had not been sufficient. In the like manner it may be proved that every other accident, how contingent soever it seem, or how voluntary soever it be, is produced necessarily.... 

The same may be proved also in this manner. Let the case be put, for example, of the weather. It is necessary that tomorrow it shall rain or not rain. If therefore it be not necessary it shall rain, it is necessary it shall not rain, otherwise there is no necessity that the proposition, it shall rain or not rain, should be true. I know there be some that say, it may necessarily be true that one of the two shall come to pass, but not, singly that it shall rain, or that it shall not rain, which is as much to say, one of them is necessary, yet neither of them is necessary; and therefore to seem to avoid that absurdity, they make a distinction, that neither of them is true determinate, but indeterminate : which distinction either signifies no more but this, one of them is true, but we know not which, and so the necessity remains, though we know it not; or if the meaning of the distinction be not that, it hath no meaning, and they might as well have said, one of them is true Titirice, but neither of them. Tu patulice. 

The last thing, in which also consisteth the whole controversy, namely that there is no such thing as an agent, which when all things requisite to action are present, can nevertheless forbear to produce it; or, which is all one, that there is no such thing as freedom from necessity, is easily inferred from that which hath been before alleged. For if it be an agent, it can work; and if it work, there is nothing wanting of what is requisite to produce the action, and consequently the cause of the action is sufficient; and if sufficient, then also necessary, as hath been proved before. 

And thus you see how the inconveniences, which his Lordship objecteth must follow upon the holding of necessity, are avoided, and the necessity itself demonstratively proved. To which I could add, if I thought it good logic, the inconvenience of denying necessity, as that it destroyeth both the decrees and the prescience of God Almighty; for whatsoever God hath purposed to bring to pass by man, as an instrument, or foreseeth shall come to pass; a man, if he have liberty, such as his Lordship affirmeth, from necessitation, might frustrate, and make not to come to pass, and God should either not foreknow it, and not decree it, or he should foreknow such things shall be, as shall never be, .amd decree that which shall never come to pass.


LIBERTY or FREEDOM signifies (properly) the absence of opposition (by opposition, I mean external impediments of motion) and may be applied no less to irrational and inanimate creatures than to rational. For whatsoever is so tied, or environed, as it cannot move, but within a certain space, which space is determined by the opposition of some external body, we say it has not liberty to go further. And so of all living creatures, while they are imprisoned or restrained with walls or chains; and of the water whilst it is kept in by banks or vessels, that otherwise would spread itself into a larger space, we use to say, they are not at liberty to move in such manner as without those external impediments they would. But when the impediment of motion is the constitution of the thing itself, we use not to say, it wants the liberty; but the power to move; as when a stone lies still, or a man is fastened to his bed by sickness. 

And according to this proper, and generally received meaning of the word, a FREE MAN is he, that in those things, which by his strength and wit he is able to do, is not hindered to do what he has a will to. But when the words free and liberty are applied to anything but bodies, they are abused; for that which is not subject to motion, is not subject to impediment. And therefore, when ‘tis said (for example) The way is free, no liberty of the way is signified, but of those that walk in it without stop. And when we say a gift is free, there is not meant any liberty of the gift, but of the giver, that was not bound by any law or covenant to give it. So when we speak freely, it is not the liberty of voice, or pronunciation, but of the man, which no law hath obliged to speak otherwise than he did. Lastly, from the use of the word free will, no liberty can be inferred of the will, desire, or inclination, but the liberty of the man; which consisteth in this, that he finds no stop, in doing what he has the will, desire, or inclination to do. 

Fear and liberty are consistent; as when a man throws his goods into the sea for fear the ship should sink, he does it nevertheless very willingly, and may refuse to do it if he will: It is therefore the action of one that was free. So a man sometimes pays his debt, only for fear of Imprisonment, which because no body hindered him from detaining, was the action of a man at liberty. And generally all actions which men do in Commonwealths, for fear of the law, are actions, which the doers had liberty to omit. 

Liberty and Necessity are consistent; as in the water, that has not only liberty but a necessity of descending by the channel; so likewise in the actions which men voluntarily do: which, because they proceed from their will, proceed from liberty, and yet, because every act of man's will, and every desire, and inclination proceed from some cause, and that from another cause, in a continual chain (whose first link is in the hand of God the first of all causes) they proceed from necessity. So that to him that could see the connection of those causes, the necessity of all men's voluntary actions, would appear manifest. And therefore God, that sees and disposes all things, sees also that the liberty of man in doing what he will is accompanied with the necessity of doing that which God will, & no more, nor less. For though men may do many things, which God does not command, nor is therefore Author of them; yet they can have no passion, nor appetite to any thing, of which appetite God's will is not the cause. And did not his will assure the necessity of man's will, and consequently of all that on mans will dependeth, the liberty of men would be a contradiction, and an impediment to the omnipotence and liberty of God. And this shall suffice (as to the matter in hand) of that natural liberty, which only is properly called liberty. 

For a robust reply to Hobbes, look at Bishop Bramhall: The Pretty Freedom of Thomas Hobbes that Goes with Necessity. For David Hume's statement of Compatibilism in the century after Hobbes, go to David Hume: Freedom Reconciled with Necessity.
For the editor's successor to both accounts, as uncomplicated by theoretical indulgence, go to Causality or Causation -- The Fundamental Fact Plainly Explained. This excerpt comes from Ted Honderich, A Theory of Determinism: The Mind, Neuroscience and Life-Hopes (Oxford University Press), pp. 13-70, which also appears in Mind and Brain (OUP), pp. 13-70. There is more about the given view of causation there. For a brisk summary of the same view, see How Free Are You: The Determinism Problem (OUP), 1st edition, Ch. 1, 2nd edition, Ch. 2.
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