Core Concepts

Actualism
Agent-Causality
Alternative Possibilities
Causa Sui
Causal Closure
Causalism
Causality
Certainty
Chance
Chance Not Direct Cause
Chaos Theory
The Cogito Model
Compatibilism
Complexity
Comprehensive   Compatibilism
Conceptual Analysis
Contingency
Control
Could Do Otherwise
Creativity
Default Responsibility
De-liberation
Determination
Determination Fallacy
Determinism
Disambiguation
Double Effect
Either Way
Enlightenment
Emergent Determinism
Epistemic Freedom
Ethical Fallacy
Experimental Philosophy
Extreme Libertarianism
Event Has Many Causes
Frankfurt Cases
Free Choice
Freedom of Action
"Free Will"
Free Will Axiom
Free Will in Antiquity
Free Will Mechanisms
Free Will Requirements
Free Will Theorem
Future Contingency
Hard Incompatibilism
Idea of Freedom
Illusion of Determinism
Illusionism
Impossibilism
Incompatibilism
Indeterminacy
Indeterminism
Infinities
Laplace's Demon
Libertarianism
Liberty of Indifference
Libet Experiments
Luck
Master Argument
Modest Libertarianism
Moral Necessity
Moral Responsibility
Moral Sentiments
Mysteries
Naturalism
Necessity
Noise
Non-Causality
Nonlocality
Origination
Possibilism
Possibilities
Pre-determinism
Predictability
Probability
Pseudo-Problem
Random When?/Where?
Rational Fallacy
Reason
Refutations
Replay
Responsibility
Same Circumstances
Scandal
Second Thoughts
Self-Determination
Semicompatibilism
Separability
Soft Causality
Special Relativity
Standard Argument
Supercompatibilism
Superdeterminism
Taxonomy
Temporal Sequence
Tertium Quid
Torn Decision
Two-Stage Models
Ultimate Responsibility
Uncertainty
Up To Us
Voluntarism
What If Dennett and Kane Did Otherwise?

Determinism
Determinism is the philosophical idea that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of antecedent states of affairs.

It is also the idea in physics that the laws of nature, such as Isaac Newton's laws of motion, are causal laws. Newton's laws are mathematical equations, functions of time. Once you know the positions and velocities of all the particles in the universe, you can put in any time in the past or future, and these differential equations tell you everything that has happened and ever can happen.

In this idea of classical mechanics, the universe has but one past, the actual past, but it also has only one future, the only possible future. It is completely determined by those mathematical equations. This is the mechanical view, the materialist view.

The universe is a machine. Our bodies are machines. Our minds are computers.

More strictly, determinism includes pre-determinism from the origin, the idea that the entire past (as well as the future) was completely determined at the origin of the universe.

In terms of information, the information content of the universe is a fixed amount. Information is conserved, like the conservation of matter and energy.

If pre-determinism sounds like the concept of pre-ordination, it is because the two are intimately connected. They are both beliefs. unsupportable by evidence., omniscience. omnipotence

Determinism should not be confused with determination, the idea that events (including human actions) can be adequately determined by immediately prior events (such as an agent's reasons, motives, desires), without being pre-determined back to before the agent's birth or even back to the origin of the universe.

Since modern quantum physics shows that the universe is indeterministic, with profound effects on microscopic processes at the atomic scale, we will find it valuable to distinguish pre-determinism from the adequate determinism that we have in the real world. Adequate determinism is the basis for the classical physical laws that apply in the macrocosmos.

Determinism is a modern name (coined in the nineteenth-century) for Democritus' ancient idea that causal deterministic laws control the motion of atoms, and that everything - including human minds - consists merely of atoms in a void.

As Democritus' mentor and fellow materialist Leucippus put it, an absolute necessity leaves no room in the cosmos for chance.

"Nothing occurs at random, but everything for a reason and by necessity." 1

οὐδὲν χρῆμα μάτην γίνεται, ἀλλὰ πάντα ἐκ λόγου τε καὶ ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης

Determinism, especially the variation of "soft" determinism (cf. William James) or compatibilism, is supported as a theory of free will by a majority of philosophers, each with special vested interests in one or more of the many determinisms.

Compatibilists accept determinism but argue that man is free as long as his own will is one of the steps in the causal chain, even if his choices are completely predetermined for physical reasons or preordained by God.

And Fatalism is a special form of determinism where every event in the future is fated to happen. Fatalism does not normally require that any causal laws or higher powers are involved. Que sera, sera.

The core idea of determinism is closely related to the idea of causality. But we can have causality without determinism, especially the "soft" causality that follows an "uncaused" event (a causa sui) that is not predictable from prior events.

Aristotle called such events archai (ἀρχαί) - starting points or "fresh starts" in new causal chains which break the bonds of determinism.

