Hard determinism

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Hard determinists believe people are like highly complex clocks, in that they are molecular machines Rock crusher gears.jpg
Hard determinists believe people are like highly complex clocks, in that they are molecular machines

Hard determinism (or metaphysical determinism) is a view on free will which holds that determinism is true, and that it is incompatible with free will, and, therefore, that free will does not exist. Although hard determinism generally refers to nomological determinism, [1] it can also be a position taken with respect to other forms of determinism that necessitate the future in its entirety. [2] Hard determinism is contrasted with soft determinism, which is a compatibilist form of determinism, holding that free will may exist despite determinism. [3] It is also contrasted with metaphysical libertarianism, the other major form of incompatibilism which holds that free will exists and determinism is false.

Free will Ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints

Free will is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded.

Determinism is the philosophical belief that all events are determined completely by previously existing causes. Deterministic theories throughout the history of philosophy have sprung from diverse and sometimes overlapping motives and considerations. The opposite of determinism is some kind of indeterminism. Determinism is often contrasted with free will.

Incompatibilism view that a deterministic universe is completely at odds with the notion that persons have a free will; that there is a dichotomy between determinism and free will where philosophers must choose one or the other

Incompatibilism is the view that a deterministic universe is completely at odds with the notion that persons have a free will; that there is a dichotomy between determinism and free will where philosophers must choose one or the other. This view is pursued in at least three ways: libertarians deny that the universe is deterministic, the hard determinists deny that any free will exists, and pessimistic incompatibilists deny both that the universe is determined and that free will exists.


In history

In ancient Greece, Socrates initiated the rationalistic teaching that any agent is obliged to pursue the chief good conceived by his or her mind. [4] The peripatetic naturalist Strato of Lampsacus speculated that an unconscious divine power acts in the world and causes the origin, growth, and breakdown of things. [5] Diodorus Cronus asserted the identity of the possible and the necessary and inferred that future events are as determined as the past ones. [6] Chrysippus refuted the "idle argument" invented to discredit determinism as if human efforts were futile in a preordained world; he explained that fated events occur with the engagement of conscious agents. [7] In the 17th century, both Locke [8] and Spinoza [9] argued for strict causality of volitional acts. In the age of enlightenment, Baron d’Holbach [10] promulgated the naturalistic interpretation of mental events. Schopenhauer observed that everyone regards himself free a priori ; however, a posteriori he must discover that he had been obliged to make the decisions he actually made. [11] Nietzsche noticed that free decisions are graded as causa sui , emerging from non-existence. [12] Recently Daniel Wegner stressed the limitations of free will on grounds of experimental evidence for unconscious choice and action. [13] To prove determinism, the following putative experiment was proposed: all principal differences between the features of an artificial zygote and that developing naturally can be avoided. [14]

Ancient Greece Civilization belonging to an early period of Greek history

Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, ushering in the Archaic period and colonization of the Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the period of Classical Greece, an era that began with the Greco-Persian Wars, lasting from the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great of Macedon, Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hellenistic period came to an end with the conquests and annexations of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, which established the Roman province of Macedonia in Roman Greece, and later the province of Achaea during the Roman Empire.

Socrates classical Greek Athenian philosopher

Socrates was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher of the Western ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, he made no writings, and is known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers writing after his lifetime, particularly his students Plato and Xenophon. Other sources include the contemporaneous Antisthenes, Aristippus, and Aeschines of Sphettos. Aristophanes, a playwright, is the main contemporary author to have written plays mentioning Socrates during Socrates' lifetime, though a fragment of Ion of Chios' Travel Journal provides important information about Socrates' youth.

Strato of Lampsacus ancient greek philosopher

Strato of Lampsacus was a Peripatetic philosopher, and the third director (scholarch) of the Lyceum after the death of Theophrastus. He devoted himself especially to the study of natural science, and increased the naturalistic elements in Aristotle's thought to such an extent, that he denied the need for an active god to construct the universe, preferring to place the government of the universe in the unconscious force of nature alone.


