Free Will v. Determinism


The problem of free will mainly lies between two distinct notions, and these notions are determinism and free will.  The questions at hand are, either a deterministic future exists and free will does not exist, or does deterministic future co-exist with the notion of free will via some form.


 Prior to proceeding any further inquiry on the problem of free will, and providing the suggested solutions.  We will first give an account what free will is and determinism is meant to be in this context, and then move to the two particular solutions in opposition.  Our approach is to provide the information in an unbiased manner, and to merely present the complexities of this problem in a reasonably understood manner taking into to account the wide use of technical terms and philosophical jargon.  At the end of the information, we intend to give a reasonable solution based on the various researched information. 


The best approach to explaining free will in this context and in relation to the given problem is to provide two definitions of the word.  These two definitions will set the basis of the two main positions taken on the problem of free will.  The incompatibilist definition of free will believes free will to directly be a free action or to act freely.  The compatibilist take a different view and do not provide a direct definition, but do state that free will is a necessary condition of moral responsibility.


Let me briefly discuss the two main positions concerning the free will problem in an oversimplified manner.  The incompatibilist claims that if determinism exists then free will is impossible.  The compatibilist claim that determinism does exist, and they attempt to give an explanation of how it exists with free will.


But what does this notion of determinism mean exactly, and why is it that it acts in conflict with free will.  Determinism simply stated is the thesis or notion that the past determines a unique future.  Further explanation is needed to understand the meaning of determinism.  A seemingly general consensus definition of the notion of determinism, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is every event is causally necessitated by antecedent events.  This definition may seem a bit convoluted when one is unfamiliar with the philosophical concepts, but it generally states that there exists particular event(s) which are necessarily needed to cause another distinct particular event.  This definition of determinism as the direct implications that determinism holds that there can only be one future based on the facts of the past and the facts of the laws of nature.


In order to begin to attempt to comprehend the solutions of the free will problem further understanding of the problem of free will is needed.  It seems that the problem of free will apparently has the implication of being a single notion concept, but as various philosophical literatures have portrayed it follows that it is better viewed as a range of problems concerning free will.  Although there are a range of problems concerning free will this particular account of the problem of freedom will account for, alternative possibilities and the source of action, are two of the major problems concerning free will.  Alternative possibilities concerns the aspect of a freely willed agent having the capability to have done otherwise, and source of action deals with the idea that the action must follow or originate from the agent, in other words the agent is seen as the ultimate source.


Please note that in the following topics, agent is to be understood as a rational, being having reason, and animate, being having movement, object possessing causal powers.  Causal powers simply meaning to have the capability to cause a particular event.  In the context of this section we will not undertake the notion of an inanimate or irrational agent.  The main reason for the inanimate agent exception is that it seems implausible for an inanimate object to cause an event.  Similarly so, an agent will be said to be rational on the basis that rationality seems to be necessarily related to free will particularly reasoning through particular choices.  Although there may be further things to be said about what agents actually are, but for simplistic reason this is how we will present the material concerning the problems of free will.




According to the incompatibilist, in order for free will to exist then an agent must be the originator of the action and in order for these actions to occur there must also exist certain alternatives possibilities.  Incompatibilism claims that in order for the notion of a free will or free action to exist; all forms of determinism should be false.  The incompatibilist will state that some sort of indeterminism is required and needs to be placed at certain places or time.  Indeterminism can be placed in a subset of the following categories: noncausal accounts or events or actions uncaused by anything; event-causal or caused in a nondeterministically way; agent-causal accounts or caused by a particular agent.




In the noncausal account of indeterminism, free actions need not have an internal causal structure or that free actions have no cause at all. Some require that it either have no cause or be only non-deterministically caused.  These free actions begin in one’s mind.  They are mental actions that take form of decisions or choices.  In reference to body movements such as tilting one’s head or raising one’s leg, these are known as volitions.  They are driven by the mental action to bring that particular movement about.  Carl Ginet and Hugh McCann have advanced the non-causal account and added that such basic actions contain an intrinsic feature.  Ginet describes this feature as the “actish phenomenal quality” where it seems to the agent that she is making that event happen but should be weary as to not to appeal to compulsion.  On the other hand, Hugh McCann holds that these actions are intrinsic intentionality.  Once the intention is present, the decision is made to take action.  The content of the intention is not what matters but the nature of the decision that one performs.  Yet both Ginet and McCann agree that the action should not be causally determined and both have an idea of an intrinsic feature for such actions.


