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Charlie Dunbar Broad

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Charlie Dunbar Broad

C. D. Broad
Born Charlie Dunbar Broad
(1887-12-30)30 December 1887
Died 11 March 1971(1971-03-11) (aged 83)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests Metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, philosophy of mind, logic

Charlie Dunbar Broad (30 December 1887 – 11 March 1971), usually cited as C. D. Broad, was an English epistemologist, historian of philosophy, philosopher of science, moral philosopher, and writer on the philosophical aspects of psychical research. He was known for his thorough and dispassionate examinations of arguments in such works as Scientific Thought, published in 1923, The Mind and Its Place in Nature, published in 1925, and An Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy, published in 1933.

Broad's essay on "Determinism, Indeterminism, and Libertarianism" in Ethics and the History of Philosophy (1952) introduced the philosophical terms "occurrent causation" and "non-occurrent causation", which became the basis for today's "agent causal" and "event causal" distinctions in the debates on Libertarian Free Will.


Broad was born in Harlesden, in Middlesex, England.[1] He was educated at Dulwich College from 1900 until 1906.[2] He gained a scholarship to study at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1906. In 1910 he graduated with First-Class Honours, with distinction.

In 1911, he became a Fellow of Trinity College. This was a non-residential position, which enabled him to also accept a position he had applied for as an assistant lecturer at St Andrews University. He was later made a lecturer at St Andrews University, and remained there until 1920. He was appointed professor at Bristol University in 1920, and worked there until 1923, when he returned to Trinity College as a College lecturer. He was a lecturer in 'moral science' in the Faculty of philosophy at Cambridge University from 1926 until 1931. In 1931, he was appointed 'Sidgwick Lecturer' at Cambridge University. He kept this role until 1933, when he was appointed Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy at Cambridge University, a position he held for twenty years, until 1953.

Broad was President of the Aristotelian Society from 1927 to 1928, and again from 1954 to 1955. He was also President of the Society for Psychical Research in 1935 and 1958.

Broad was openly homosexual at a time when homosexual acts were illegal. In March 1958, Broad along with fellow philosophers A.J. Ayer and Bertrand Russell, writer J.B. Priestley, and 27 others, sent a letter to The Times which urged the acceptance of the Wolfenden Report's recommendation that homosexual acts should 'no longer be a criminal offence'.[3]

Psychical research

Broad argued that if research showed that psychic events occur, this would challenge philosophical theories in at least five ways:

  1. Backward causation, the future affecting the past, is rejected by many philosophers, but would be shown to occur if, for example, people could predict the future.
  2. One common argument against dualism, that is the belief that minds are non-physical, and bodies physical, is that physical and non-physical things cannot interact. However, this would be shown to be possible if people can move physical objects by thought (telekinesis).
  3. Similarly, philosophers tend to be skeptical about claims that non-physical 'stuff' could interact with anything. This would also be challenged if minds are shown to be able to communicate with each other, as would be the case if mind-reading is possible.
  4. Philosophers generally accept that we can only learn about the world through reason and perception. This belief would be challenged if people were able to psychically perceive events in other places.
  5. Physicalist philosophers believe that there cannot be persons without bodies. If ghosts were shown to exist, this view would be challenged.[4]

Free Will

Broad argued for "non-occurrent causation" as "literally determined by the agent or self." The agent could be considered as a substance or continuant, and not by a total cause which contains as factors events in and dispositions of the agent. Thus our efforts would be completely determined, but their causes would not be prior events.

New series of events would then originate which he called "continuants." These are essentially causa sui.

Peter van Inwagen says that Broad formulated an excellent version of what van Inwagen has called the "Consequence Argument" in defense of incompatibilism.


  • PDF; 54,07 MB)
  • New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1923
  • London: Kegan Paul, 1925
  • Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926
  • New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1930
  • London: Humphrey Milford, 1931
  • Vol. 1. Cambridge University Press, 1933
  • Cambridge University Press, 1934
  • Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press, 1938
  • Ethics and the History of Philosophy, London: Routledge, 1952; Reprint 2000, ISBN 0-415-22530-2
  • Religion, Philosophy and Psychic Research, London: Routledge, 1953; Reprint 2000, ISBN 0-415-22558-2
  • Human Personality and the Possibility of Its Survival. University of California Press, 1955
  • Personal Identity and Survival. Society for Psychical Research, London 1958
  • Lectures on Psychical Research. Incorporating the Perrott Lectures given in Cambridge University in 1959 and 1960. New York: Humanities Press, 1962 (contains )
  • Induction, Probability, and Causation. Selected Papers of C. D. Broad, Dordrecht: Reidel, 1968
  • Broad's Critical Essays in Moral Philosophy, New York: Humanities Press, 1971
  • Leibniz: An Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975, ISBN 0-521-20691-X
  • Berkeley's Argument. Haskell House Pub Ltd., 1976
  • Kant: An Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978, ISBN 0-521-21755-5
  • Ethics, Dordrecht: Nijhoff, 1985

See also


  • Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2nd Edition. Volume 1. Ed. by Donald M. Borchert. Farmington Hills, Michigan: MacMillian Reference, 2006.

Further reading

  • Paul A. Schilpp (ed.): Philosophy of C. D. Broad. Tudor Publishing Company, New York 1959.

External links

  • C. D. Broad: a bibliography. Provides full pdf's of most of Broad's writings.
  • C. D. Broad on Digital Text International
  • Information Philosopher on C. D. Broad on Free Will
  • "How to think about the problem of free will" by Peter van Inwagen

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