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Broad, Charlie Dunbar

Category: Philosopher

Charlie Dunbar Broad (1887 – 1971), usually known as C. D. Broad, was an English epistemologist, historian of philosophy, philosopher of science and moral philosopher.

He was a clever chap. 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 and an assistant lecturer at St Andrews University. He was later made a lecturer at St Andrews University, and professor at Bristol University. He was then 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.

His subjects were to say the least a little 'dry'.

Peter Hujar portrait of John Rothermel, 1973

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.

So there you go – riveting stuff eh?

androgyny otaku no nichijou

Actually, he is far more interesting than this quote might suggest as his real areas of interest were in so called psychical research.

Broad was President of the Society for Psychical Research in 1935 and 1958.

He also challenged in a very major way the very 'physical' one sided route that philosophy was tending to take at that time.

Broad believed in the existence of the spiritual, but sought ways in which to try to prove to those who didn't, that the spiritual world existed.

He argued that if research showed that 'psychic events' occur, this would challenge philosophical theories. He proposed a number of tests including: 

 

  1. Prophecy so called '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. Environmental influence - One common argument against the belief that minds are non-physical, and brains and bodies physical, is that physical and non-physical things cannot interact. However, this would be shown to be possible if people can for example, move or affect physical objects by 'thought'.

  3. Inter composer communication - 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.

  4. Out of body - Philosophers tended to promote the view 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.

He did not, as far as I'm aware, include inspiration or wisdom as other tests, but he was interested in near death and the experiences of the dying.

androgyny by van burnham

One of the major benefits of Broad's writing is that he was known for his thorough and dispassionate examination of arguments in such works as The Mind and Its Place in Nature, published in 1925.

And to make things even more interesting is the fact that Broad was openly homosexual, at a time when homosexual acts were illegal. Androgyny exemplified. 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'.

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