Some could argue against noncausal accounts of indeterminism in reference to control and reason-explanation.  Control being that when we perform some type of action we are exercising what is called active control over behavior.  In reason-explanation, actions take place due to rational self-control and how to determine to exercise such action in a given situation. If we are to act out of our own free will then providing of how much control is required and to provide reason for which an action is taken is something that those that argue against noncausal accounts feel that incompatibilist fail to explain.         


In control, the agent is exercising control and there could be some causal influences such as certain beliefs, desires and intentions that affect her choice.  In Ginet’s actish phenomenal quality that is present in basic actions it seems to the agent that she is producing the action.  The actual dynamic of the action is being performed by her.

Whereas McCann argues that there are two aspects to active control.  One is that the basic action is intrinsically intentional and two that the actual creation of the action is being done by the agent.  They both show that actions are intrinsic and being performed by her. But if given that intention of the action can be separated from a cause, the intention alone would not be able to function. He also argues the second aspect of the action is the activeness of the basic action and he argues that it may not be reduced.  This aspect of active control is claimed by McCann as crucial.  Incompatibilists argue that he fails to explain this activeness or the dynamic of an action and since it is left unexplained then it does not give a proper clarification of what this activeness is then it does not account for the action and it becomes a free action.


In reason-explanation the argument states that the agent performs the basic action due to having reasons for performing it and how to determine to do the action by offering an explanation. Both Ginet and McCann would argue that desires and intentions are causing actions to be performed by her. It is these intentions and desires that cause such basic actions and citing these reasons that give an explanation of the actions performed.  Yet, incompatabilists would argue that an agent is open to consider many factors prior to making a decision and the decision will be made for different reasons.  If Ginet’s and McCann’s arguments in reference to desires and intentions were to be correct, it would be unimaginable for every reason to enter into an intention.


Now turning to event-causal accounts of indeterminism, incompatibilist take a compatibilist account and add events involving the agent; the agent exercises some active control and the actions are performed for reasons but it could have been the case that the agent not performs the action according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  It is left open to the agent to perform it or not.  Efforts of free will accounts have been contributed by Robert Kane. In his book, The Oxford Handbook of Free Will, Kane points out that it is necessary to reverse the talk of free action back to the talk of free will. Kane holds that in exercising free will, it is up to us to make choices from alternatives.  He further states that the source of actions is in us and could not be done by anyone else or anything else.  With these types of actions of course come into questions things such as moral responsibility, our personal worth, self-control, and behavior.  Now these notions may be of importance value because they affect how our world comes to be.  Yet, Kane presents that the free will or to act freely or free decision comes from the agent.  He has presented the idea of “self-forming willings” which are mental actions or acts of will.  These can come to be when the action performed by the agent but was not causally determined but it could be that it was possibly causally determined but somewhere during the mental process there were some free actions that were not prior to taking action.  These come to be actions pertaining to moral choices and responsibilities.  In these moral choices, there is conflict present.  There is the question of whether the agent should choose what ought to be or what the agent desires to do.  If driven by the obligation to moral commitment the effort that is placed on her will not to give in to the desire and choose the best morally decision, then it is this effort of will that is indeterminate.  The following of such indeterminate example is given by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  Robert Kane has measured this effort to that of a microphysical particle.  It is explained that because this microphysical particle is not known to break a barrier because of the particle’s position or force is not known or cannot be placed that it is considered indeterminate. So is the effort of the will.  The attempt by it is indeterminate because it is unknown which way the decision will be made. Robert Kane in his book Free Will and Values has stated that there is an account of uncertainty in theories of modern quantum physics which can be essential to small systems of energy but not to the human scale. In order to obtain human freedom, Kant argues that indeterminism is a necessary condition that must be present at the moment of making a choice or decision. It is less important in the overt action in relation to the will.  The notion of free will is making choices then performing actions and not by the circumstances whereas the compatibilist would say the notion of actions come to be from reasons then choice.  These decisions or choices need to meet certain criteria.  First, that in no way were they coerced or done by compulsion but that the action was done by reasons.  Second, the choice or decision made from the strength of one over the other.  The reasons for choosing the one alternative had to outweigh the competing desire.  Third, whatever decision or choice done by the agent there was an alternative open to her to choose from.  Thus in these “self-forming willings” the agent has been responsible for the choice or decision.  In a deterministic world where there would be no alternatives then the agent would act according to the only way possible because there would be no options open for her.  Her decision or choice would then the moral responsibility would not be placed on her because she had no other choice.  But for incompatabilists this availability of alternatives is needed to make choices and if the world was deterministic then there would be none.  These event-causal accounts of indeterminism imply that even though some action came about by some causal account during the process formation or deliberation of choices, the agent had alternatives to choose from thus enabling the agent to make a choice and therefore carry out an action.  This type of Incompatibilism adds value to the world we live in.  To some extent agents that we are can change how the world changes every day and add value or worth.



