C. D. Broad
Broad in 1959
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
InstitutionsTrinity College, Cambridge
Academic advisorsJ. M. E. McTaggart
Doctoral studentsKnut Erik Tranøy[1]
Main interests
Metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, philosophy of mind, logic
Notable ideas
Growing block universe
Rate of passage argument[2][3]
The "critical philosophy" and "speculative philosophy" distinction[4]
The "occurrent causation" and "non-occurrent causation" distinction

Charlie Dunbar Broad FBA (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 (1923), The Mind and Its Place in Nature (1925), and Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy (2 vols., 1933–1938).

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 the contemporary distinction between "agent-causal" and "event-causal" in debates on libertarian free will.


Broad was born in Harlesden, in Middlesex, England.[i]

He was educated at Dulwich College from 1900 until 1906. He gained a scholarship in 1906 to study at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating in 1910 with First-Class Honours, with distinction.[5] He became a Fellow of Trinity College the following year.


As his fellowship at Trinity College was a non-residential position, he was also able to accept a position as an assistant lecturer that he had applied for at St Andrews University, where he remained until 1920. That year, he was appointed professor at Bristol University, working there until 1923, when he returned to Trinity as a lecturer. From 1926 until 1931, he was a lecturer in 'moral science' at Cambridge University's Faculty of Philosophy.

Later at Cambridge, he was appointed in 1931 as 'Sidgwick Lecturer', a role he would keep until 1933, when he was appointed Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy at the university, a position he held for twenty years (until 1953).[6] In 1927 he gave the British Academy's Master-Mind Lecture, entitled "Sir Isaac Newton."[7]

In addition, 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.[6]

Personal life

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."[8]


Psychical research

Broad argued that if research could demonstrate that psychic events occur, this would challenge philosophical theories of "basic limiting principles" in at least five ways:[9]

  1. Backward causation (i.e., 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 (i.e., the belief that, while bodies are physical entities, minds are a different, non-physical sort of entity) 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.

Free will

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", which are essentially causa sui.

Peter van Inwagen says that Broad formulated an excellent version of what van Inwagen has called the "Consequence Argument" in defence of incompatibilism.[10]

Metaphilosophy and science

Broad distinguished between critical philosophy and speculative philosophy. He described critical philosophy as analysing "unanalysed concepts in daily life and in science" and then "expos[ing] them to every objection that we can think of". While speculative philosophy's role is to "take over all aspects of human experience, to reflect upon them, and to try to think out a view of Reality as a whole which shall do justice to all of them".[11]

One aspect of critical philosophy was the Principle of Exceptional Cases, whereby everyday concepts are considered in highly abnormal cases, so as to "clear up the meaning" of a concept.[11]

Broad saw philosophy and science as supplemental to one another. Scientists who ignore philosophy expose themselves to a "danger to which the natural scientist is peculiarly liable. The extraordinary success of physics and chemistry within their own sphere tempts men to think that the world is simply a physico-chemical system". Whereas philosophers who ignore science are ignoring properties which are "very pervasive" and can shed light on things.[11]

In terms of empirical propositions Broad distinguished between inspective empirical propositions which he defined "one which asserts of some particular existent with which the mind is acquainted at the time some property which the mind can notice by inspection to belong to it" and inferred empirical propositions which are "derived from a number of perceptual propositions either directly by pure inductive generalization, or indirectly by deduction from one or more inductive generalizations".[11]



  1. ^ Harlesden was part of Middlesex until 1965; today it is part of the London Borough of Brent in Greater London.


  1. ^ Knut E. Tranøy, "Wittgenstein in Cambridge 1949–1951: Some Personal Recollections", in: F. A. Flowers III, Ian Ground (eds.), Portraits of Wittgenstein: Abridged Edition, Bloomsbury Academic, 2018, p. 452.
  2. ^ C. D. Broad (1978), "Ostensible temporality." In Richard M. Gale (ed.), The Philosophy of Time: A Collection of Essays, Humanities Press.
  3. ^ Ned Markosian, "How fast does time pass?", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53(4):829–844 (1993).
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Hodges, S. 1981. God's Gift: A Living History of Dulwich College. London: Heinemann. p. 87.
  6. ^ a b "Charlie Dunbar Broad". Trinity College Chapel.
  7. ^ Broad, C. D. (1927). "Sir Isaac Newton". Proceedings of the British Academy. 13: 173–202. Annual Lecture on a Master Mind. Henriette Hertz Trust. Read July 15, 1927. Reprinted in Ethics and the history of philosophy, pp. 3–28.
  8. ^ N. G. Annan, 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. 7 March 1958. "Letter to the Editor." The Times.
  9. ^ Broad, C. D. (1949). "The Relevance of Psychical Research to Philosophy" (PDF). Philosophy. 24 (91): 291–309. doi:10.1017/S0031819100007452. S2CID 144880410.
  10. ^ van Inwagen, Peter (1 September 2008). "How to Think about the Problem of Free Will" (PDF). The Journal of Ethics. 12 (3): 337. doi:10.1007/s10892-008-9038-7. ISSN 1572-8609. S2CID 144635471.
  11. ^ a b c d Broad, C. D. (1953). "Critical and Speculative Philosophy". Contemporary British Philosophy Personal Statements · Volume 20. London, Allen & Unwin. pp. 87–100.
  12. ^ Walmsley, Joel (13 June 2022). C.D. Broad: Key Unpublished Writings (1 ed.). London: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781003081135. ISBN 978-1-003-08113-5.


Further reading