Despite David Hume's critical attack on the necessity of causes, many philosophers embrace causality and determinism strongly. Some even connect it to the very possibility of logic and reason. And Hume himself believed strongly, if inconsistently, in necessity. " 'tis impossible to admit any medium betwixt chance and necessity," he said.

Bertrand Russell said "The law of causation, according to which later events can theoretically be predicted by means of earlier events, has often been held to be a priori, a necessity of thought, a category without which science would not be possible." (Russell, External World p.179)

The idea of indeterminism appears to threaten causality and the basic idea of causal law. But it does not.

Indeterminism for some is simply an occasional event without a cause. We can have an adequate causality without strict determinism. Strict determinism means complete predictability (in principle, if not in practice) of events and only one possible future. Adequate determinism provides statistical predictability, which in normal situations for physical objects approaches statistical certainty.

An example of an event that is not strictly caused is one that depends on chance, like the flip of a coin. If the outcome is only probable, not certain, then the event can be said to have been caused by the coin flip, but the head or tails result itself was not predictable. So this causality, which recognizes prior events as causes, is undetermined and the result of chance alone.

We call this "soft" causality. Events are caused by prior (uncaused) events, but not determined by events earlier in the causal chain, which has been broken by the uncaused cause.

Determinism is critical for the question of free will. Strict determinism implies just one possible future. Chance means that the future is unpredictable. Chance allows alternative futures and the question becomes how the one actual present is realized from these alternative possibilities.

The departure required from strict determinism is very slight compared to the miraculous ideas associated with the "causa sui" (self-caused cause) of the ancients.

Even in a world that contains quantum uncertainty, macroscopic objects are determined to an extraordinary degree. But the macroscopic "laws of nature" are just statistical laws that "emerge" when large numbers of atoms or molecules get together. For large enough numbers, the probabilistic laws approach practical certainty.

Determinism is an emergent property.

Newton's laws of motion are deterministic enough to send men to the moon and back. Our Cogito Model of the Macro Mind is large enough to ignore quantum uncertainty for the purpose of the reasoning will. The neural system is robust enough to insure that mental decisions are reliably transmitted to our limbs.

we see a world of
We call this determinism, only ineffective for extremely small structures, "adequate determinism." It is adequate enough to predict eclipses for the next thousand years or more with extraordinary precision.

Belief in strict determinism, in the face of physical evidence for indeterminism, is only tenable today for dogmatic philosophy. We survey ten modern dogmas of determinism.

Phillipa Foot argued that because our actions are determined by our motives, our character and values, our feelings and desires, in no way leads to the conclusion that they are pre-determined from the beginning of the universe.

The presence of quantum uncertainty leads some philosophers to call the world indetermined. But indeterminism is somewhat misleading, with strong negative connotations, when most events are overwhelmingly "adequately determined." Nevertheless, speaking logically, if a single event is undetermined, then indeterminism is true, and determinism false. 1

There is no problem imagining that the three traditional mental faculties of reason - perception, conception, and comprehension - are all carried on more or less deterministically in a physical brain where quantum events do not interfere with normal operations.

There is also no problem imagining a role for randomness in the brain in the form of quantum level noise. Noise can introduce random errors into stored memories. Noise could create random associations of ideas during memory recall. This randomness may be driven by microscopic fluctuations that are amplified to the macroscopic level.

Our Macro Mind needs the Micro Mind for the free action items and thoughts in an Agenda of alternative possibilities to be de-liberated by the will. The random Micro Mind is the "free" in free will and the source of human creativity. The adequately determined Macro Mind is the "will" in free will that de-liberates, choosing actions for which we can be morally responsible.

Determinism must be disambiguated from its close relatives causality, certainty, necessity, and predictability.

The Emergence of Determinism
Since the physical world is irreducibly indeterministic at the base level of atoms and molecules, there is actually no strict determinism at any "level" of the physical world.

With random motions at the base level, what emerges at the higher level of the macroscopic physical world and the human mind is adequate determinism. Determinism is an abstract theoretical idea that simplifies physical systems enough to allow the use of logical and mathematical methods on idealized abstract "objects" and "events." The apparent "determinism" of classical physics is the consequence of averaging over extremely large numbers of microscopic particles.

Adequate determinism "emerges" when we have large enough objects to be averaging over vast numbers of atoms and molecules.

Determinism is an emergent property.

The Etymology of Determinism
The term (sic) determinism is first attested in the late fourteenth century, "to come to an end," also "to settle, decide," from O.Fr. determiner (12c.), from L. determinare "set limits to," from de- "off" + terminare "to mark the end or boundary," from terminus "end, limit."

The sense of "coming to a firm decision" (to do something) is from 1450.

Determination as a "quality of being resolute" dates from 1822.

Before the nineteenth century determinists were called Necessarians. William Belsham contrasted them (favorably) with the incoherent Libertarians in 1789, the first use of Libertarian. Libertarians were thought incoherent because liberty was thought to be unruly, random, unlawful, and - in a related term of the day - libertine.