In the last of the three types of indeterminism we find agent-causal accounts.  This account of indeterminism holds that the agent is the sole originator of her free actions.  They are strictly done by her. In reference to mind and body Derek R. Brookes and Thomas Reid in their book, An Inquiry into the Human Mind:  On the Principles of Common Sense, have come up with some accounts on how these actions originate in one’s mind and how some form of indeterminism is present.  They both agree that the anatomy of the mind is known because it can be mapped out and labeled but it is what is in the mind that is unable to be dissected.  The activity of the mind cannot be mapped or fully explained.  The actions may help us catch a glimpse of what these exercises may be since they are converted to overt actions but also subject to how we perceive them.  They claim that we are the sole examiners of our mind.  Only we can examine and dissect what is occurring in our mental processes.  Yet, they also claim that perceptions and notions in our mind at the time that the agent is deliberating can be affected by many different aspects such as habits or associations.  Thus, it will become hard to pin point exactly where they came from.  Brookes and Reid give the following example in reference to this type of mental activity:


A mind is compared to a chemist, the material are furnished to him by nature and then he in turn mixes them with others, compounds them, dissolves, and evaporates them.  This is done until they take a different form or appearance to the point where it would be hard to know what they were before and even impossible to put them back into their original form.


This could be the sort of indeterminism that is required in an agent-causal account.  These same types of actions are mental and originate in the agent’s mind.  Thus, incompatibilist believe that free action begins in one’s mind. Since these processes occur in one’s mind then the agent is the originator of her actions.  This could be a notable account of an agent-causal account of indeterminism.


In conclusion, incompatibilist require that determinism be false.  They also require that some sort of indeterminism be present in order for the agent to be able to act freely or out of her own will.  In the three types of indeterminism which are noncausal accounts which is where a free action is uncaused by anything, event-causal accounts where an action may have been causally determined but some evidence of indeterminism was present, and last the agent-causal account where the agent is the sole originator, all prove that free will or free action comes from the source-the agent.  It is because at one point or another there might be a minimal account of indeterminacy that in turn make these free actions or the ability to be able to act freely.  



Compatibilism provides one possible solution to the range of problems of free will.  There are several solutions to this problem, but a general compatibilistic approach to the problem is to claim a particular balance between determinism and free will.  The compatibilist hold true that free will is a necessary condition of moral responsibility, and this being the case compatibilist will contend that the compatibility lies between moral responsibility and determinism.  As a result of this apparent necessary relation between freedom and morality, a neutral definition, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is the unique ability of persons to exercise control over their conduct in a manner necessary for moral responsibility.  Moral responsibility entails that there exists an agent, or person, who is held accountable for their morally significant conduct.  One particular issue that I have with this definition is that it does not hold for any notion of amorality, but in an attempt to present the material with some form of objectivity I shall hold off on this particular issue.




The alternative possibilities issue is usually portrayed as the Garden of Forking Paths Model, and it brings about one of the incompatibilist argument which is known as the Classical Incompatibilist Argument.  The Garden of Forking Paths is the idea that at various point in life we will be lead to more than one path of branching.  The control that the proposed agent is said to have is the ability to have chosen from various alternatives.  The incompatibilist suggests from this argument that if an agent acts of their own free will then she could have acted otherwise, and determinism, understood in a strict sense, follows that there could only be one future possible.  Thus the incompatibilist will argue that if determinism exists, then the freedom to have done otherwise disappears.




The source model issue is basically understood as an agent being one’s source from which the action is originated.  Determinism is held in contention again with the incompatibilist because according to determinism there are facts of the past combined with the laws of nature that provide causally sufficient conditions for the production of an agent’s actions.  One can obviously see that the issue here is that the source of the actions are considered to be outside of the agent because of the determinacy of historical events, and thus the agent in question is not said to be the ultimate source of action.




One interesting feature of the two main arguments concerning the incompatibilist positions is that neither the Classical nor Source models are relevant to each other.  As a result of their independency of the arguments, the literature argues that even if one of the arguments is proven false the compatibilist is still left to prove the other false as well.  If I may interject here for one moment, I believe that a good move against these two particular arguments would be to find some sort of particular necessary relation to both of them, and in doing so then you could effectively eliminate both by just proving one wrong.  I suppose that this is theoretically plausible, but in practical purposes of philosophy it can prove to be difficult.




