Truth and Freedom
(Beyond Hume, Beyond Scepticism)

a Treatise on Causation and the Possibility of Free Will


A proposal towards the refutation of the problem of Reason,
composed of the problem of deduction and induction
and some remarks on causation as conditioned by both necessity and possibility.


The manuscript

Truth and Freedom is the English working title of a Dutch manuscript called Waarheid en vrijheid. It is being prepared for publication and translation into English.  In preparation of its publication and its translation three papers are presented here, along with a brief outline of the manuscript itself. The papers cover some of the important issues being discussed in the manuscript. The manuscript and the papers as they can be found on this website are presented here for promotional purposes only. Work is still in progress.


Causation and the Possibility of Free Will

As its main topic the manuscript discusses the possibility of Free Will. Free Will can be understood either as a process or a mechanism that enables us to make rational decisions. There is however a marked and important difference between this ability and the freedom required for this ability. The aim of the manuscript is the 'more modest' attempt of showing that despite recent developments Free Will, whatever that might be, is possible.

This possibility, the existence of freedom must be seen as a fundamental condition. It is not unique to our nature, but belongs to the nature of all things. Things change, and as they do, the possibility of that change must be tied to the very nature of things. It must be tied to their nature, just as all regularities shows us that necessity is tied to the nature of change. We normally describe the relation between things in terms of a necessary connection between them. Regularities are taken as universal relations, which must hold in all cases, so that any occurrence of a cause should produce the effect associated with it. But necessity, as it turns out, is not the only condition required for causation. All situations and events are fully determined, yet things change, and for any change to occur, the existing state must be alterable. The necessity of change is not the only condition. There is another one, the possibility of change. There are therefore two conditions tied to the nature of things. It is conditioned by both necessity and possibility. But how can we substantiate that claim?

One of the most influential and original view on causality can be found in the philosophy of David Hume. His ideas may be outdated or replaced by more sophisticated views on causation, his philosophy contains many elements that are still very useful. If we want to get a clear idea of how things are connected, his view on the nature of things and the critical evaluation of his ideas can provides us, as it turns out, with a good starting point for our search.

However, if we want to use his ideas on causation as reference then we are immediately confronted with his scepticism as well. His discussion of causation is closely linked to or even intertwined with his scepticism towards Reason and the use of arguments. To get a clear view of causation, it seems that one has to deal with his scepticism as well. So the search for the possibility of Free Will begins not with a discussion of causation, but with discussing the original argument and Hume's scepticism and how this bears on the notion of causation. As it turns out, the discussion of this argument, will provide a general framework for dealing with the main question to be answered, Is Free Will Possible?

The manuscript consist of two parts.  In the first part, which is called 'Beyond Hume, Beyond scepticism' Hume's famous argument is discussed. The second part is called 'truth and freedom'. Here the discussion starts with the preliminary work done by Hume. It contains an view on Human nature that is adopted by many philosophers. It will be argued that his problem is already present, long before he actually begins with its discussion. It seems that Hume's view on our nature and understanding already contain many of the elements that will lead him to his sceptical conclusion. We find ourselves in a position where, despite all our experiences, we are isolated from reality. Reality is not simply available for us, ready to be experienced directly. As we are isolated from reality, we ourselves must somehow reconstruct reality from scratch. So it is up to us to use experience and build a picture of reality. This means that somehow our constructions must be justified. To do so, we can only rely on internal principles. Reality is not simply available to us, but must be made available by us, and can therefore not be used in any justification.

Causation is the most important relation. Most of our arguments rest on that relation. And so, the nature of things, how they are connected will be reflected in our arguments and how we use them. Causality is as will be made clear conditioned by both necessity and possibility. It is this character that is reflected in our arguments, and consequently, our reasoning, is therefore also conditioned by both necessity and possibility. These conditions give us the possibility of Free Will. 


Part I: The problem of Reason (or Beyond Hume, Beyond Scepticism)

The problem of induction is normally attributed to Hume, who is supposed the first to state the problem. However, recent developments within the debate on the original argument has led to the suggestion that the problem of induction is not an adequate description of the problem as it is described by David Hume. If this is true, then we find ourselves in the remarkable situation where we have a problem, the induction problem, that has withstood many attempts to overcome it, while at the same time it does not describe the problem of which it is supposed to be its equivalent. The problem of induction is a genuine problem, as inductive arguments are invalid and therefore unreasonable, but it is a different problem from the one being described in the original argument. This suggests that we do not have one problem, but that we in fact have two different en fundamental problems. The question is what is the problem as it is described by Hume?

Traditionally induction is seen as a translation of the term as used by Hume, probable inferences. But as will be argued, it is not a good translation. Probable inferences as they are used by Hume in his sceptical argument are modelled after demonstrative inferences. Demonstrative inferences are normally translated as deductive, as they share the same basic structure and share a common weakness, a weakness exploited by Hume. So it is clear that  this is a good translation. From this we may also be concluded that probable inferences, as they are modelled after demonstrative inferences, must be translated as deductive, with the main difference between them is the certainty of the inferred conclusion. Probable inferences are less certain, but they are demonstrative arguments non the less and therefore to be translated as deductive. Probable inferences cannot be translated as inductive arguments.

