Article ID: CBB323976439

Scottish Common Sense, Association of Ideas and Free Will (2020)


The philosophical debates that unfolded in Enlightenment Britain left a deep mark on the mindset of future generations of thinkers. A clear echo of eighteenth-century disputes over the meaning of human liberty is heard in the subsequent confrontation between materialists and idealists. In more recent times, a number of arguments developed by compatibilist and incompatibilist philosophers still resemble more old-fashioned positions. However, the aim of this paper is to evaluate the differences between Joseph Priestley’s defence of “necessitarianism” and Thomas Reid’s elaboration of counterarguments to support “metaphysical liberty” – as the two doctrines were known in the late eighteenth century – on the background of their methodological assumptions and the different styles of their reasoning. I contend that a different adoption of the Newtonian scientific method, which they brought to bear on the study of the human mind, is key to understanding the way they endeavoured to defend necessity and liberty, respectively. I also argue that their interpretation of the nature of causality importantly shaped the arguments they put forth in attacking each other’s position.

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Authors & Contributors
Sell, Alan P. F.
Brooks, G. P.
Robinson, Daniel N.
Gallie, Roger D.
Wood, P. B.
Davie, George Elder
Price-Priestley Newsletter [University College of Wales]
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Journal of the History of Philosophy
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
History of Philosophy Quarterly
History of Science
Pennsylvania State University Press
Kluwer Academic
Sage Publications
University of Southern California
Controversies and disputes
Reid, Thomas
Priestley, Joseph
Stewart, Dugald
Hume, David
Hamilton, William Rowan
Brown, Thomas
Time Periods
18th century
17th century
19th century
Great Britain
United States

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