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DETERMINISM VS. FREE WILL. An ancient philosophical conundrum. DETERMINISM =. The theory that every event, including every human action, is governed by natural laws.

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determinism vs free will


An ancient philosophical conundrum


The theory that every event, including every human action, is governed by natural laws.

Technically, determinism is the belief that a determinate set of conditions can only produce one possible outcome given fixed laws of nature.

Many believe this rules out HUMAN FREEDOM.

determinism is different from fatalism
  • FATALISTS claim that there is nothing that we can do to affect our lives in any significant way. For example, I cannot in any way affect whether I am going to have a fatal accident tomorrow.
  • DETERMINISTS allow that human actions can make a difference.
  • Fatalism often takes the form of RELIGIOUS PREDESTINATION
if determinism is true it would seem that
If determinism is true it would seem that:
  • We are no more free than robots.
  • There is no reason to praise or blame anyone.
  • It is wrong to punish criminals--because they “can’t help it”.
3 different positions on determinism
  • Human beings have free will because determinism is FALSE (‘libertarianism’).
  • Human beings do NOT have free will because determinism is TRUE (‘hard determinism’).
  • Even though determinism is TRUE, human beings DO have free will (‘soft determinism’).
  • Free will requires a gap in universal causality.
  • The self initiates actions but when acting freely is not itself caused to do so.
  • Human decision making thus occupies a special place outside of the natural order.

NOTE: This is not the same as ‘libertarianism’ in political philosophy.

objections to libertarianism
Objections to libertarianism
  • The self would have to be non-physical, yet capable of causing events. Does this make sense?
  • Even if it makes sense, what is the evidence for it?
how to be a soft determinist
How to be a soft determinist
  • A free act is just a VOLUNTARY act. It issues from what the agent WANTS, unconstrained psychologically or physically.
  • Acts can be ‘free’ in this sense but still determined by natural laws. Determinism is not a problem for those who take this view.
if hard determinism is true
If hard determinism is true…
  • MORAL RESPONSIBILITY is undermined. (‘Ought’ implies ‘can’.) Do praise, blame or punishment make sense without moral responsibility?
  • Is RATIONALITY undermined? Can our acts have reasons as well as causes?