Determinism appears in 1846 in Sir William Hamilton's edition of Thomas Reid's works as a note on p.87.

There are two schemes of Necessity - the Necessitation by efficient - the Necessitation by final causes. The former is brute or blind Fate; the latter rational Determinism.
At about the same time, it is used by theologians to describe lack of free will.

In 1855, William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) wrote,

The theory of Determinism, in which the will is determined or swayed to a particular course by external inducements and forced habits, so that the consciousness of freedom rests chiefly upon an oblivion of the antecedents of our choice.

Ernst Cassirer claimed (mistakenly?) that Determinism in the philosophical sense of a "doctrine that everything that happens is determined by a necessary chain of causation" dates from the work of Emil du Bois-Reymond in 1876.

Note that ancient philosophers worried about this causal chain (ἄλυσις), but those philosophers who allowed the existence of chance, (Aristotle, Epicurus, Lucretius, and Alexander of Aphrodisias), denied such a causal chain, while maintaining that human decisions were caused by neither chance nor necessity but by a tertium quid - our autonomous human agency.

The adjective determinist appeared first in the Contemporary Review of October 1874 - "The objections of our modern Determinists." In the Contemporary Review of March 1885 R. H. Hutton described "The necessarian or determinist theory of human action."

William James's essay on The Dilemma of Determinism appeared at about the same time, in 1884. In it he coined the terms "soft determinism" (today's compatibilism), and "hard determinism" (strict determinsm, indeed, pre-determinism from the beginning of time).

For Teachers
C.D.Broad, in 1932, defined Determinism, Indeterminism, and Libertarianism. Reprinted in Morgenbesser (1962) Free Will
And now at last we can define- "determinism" and "indeterminism." Determinism is the doctrine that every event is completely determined, in the sense just defined. Indeterminism, is the doctrine that some, and it may be all, events are not completely determined, in the sense defined. Both doctrines are, prima facie, intelligible, when defined as I have defined them.

There is one other point to be noticed. An event might be completely determined, and yet it might have a "causal ancestor" which was not, completely determined. If Y is the total cause of Z and X is the total cause of Y, I call both Y and X "causal ancestors" of Z. Similarly, if W were the total cause of X, I should call Y, X, and W "causal ancestors" of Z. And so on. If at any stage in such a series there is a term, e.g. W, which contains a cause-factor that is not completely determined, the series will stop there, just as the series of human ancestors stops with Adam. Such a term may be called the "causal progenitor" of such a series. If determinism be true, every event has causal ancestors, and therefore there are no causal progenitors. If indeterminism be true, there are causal progenitors in the history of the world.

We are now in a position to define what Ι will call "libertarianism." This doctrine may be summed up in two propositions. (i) Some (and it may be all) voluntary actions have a causal ancestor which contains as a cause factor the putting-forth of an effort which is not completely determined in direction and intensity by occurrent causation. (ii) In such cases the direction and the intensity of the effort are completely determined by non-occurrent causation, in which the self or agent, taken as a substance or continuant, is the non-occurrent total cause. [Broad means a non-physical mind as the non-occurent cause.] Thus, Libertarianism, as defined by me, entails indeterminism, as defined by me; but the converse does not hold.

If I am right, libertarianism is self-evidently impossible, whilst indeterminism is prima facie possible.

Richard Double,s The Nonreality of Free Will (1995?) provided these definitions.
Although the notion of determinism appears frequently through this book, the free will discussion is concerned only with a tiny subset of what might be determined, viz., those events that affect human decision making. Whether there is, e.g., indeterminacy in quantum physics is an empirical matter outside of philosophers' ken and, by itself, does not bear on the free will debate, although some libertarians have argued that quantum indeterminacy could bear on human choices (see Chapter 8). This book is primarily about free will, though, and about determinism only incidentally.

Compatibilism — The view that the theses of free will and determinism can both be true.

Incompatibilism — The view they cannot both be true.

Soft determinism — Technically, compatibilism plus determinism, but in fact, the view that we have free will not as a result of indeterminism, whether or not determinism is true.

Hard determinism — Technically, incompatibilism plus determinism, but the view that humans lack free will because their decisions are determined, again, whether determinism in its fullest generality is true.

Libertarianism — The view that humans have free will as a result of indeterminism in their choices.

Double's libertarianism is an extreme view that makes chance the direct cause of our choices. But it coincides with Robert Kane's "torn decisions" in which an agent can take responsibility for a random choice either way if there are good reasons for either choice.
For Scholars
1. C.D.Broad, 1934 "Indeterminism is the doctrine that some, and it may be all, events are not completely determined."

 Chapter 1.4 - The Philosophy Chapter 1.6 - The Scientists Home Part Two - Knowledge
Normal | Teacher | Scholar