Meeting a challenge, agents make decisions in conformity to the inherited character, life history, and current stimuli. The field of acute attention is limited, and motives partly remain unconscious. From the first person's perspective, we have an intuitive commitment that many options are available. However, if the total of the mental content is considered from the third person's perspective, only a single decision deemed by the agent as the most favorable at the moment turns out real. The validity of causation for any mental event becomes apparent taking into account their neurophysiological correlates. [15] Different causal descriptions correspond to the mental and physical domain. [16] Laws of thermodynamics and quantum mechanics govern the latter. Admitting downright mental causation of physiological impulses would mean surplus determination. The surmise that under identical conditions, alternative decisions and actions are possible is disproved by naturalists as an illusion. [17] Hard determinism is not taken to refer merely to a determinism on earth, but in all of reality (e.g. involving the effects of light from other galaxies, etc.); not just during a certain deterministic period of time, but for all time. This also means that the relation of necessity will be bi-directional. Just as the initial conditions of the universe presumably determine all future states, so too does the present necessitate the past. In other words, one could not change any one fact without affecting the entire timeline. Because hard determinists often support this eternalist view of time, they do not believe that there are genuine chances or possibilities, only the idea that events are 100% likely. [18]

Eternalism is a philosophical approach to the ontological nature of time, which takes the view that all existence in time is equally real, as opposed to presentism or the growing block universe theory of time, in which at least the future is not the same as any other time. Some forms of eternalism give time a similar ontology to that of space, as a dimension, with different times being as real as different places, and future events are "already there" in the same sense other places are already there, and that there is no objective flow of time. It is sometimes referred to as the "block time" or "block universe" theory due to its description of space-time as an unchanging four-dimensional "block", as opposed to the view of the world as a three-dimensional space modulated by the passage of time.

Unlike "law fundamentalists", some philosophers are "law pluralists": they question what it means to have a law of physics. One example is the "Best Standards Analysis", which says that the laws are only useful ways to summarize all past events, rather than there being metaphysically "pushy" entities (this route still brings one into conflict with the idea of free will).[ citation needed ] Some law pluralists further believe there are simply no laws of physics. [18] The mathematical universe hypothesis suggests that there are other universes in which the laws of physics and fundamental constants are different. Andreas Albrecht of Imperial College in London called it a "provocative" solution to one of the central problems facing physics. Although he "wouldn't dare" go so far as to say he believes it, he noted that "it's actually quite difficult to construct a theory where everything we see is all there is". [19]

In physics and cosmology, the mathematical universe hypothesis (MUH), also known as the ultimate ensemble theory, is a speculative "theory of everything" (TOE) proposed by cosmologist Max Tegmark.

The feasibility of testing determinism is always challenged by what we know, or think we can know, about the idea of a final, all-encompassing, theory of everything. Some physicists challenge the likelihood of determinism on the grounds that certain interpretations of quantum mechanics stipulate that the universe is fundamentally indeterministic, such as the Copenhagen interpretation; whereas other interpretations are deterministic, for example, the De Broglie-Bohm Theory and the many-worlds interpretation. Chaos theory describes how a deterministic system can exhibit perplexing behavior that is difficult to predict: as in the butterfly effect, minor variations between the starting conditions of two systems can result in major differences. Yet chaos theory is a wholly deterministic thesis; it merely demonstrates the potential for vastly different consequences from very similar initial conditions. Properly understood, then, it enlightens and reinforces the deterministic claim. [18]

Theory of everything hypothetical single, all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework of physics

A theory of everything, final theory, ultimate theory, or master theory is a hypothetical single, all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework of physics that fully explains and links together all physical aspects of the universe. Finding a TOE is one of the major unsolved problems in physics. Over the past few centuries, two theoretical frameworks have been developed that, as a whole, most closely resemble a TOE. These two theories upon which all modern physics rests are general relativity (GR) and quantum field theory (QFT). GR is a theoretical framework that only focuses on gravity for understanding the universe in regions of both large scale and high mass: stars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies, etc. On the other hand, QFT is a theoretical framework that only focuses on three non-gravitational forces for understanding the universe in regions of both small scale and low mass: sub-atomic particles, atoms, molecules, etc. QFT successfully implemented the Standard Model that describes the three non-gravitational forces: strong, weak, and electromagnetic force.

An interpretation of quantum mechanics is an attempt to explain how the mathematical theory of quantum mechanics "corresponds" to reality. Although quantum mechanics has held up to rigorous and extremely precise tests in an extraordinarily broad range of experiments, there exist a number of contending schools of thought over their interpretation.

Indeterminism is the idea that events are not caused, or not caused deterministically.

