C. D. Broad

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C. D. Broad
C. D. Broad philosopher.png
Charlie Dunbar Broad

(1887-12-30)30 December 1887
Died11 March 1971(1971-03-11) (aged 83)
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Academic advisorsJ. M. E. McTaggart
Notable studentsGeorg Henrik von Wright
Main interests
Metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, philosophy of mind, logic
Notable ideas
Growing block universe
The "critical philosophy" and "speculative philosophy" distinction[1]
The "occurrent causation" and "non-occurrent causation" distinction

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.[2] He was educated at Dulwich College from 1900 until 1906.[3] 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'.[4]

Psychical research[edit]

Broad argued that if research showed that psychic events occur, this would challenge philosophical theories of "basic limiting principles" 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.[5]

Free will[edit]

In his essay "Determinism, Indeterminism, and Libertarianism", 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.


  • Perception, physics and reality. An Enquiry into the Information that Physical Science can Supply about the Real. London: Cambridge University Press, 1914 (PDF)
  • Scientific thought. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1923
  • The Mind and its place in nature. London: Kegan Paul, 1925
  • The Philosophy of Francis Bacon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926
  • Five types of ethical theory. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1930
  • War Thoughts in Peace Time. London: Humphrey Milford, 1931
  • An examination of McTaggart's philosophy. Vol. 1. Cambridge University Press, 1933
  • Determinism, interdeterminism and libertarianism. Cambridge University Press, 1934
  • An examination of McTaggart's philosophy. 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 Saltmarsh's Investigation of Mrs Warren Elliott's Mediumship)
  • 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


  1. ^ C. D. Broad. "Critical and Speculative Philosophy". In Contemporary British Philosophy: Personal Statements (First Series), ed. J. H. Muirhead (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1924): 77–100.
  2. ^ Harlesden was part of Middlesex until 1965; today it is part of the London Borough of Brent in Greater London.
  3. ^ Hodges, S. (1981): "God's Gift. A Living History of Dulwich College", London: Heinemann, p. 87
  4. ^ Annan, N.G., Attlee, A. J. Ayer, Robert Boothby, C. M. Bowra, C. D. Broad, David Cecil, L. John Collins, Alex Comfort, A. E. Dyson, Robert Exon, Geoffrey Faber, Jacquetta Hawkes, Trevor Huddleston, C. R. Julian Huxley, C. Day-Lewis, W. R. Niblett, J. B. Priestley, Russell, Donald O. Soper, Stephen Spender, Mary Stocks, A. J. P. Taylor, E. M. W. Tillyard, Alec R. Vidler, Kenneth Walker, Leslie D. Weatherhead, C. V. Wedgwood, Angus Wilson, John Wisdom, and Barbara Wootton. March 7, 1958. 'Letter to the Editor'. The Times.
  5. ^ Broad, C. D. (1949). "The Relevance of Psychical Research to Philosophy". Philosophy. 24 (91): 291–309. doi:10.1017/S0031819100007452.


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

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]