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augustine of hippo 354 430
Augustine of Hippo 354-430

St. Augustine argued that human will is so corrupt and depraved as a result of ‘The Fall’ that no human being is capable of performing a good action without the grace of God and the saving acts of Christ. Augustine believed in pre-destination, the belief that only those elected by God can achieve salvation. Since no one knows who has been chosen we should all lead God-fearing lives. Everyone is at God’s mercy. Just because God is omniscient does not mean that we do not have free-will. God has foreknowledge of our choices and the decisions we will make. This does not mean man doesn’t make decisions freely; rather it emphasizes God’s omnipotence. Augustine reasoned that there are three types of events:

o Those that appear to be caused by chance (the cause is hidden from us)

o Those caused by God

o Those caused by us

Some things are beyond our control such as death, while other things are within our control such as the decision whether or not to lead a good life.

martin luther 1483 1546
Martin Luther 1483-1546

The concept of theological determinism has its origins within the Bible as well as within the Christian church. A major theological dispute at the time of the sixteenth century would help to force a distinct division in ideas - with an argument between two eminent thinkers of the time, Desiderius Erasmus and Martin Luther, a leading Protestant Reformer. Erasmus in The freedom of the will believed that God created human beings with free will. He maintained that despite the fall of Adam and Eve freedom still existed. As a result of this humans had the ability to do good or evil. Luther, conversely, attacked this idea in “On the bondage of the will.” He recognised that the issue of autonomy lay at the heart of religious dissension. He depicted an image of humanity manipulated through sin. Humans, for Luther, know what is morally right but are unable to attain it. He claimed that humans thus must give up aspiring to do good, as only by this could salvation be formed. Luther also believed that the fall of Adam and Eve as written in the Bible supported this notion. (

“To be sure, it [the will] is always free according to its nature, but only with respect to that which is in its power and is inferior to it but not with respect to that which is superior to it, since it is held captive in sins and then cannot choose the good according to God.” (Martin Luther)

john calvin 1509 1564
John Calvin1509-1564

Greatly influenced by St. Paul and St. Augustine, Calvin argued that Paul was preaching pre-destination; that the destination of each human being is determined by God on the basis of his foreknowledge of everyone’s character and life. He said that there was nothing anybody could do to change their destiny and went further to say that only 5% of the human race were destined for salvation, the other 95% were damned from the start. This is called the doctrine of double predestination. Everyone deserves to be punished, but the measure of God’s goodness is that he saves some. God’s justice is beyond human comprehension and should not be questioned. According to Calvin, there is no free will. Calvin therefore takes a hard determinist approach.

“Eternal life is fore/ordained for some, an eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say he is pre-destined to life or death.”

john locke 1632 1704
John Locke 1632-1704

The philosopher John Locke used an analogy in which a sleeping man is locked in a darkened room. On awakening he decides he will remain in the room, unaware that the room is locked. In reality the man has no freedom to choose, he cannot get out of the room. However, his ignorance of his true condition has led him to believe that he does have the freedom to choose to remain in the room.

Locke describes an Illusion of freedom of choice – we only think we choose freely because we do not know the causes that lie behind our choices. This leads us to believe they have no cause.

Locke denounced the existence of free will

isaac newton 1642 1727
Isaac Newton 1642-1727

Three laws of motion:

  • A body in a state of rest stays in a state of rest and a body moving in a straight line continues moving in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force
  • The rate of change of momentum of a body is proportional to the force that is applied to it and it acts in the same direction
  • Action and reaction are equal and opposite
d avid hume 1711 1776
David Hume1711-1776

“It is universally allowed that nothing exists without a cause of its existence.”

“By liberty, then, we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will; that is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may”

Hume is a soft-determinist. He is saying that all things are necessary. He dismisses the idea that some things are uncaused or happen as the result of mere chance. He also believes we are free. Hume goes on to say that we don't blame people for things they do ignorantly, and blame them less for things that are not premeditated. In fact, any sense of moral blame can only come if something we do is the result of our character. Free will, and moral responsibility, require determinism.

ivan pavlov 1849 1936
Ivan Pavlov 1849-1936

Pavlov studied the digestive process in dogs, especially the interaction between salivation and the action of the stomach. He discovered that the two are closely linked; without salivation the stomach doesn’t get the message to start digesting. He found that external stimuli could affect this process. By ringing a bell every time the dogs were presented with food, after a while they would begin to salivate with the ringing of the bell without the presence of food. This is the result of a conditioned reflex that has to be learned as supposed to an innate reflex. He also found that a conditioned reflex could also be repressed if the stimulus proves to be wrong, i.e. if the bell rings repeatedly and no food appears, the dog eventually stops salivating at the sound of the bell.