Implications for ethics

Some hard determinists would hold robotic beings of sufficient intelligence morally responsible (pictured above: attempts to build lifelike machines). Actroid-DER 01.jpg
Some hard determinists would hold robotic beings of sufficient intelligence morally responsible (pictured above: attempts to build lifelike machines).

Hard determinists reject free will. Critics often suggest that, in so doing, the hard determinist also rejects ethics. The key to this argument rests on the idea that holding a person morally responsible requires them to make a choice between two, or more, truly possible alternatives. If choice is indeed impossible, then it would be incorrect to hold anyone morally responsible for his or her actions. If this argument holds, hard determinists are restricted to moral nihilism. This feature, however, is tenable only as far as hard determinists discard responsibility. In a necessitarian world, recourse to merit and blameworthiness is toned down while adherence to ethical and legal values is not ruined. Persons may be appreciated as carriers, executors, and defenders of morality. Alternatively, the choice to be regretful of past misdeeds becomes unreasonable. Nevertheless, one can admonish oneself for one's lapses and resolve to avoid similar behavior in the future. [20] Those hard determinists who defend ethical realism would object to the premise that contra-causal free will is necessary for ethics. Those who are also ethically naturalistic may also point out that there are good reasons to punish criminals: it is a chance to modify their behaviour, or their punishment can act as a deterrent for others who would otherwise act in the same manner. The hard determinist could even argue that this understanding of the true and various causes of a psychopath's behaviour, for instance, allow them to respond even more reasonably or compassionately. [21]

Ethics branch of philosophy that systematizes, defends, and recommends concepts of right and wrong conduct

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.

Moral nihilism is the meta-ethical view that nothing is morally right or wrong.

Ethical naturalism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:

  1. Ethical sentences express propositions.
  2. Some such propositions are true.
  3. Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of human opinion.
  4. These moral features of the world are reducible to some set of non-moral features

Hard determinists acknowledge that humans do, in some sense, "choose", or deliberate – although in a way that obeys natural laws. For example, a hard determinist might see humans as a sort of thinking machines, but believe it is inaccurate to say they "came to a decision" or "chose". Generalization of event causation should circumvent overstatement of external impulses. Autotelic personalities show a high rate of activities all by themselves. The capacity to resist psychological assault is impressive evidence of autarkic resources. Determinists even admit that with corresponding knowledge, changes in the genetic depository and consequently behavior are possible.

Up to now, the concepts and terminology of legal affairs follow the pre-reflexive belief in alternative possibilities. As scientific insight advances, the juridical attitude becomes increasingly "external": there should be fewer emotions about offender's will and more concern about the effects of offenses on society. The retributive function of punishment should be rejected as irrational and unjustified. "Lex talionis" is discarded already because of deficient correlation between crime and penalty. If the inveterate notion of "mens rea" is used at all, then only to distinguish intentional actions from inadvertent ones and not to designate an autonomous undertaking of the lawbreaker. At the same time, it is justified to require the perpetrator to critically reconsider his intentions and character, to demand apology and compensation in victims' favor. The rehabilitation service should be used to train the risky circle for keeping the norms of social life. [22]

Psychological effects of belief in hard determinism

Some behavioral anomalies have been observed in persons cultivating the habit of causal awareness. Increased aggressiveness, excessive compliance, and reduced helpfulness are reported. Critical assessment of one's own former conduct appeared abated. [23]

William James was an American pragmatist philosopher who coined the terms "soft determinist" and "hard determinist" in an influential essay titled "The Dilemma of Determinism". [24] He argued against determinism, holding that the important issue is not personal responsibility, but hope. He believed that thorough-going determinism leads either to a bleak pessimism or to a degenerate subjectivism in moral judgment. He proposed the way to escape the dilemma is to allow a role for chance. James was careful to explain that he would rather "debate about objects than words,” which indicates he did not insist on saying that replacing determinism with a model including chance had to mean we had "free will.”