Therefore the problem of Hume must be referred to as the problem of deduction, as the inference he critically discusses is deductive, not inductive. The problem described by Hume is different from the problem of induction and we have therefore not one, but two problems. Each of these problems pose their own particular demand on the use of arguments: The problem of induction demands an argument to be valid, whereas the problem of deduction demands that truth-values of the propositions of an argument must be set. These two problem combined form what can be called the Problem of Reason.

It is quite obvious that just as each of the problems on their own, the problem of Reason itself cannot be solved either and with this we find ourselves in the situation where we have arrived at an even bigger unsolvable and fundamental problem while at the same time the problem is denied by the progress made by science. We rely heavily on the use of arguments and we may not have any measure to weigh the success of their use. However, the success with which we use arguments in our enquiries far outweighs the sceptical denial of rationality. So there is one question that must be asked. Does the problem of Reason depict our inferential practise adequately? Adequately enough to actually pose a threat to that practise and its achievements?

Hume referred to it as 'the operations of the understanding' and proposed his own method to explain why we use arguments. So, Hume himself already proposed a solution. But it is a solution that is unreasonable, and it may be for that reason that we do not take it seriously. Instead we speak of a problem and search for a solution. All attempts so far have failed. What these attempts have in common is that they stayed within a small and confined area of the understanding, only discussing some aspects, but not all, whereas the problem itself is embedded in a comprehensive view of Reason. Consequently, the problem of Reason can only be discussed when one looks at all aspects of the understanding. To do so we must try to answer the following questions:

1. What is knowledge and how do we know that any propositions satisfies the criteria or rules,
2. What are the preferred methods,
3. What is the role of experience. Does it have a special status?
4. Given that cause and effect are distinct events, how are they connected?



Part II: Causation and the possibility of Free Will

In the Treatise Hume mentions seven relations. Of these the relation of cause and effect is the most important. It is the only relation that can bring us beyond the immediately present impressions.  But it is also the only relation that cannot be known with absolute certainty, as the power that connects cause and effect does not show itself in the visible qualities of objects. Hume's ideas on causation has been and still is very influential. His view can be called the singular view on causation, which states that a cause is connected necessarily to its effect, such that when the cause is absent the effect will be absent to, and when the cause appears, the effect will follow. It is argued that this notion of causality, which can still be found in many forms, leads to some absurdities.

If the way things are connected is to be explained in terms of how one thing necessarily leads to another then this definition itself is in conflict with the very thing it wants to describe; change. Things cannot be connected such that each time a cause appears its effect follows necessarily, and when the cause is absent, the effect will be absent. Things can change, and this can only be explained allowing causes to produce different effects in different circumstances. That is to say: We all know that a cause can have different effects, and that one effect can be brougth about by different causes. Necessity, therefore, cannot be tied to a single cause and its affect, as the circumstances determine which effect will follow from a cause. Necessity is linked to the circumstances, to which a cause makes a contribution producing change. One can only explain change when one accepts that a cause is thought of as part of a situation and that any effect is only produced in a situation, in which the presence of a cause itself is not  absolutely necessary, as effects can be produced by many different circumstances.

If a cause can have different effects, and the effect that follows from it is determined, not by the cause alone but by all relevant factors in a situation, then this also means that any situation is at any time fully determined. Any change within a situation is produced necessarily, because the necessity is bound to the situation as a whole. Single causes only contribute to it, they do not, by themselves determined what will happen. If a cause enters a situation at a certain time, it does so by intruding into a situation which is already fully determined. This means that any determined situation can, despite being determined, be changed, by any cause producing a certain change. Change therefore is possible because things are connected necessarily, and can only be so connected because at the same time any situation can be altered by introducing a cause, which will produce an certain effect. Change is possible only because things are connected in such a way that things can change.

Analysed further in this way we may come to the conclusion that just as things are connected necessary, to be so connected, the freedom to be changed is a necessarily part of the way things are connected. When one asks whether Free Will is possible, the answer to this question must be, that it is possible, and it is so, because nature itself, its laws that govern everything, must, in order to be laws that describe how things behave, allow for the possibility of change. the nature of things may be conditioned by necessity,  at the same time, however, any situation may be altered. All causes must be seen as properties, that interact with other properties. It is this interaction that produces certain consequences, while at the same time, any interaction may be changed, by adding or removing properties. Therefore the nature of things is conditioned by both necessity and possibility.

Truth and Freedom explores these issues further. It links the idea that we are separated from reality, a position that follows from the idea that cause and effect are distinct events, with that of the problem of Free Will. The problem of Reason makes it clear that reality is something we must reconstruct. It is not simply available to us and our experience does not reveal how things are connected directly. We must reconstruct reality, whatever reality might be, using our experience. We are  isolated from reality, and it is this isolation that is the stating point for the further discussion of the possibility of Free Will in 'Truth and Freedom'.


Links - the papers

- Induction, deduction, and the problem of Reason

- Refutation of sceptical doubts concerning the operations of the understanding

- Causation, change and Free will


Links - manuscript 'Truth and Freedom'

- English summary

- Dutch Summary

- Chapters 3 t/m 9 of the book