The progression of compatibilist views is commonly seen as three transitional movements.  The first movement of compatibilism was composed of philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and David Hume, and their idea’s concerning the problem of free will were characterized as being known as Classical Compatibilism.  The second movement of the compatibilist progression, noted around the 1960s, was marked by three influential arguments posed by Carl Ginet, Harry Frankfurt, and P.F Strawson.  The third movement is generally made up from various divergence pathways which emerged from the influential arguments of the 1960s.




Most of the classical compatibilist views were based on a simplistic way of viewing freedom.  They viewed freedom as being nothing more than a person’s ability to do what she wishes without any obstacle in opposition.  Hobbes in his book “Leviathan,” commented on his notion of freedom and stated it to be characterized by, “No stop, in doing what he has the will, desire, or inclination to do.”  Some philosophers broke the freedom analysis of classical compatibilist into two components.  The positive component which is the power of agency, be it wills, desires, etc, and the negative component which entailed the person to be unencumbered.  One of the main issues with classical compatibilism was that freedom was strictly a condition of action which implies that free will was dependant on actions occurring.  One could see how free will could have been compatible with determinism since it is not always the case that a person performs a willful action with opposition.


Classical compatibilism like many theories encounters some short comings.  Consider one of the main counter arguments concerning mentally ill people.  A person could act as she wants to, so a person of this case would be unencumbered, but how is that we suppose that they are acting of their own free will.  One example that was mentioned in the literature depicted a person who had an illness characteristic of hallucinations.  Under the hallucinations an agent can act as she wants to unencumbered, but she would not be said to have a freely willed action.


In light of the two main incompatibilist arguments, there rose a situation where so philosophers only chose to deal with one of the problems of the incompatibilist arguments.  This led some philosophers to be known as one-way classical compatibilist.  One such one-way classical compatibilist was Hobbes because he exclusively argued the source incompatibilist argument.  Two-way compatibilist took a more challenging approach and attempted to explain the classical and source incompatibilist arguments.  One manner in which the two-way compatibilist contended the issues at hand was known as conditional analysis.  Giving a rough definition of the analysis, it followed that any assertion of a person could have done otherwise was just reporting a mere counterfactual conditional.  These conditionals being understood as merely being a way in which things could have been, but were not the case in the actual world.  One of the problems with this analysis would be that in some instances you would wield improper results of a persons having done otherwise.  Thus the classical compatibilist argument was said to be ineffective because if an unencumbered agent does what she wants, if she is determined, then she could not have done otherwise.




Moving towards the second movement of compatibilism, philosophers provided semi-concrete responses to the incompatibilist arguments.  One argument came about by a particular article written by Harry Frankfurt titled ‘Moral Responsibility and Alternate Possibilities’.  In this controversial article Frankfurt attacked the principle of alternative possibilities (PAP) which stated, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, that, “an agent is morally responsible for what she does only if she can do otherwise.”  Frankfurt argued that given particular factors in a particular case then an agent could not have acted otherwise as a result of some external factors.  His argument set out to prove that (PAP) is false.  A similar account of the example is depicted by the following statement:


Jones has resolved to shoot Smith. Black has learned of Jones' plan and wants Jones to shoot Smith. But Black would prefer that Jones shoot Smith on his own. However, concerned that Jones might waiver in his resolve to shoot Smith, Black secretly arranges things so that, if Jones should show any sign at all that he will not shoot Smith (something Black has the resources to detect), Black will be able to manipulate Jones in such a way that Jones will shoot Smith. As things transpire, Jones follows through with his plans and shoots Smith for his own reasons. No one else in any way threatened or coerced Jones, offered Jones a bribe, or even suggested that he shoot Smith. Jones shot Smith under his own steam. Black never intervened. (Stanford)


Under the assumption the argument is correct then determinism does not threaten free will by its ability to do otherwise.  In other words, according to Frankfurt, the ability to do otherwise is not necessary for the compatibility of determinism and free will.  The effect caused by this manner of examples led many philosophers to seek alternate accounts to turn away from the classical incompatibilist argument.