The determinist would counter-argue that there is still reason for hope. Whether or not the universe is determined does not change the fact that the future is unknown, and might very well always be. From a naturalist point of view, a person's actions still play a role in the shape of that future. Founder and director of the Center of Naturalism, Thomas W. Clark, explains that humans are not merely the playthings of patterned, natural forces in the universe –but rather we are ourselves examples of those forces. [25] The deterministic view aligns our representations with the faculties and possibilities we actually possess but it should avoid misleading introspection. Admitting agents’ dependence on a drastic background can enhance insight, moderate severity and spare unproductive suffering. [26] In so far as the mind comprehends universal necessity, the power of emotions is diminished. [27]

See also

Related Research Articles

Pantheism is the belief that reality is identical with divinity, or that all-things compose an all-encompassing, immanent god. Pantheist belief does not recognize a distinct personal god, anthropomorphic or otherwise, and instead characterizes a broad range of doctrines differing in forms of relationships between reality and divinity. Pantheistic concepts date back thousands of years, and pantheistic elements have been identified in various religious traditions. The term "pantheism" was coined by mathematician Joseph Raphson in 1697 and has since been used to describe the beliefs of a variety of people and organizations.

Mind–body dualism Philosophical theory that mental phenomena are non-physical and that matter exists independently of mind

Mind–body dualism, or mind–body duality, is a view in the philosophy of mind that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical, or that the mind and body are distinct and separable. Thus, it encompasses a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, and between subject and object, and is contrasted with other positions, such as physicalism and enactivism, in the mind–body problem.

Compatibilism is the belief that free will and determinism are mutually compatible and that it is possible to believe in both without being logically inconsistent. Compatibilists believe freedom can be present or absent in situations for reasons that have nothing to do with metaphysics. They define free will as freedom to act according to one's motives.

Classical Pantheism, as defined by Charles Hartshorne in 1953, is the theological deterministic philosophies of pantheists such as Baruch Spinoza and the Stoics. Hartshorne sought to distinguish panentheism, which rejects determinism, from deterministic pantheism.

Naturalistic pantheism, also known as scientific pantheism, is a form of pantheism. It has been used in various ways such as to relate God or divinity with concrete things, determinism, or the substance of the Universe. God, from these perspectives, is seen as the aggregate of all unified natural phenomena. The phrase has often been associated with the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza, although academics differ on how it is used.

Libertarianism (metaphysics)

Libertarianism is one of the main philosophical positions related to the problems of free will and determinism, which are part of the larger domain of metaphysics. In particular, libertarianism, which is an incompatibilist position, argues that free will is logically incompatible with a deterministic universe and that agents have free will, and that, therefore, determinism is false. One of the first clear formulations of libertarianism is found in John Duns Scotus; in theological context metaphysical libertarianism was notably defended by Jesuit authors like Luis de Molina and Francisco Suárez against rather compatibilist Thomist Báñezianism. Other important metaphysical libertarians in the early modern period were René Descartes, George Berkeley, Immanuel Kant, and Thomas Reid. Roderick Chisholm was a prominent defender of libertarianism in the 20th century, and contemporary libertarians include Robert Kane, Peter van Inwagen and Robert Nozick.

Predeterminism is the idea that all events are determined in advance. Predeterminism is the philosophy that all events of history, past, present and future, have been already decided or are already known, including human actions.

Peter van Inwagen is an American analytic philosopher and the John Cardinal O'Hara Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is also a Research Professor of Philosophy at Duke University each Spring. He previously taught at Syracuse University and earned his PhD from the University of Rochester in 1969 under the direction of Richard Taylor. Van Inwagen is one of the leading figures in contemporary metaphysics, philosophy of religion, and philosophy of action. He was the president of the Society of Christian Philosophers from 2010 to 2013.

In the philosophy of mind, psychophysical parallelism is the theory that mental and bodily events are perfectly coordinated, without any causal interaction between them. As such, it affirms the correlation of mental and bodily events, but denies a direct cause and effect relation between mind and body. This coordination of mental and bodily events has been postulated to occur either in advance or at the time of the event. On this view, mental and bodily phenomena are independent but yet inseparable, like two sides of a coin.

Theological determinism is a form of predeterminism which states that all events that happen are pre-ordained, or/and predestined to happen, by a God/gods, or that they are destined to occur given its omniscience. Theological determinism exists in a number of religions, including Jainism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is also supported by proponents of Classical pantheism such as the Stoics and Baruch Spinoza.

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Free will in antiquity is a philosophical concept.

Technological determinism is a reductionist theory that assumes that a society's technology determines the development of its social structure and cultural values. Technological determinism tries to understand how technology has had an impact on human action and thought. Changes in technology are the primary source for changes in society. The term is believed to have originated from Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929), an American sociologist and economist. The most radical technological determinist in the United States in the 20th century was most likely Clarence Ayres who was a follower of Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey. William Ogburn was also known for his radical technological determinism.


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