Pavlov believed that conditioned reflexes could explain the behaviour of psychotic people. For example those who withdrew from the world may associate all stimuli with possible injury or threat.

clarence darrow 1857 1938
Clarence Darrow 1857-1938

Psychology is the study of human behaviour. According to psychological determinism, all human behaviour, thoughts and feelings are the inevitable outcome of complex psychological laws describing cause and effect relationships in human behaviour. Thus all decisions and actions can theoretically be predicted. There are many influencing factors on human behaviour:

• Hereditary• Society• Culture• Environment

In the court of law the punishment of the accused is not purely determined by the extent of the crime, but diminished responsibility takes into account other external factors such as up-bringing and background. In 1924 the American attorney, Clarence Darrow successfully defended two youths guilty of murder by focusing his argument on their lack of moral responsibility. Darrow argued that their actions were influenced by a combination of heredity and social conditioning.

However, if a court rules that a murderer cannot be held accountable for his actions, what purpose is the court fulfilling? If a murder can be dismissed as hereditary then there is seemingly no justification for the punishment of any crime.

john watson 1878 1958
John Watson 1878-1958

John Watson, a psychologist and behaviourist, famously boasted:

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.”

The theory is that humans will respond in a certain way to certain stimuli, and if you can control the stimulus, you can control the response. Hence the response is conditional.

werner heisenberg 1901 1976
Werner Heisenberg 1901-1976

Heisenburg Uncertainty Theory

He said that it is not possible to measure both the position and speed of a particle at the same time due to the effect of photons which has a significant effect on a subatomic level. This would suggest that there is no interdeterminacy in nature. However just because we cannot measure both does not mean they cannot both be known.

Chaos Theory coupled with the HeisenburgPrinciple

Since the work of Heisenburg it has been accepted that, at the most fundamental level of the material world events occur randomly and by chance. The Chaos theory proposes that a quantum event at this fundamental level can ultimately be the cause of a large-scale event. This theory is also known as the “butterfly effect” as it suggests that the slightest movement of a butterfly’s wings in Beijing could cause a hurricane in New York some time later.

jean paul sartre 1905 1980
Jean-Paul Sartre1905-1980

Existentialism begins with the premise that “existence precedes essence.” This simple phrase contains within it a radical change from the previous archetypes of Western philosophy. To accept this premise is to both deny the existence of human nature and open the doors to true human freedom. Jean-Paul Sartre rigorously examines the implications of this premise with a focus on the roles and definitions of both freedom and determinism.This philosophy demands that the highest moral value of man is freedom, which is to say that all values are revealed through choices and subsequent actions. To focus on actions is to create a sense of responsibility in man: one has no excuses in the world because one always faces a free choice. This is not to say that choices, or responsibility, are always easy. In fact, the recognition of responsibility creates what Sartre called a feeling of nausea : man trembles before the weight of his responsibility; it is a crushing realization to understand that one is abandoned in the world and must take credit for both one’s successes and failures (Killinger 309).To have freedom is to instill anguish in the individual. Sartre declares that our freedom is a fact, that determinism of any sort is a lie and an excuse, and that the consequences of this reality are that man has both responsibility and dignity (Freedom 330).

john hospers 1918 2011
John Hospers 1918- 2011

“Let us suppose it were established that a man commits murder only if, sometime during the previous week, he has eaten a certain combination of foods—say, tuna fish salad at a meal also including peas, mushroom soup, and blueberry pie. What if we were to track down the factors common to all murders committed in this country during the last twenty years and found this factor present in all of them, and only in them? The example is of course empirically absurd; but may it not be that there is some combination of factors that regularly leads to homicide?

Someone commits a crime and is punished by the state; ‘he deserved it,’ we say self-righteously—as if we were moral and he immoral, when in fact we are lucky and he is unlucky—forgetting that there, but for the grace of God and a fortunate early environment, go we.”

ted honderich 1933 to date
Ted Honderich 1933-to date

Honderich claims that everything is determined, both internally and externally. He denies that we have any choice, and therefore disagrees that we have any moral responsibility. Whatever I do, I could not have done otherwise - I was determined. If I could not have done otherwise, I cannot be held responsible for my actions, and should not be punished just for the sake of it (although it does make sense to punish people as a deterrent or to protect society from someone who is dangerous).

Honderich sounds like an incompatibalist, but he actually claims that the very idea of free will is meaningless, so it doesn't make any sense to claim that free will is incompatible with determinism. He says both compatibilism and incompatibilism are incoherent and meaningless.

richard dawkins 1941 to date
Richard Dawkins 1941-to date

Richard Dawkins argues that we are survival mechanisms for our genes.

As a Darwinist, he believes we have evolved through adapting strategies for survival and dominance, from the moment we separated from the apes about one and half million years ago. But we have not just evolved larger brains.

Part of the difficulty lies with the phrase "selfish genes" which seems to imply we are automatically selfish people. But though our genes are bent on survival and self-promotion from generation to generation, that doesn't mean we are necessarily selfish people. In fact the reverse is true. We have an instinct to be altruistic: to be kind to others even if there is no reciprocal benefit.

Dawkins concludes: "we rise above our origins, and extract ourselves from nature and its values. We are the only ones who can escape from our genes, and so we have doctors, social benefits, we can tame and overthrow the tyranny of natural selection" (Channel 4 August 2008).

We might conclude: it is the moral sense which is "determined" or "hard-wired" into our genes, not our moral choices. Indeed the ability to make these choices for good is proof that natural selection can have very good outcomes. (Peter Baron)