Another important figure in the second era was a philosopher by the name of P.F. Strawson.  He actually took a different approach on the free will problem entirely.  His focus on the free will problem was a more in depth moralistic approach.  One of the issues that Strawson had against both compatibilist and incompatibilist positions was that they were, in a sense, ignoring the vast importance of moral responsibility in the free will problem.  Strawson argued that determinism poses no threat to the free will problem once morally reactive attitudes are properly appreciated.  These reactive attitudes were described in a paper titled “Freedom and Resentment” that he wrote in 1962.  The focus of the attitudes was based on the interpersonal relations of human. (Western)  Some of these reactive attitudes consisted of resentment, forgiveness, and reciprocal love.  He emphasized, practically speaking, it is inconceivable to abandon these patterns of response because, “Human commitment to participation in ordinary interpersonal relationships is too thoroughgoing and deeply rooted (Freedom and Resentment).”


Strawson developed a theory concerning moral responsibility and four specific arguments.  His theory consisted in part of excusing a person, holding someone morally responsible, and the relationship of these attitudes to humans.  His arguments sought to prove the necessity of moral responsibility in the nature of human life.  Strawson offered philosophy a new perspective on the free will problem and also some insight on the issues and implications that the nature moral responsibility entails.




The third major influence of the second movement was, in my opinion, probably the most influential.  Carl Ginet is credited with formulating the consequence argument that sets out to prove that this world is a deterministic world.  One of the formulations of the consequence argument was formulated by Peter Van Inwagen and he provides a summarization of the three main arguments in The Oxford Handbook of Free Will.  It goes as follows:


If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past.  But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are.  Therefore, the consequences of these things are not up to us.


The consequence argument invokes that natural laws and facts are power necessary, and thus not enabling the power of a person to act in contrary with these facts and natural laws.  One strong example of the consequence argument is the power necessity of mathematics. It seems reasonable to believe that no one could prove the laws of mathematics wrong.


The consequence argument, if necessarily true, has the implication that there is only one future, and it will unfold in one particular way, therefore not enabling a person with any form of alternatives to any situation.  The argument alone does not resolve the problem of free will.  It just leaves the burden of proof on the compatibilist to prove that free will acts in concordance with determinism.


Contemporary compatibilism, which is the common name of the third movement, has branched off mainly namely to make an attempted attack towards the incompatibilist arguments via various pathways taken from the second stage arguments.  Various approaches against incompatibilist arguments emerged Fischer’s and Frankfurt’s works to disprove the necessities of the alternative possibilities by providing specific distinctions concerning alternative possibilities.  According to Frankfurt’s work, there is a distinction between acting with a will that is free and acting of one’s own free will.  The latter statement does not require any form alternative possibilities.  According to Fischer’s work, he provides the distinction between regulative control, meaning that we can regulate between different alternatives, and guidance control, meaning there exist guides of conduct even if an agent has no alternatives.


As a result of these distinctions, contemporary compatibilist attack incompatibilism in two generalized ways.  The first makes no appeal to regulative control, and these particular arguments fix solely on the source incompatibilist argument.  There arguments set out to prove that the agent is a source, but the agent is not the ultimate source.  The second form of attack is retaining the classical compatibilist commitment and attempt to show that agents are able to act with some form of regulative control.


Other forms of argument that have been formed as a result of the second movement of compatibilism are the compatibilist responses to the consequence argument.  As we have seen previously, this strong argument acts for the incompatibility of determinism and freedom requiring alternative possibilities.  There exist compatibilist that defend a form a regulative control, and they attempt to given reasons why this powerful argument fails.  These compatibilists attempt to do this by challenging the power of necessity and the past, challenging power necessity and the laws of nature, and challenging the inferences based on power necessity.  These compatibilists have not effectively proven that the consequence argument is erroneous.  Although let us consider the consequence argument be unsound, then these compatibilist arguing for regulative control would still have to provide a positive argument for the compatibility of determinism and regulative control.


Daniel Dennett provides the compatibilist with a form of argument known as the multiple viewpoints compatibilism.  Dennett’s advancement in compatibilism is based on the many developments of the philosophy of mind.  Dennett states that there is an intentional stance and a personal stance and these are part of the intentional system that explains the compatibility between determinism and free will.  In his essay, “On Giving Libertarians What They Say They Want”, Dennett gives an informal meaning of intentional stance and personal stance.  He states:


“The predictions one makes from it are intentional predictions; one is viewing the computer as an intentional system.  One predicts behavior in such a case by ascribing to the system the possession of certain information and supposed in it to be directed by certain goals, and then by working out the most reasonable or appropriate action on the basis of these ascriptions and suppositions…Personal stance presupposes the intentional stance, and seems, to cursory view at least, to be just the annexation of moral commitment to the intentional.” (On Giving…)


Dennett’s view on free will rejects regulative control by stating that the ability to have done otherwise is irrelevant to the control dealing with moral responsibility.  He says that free will lies on the basis of rational consideration through some form of self-reflection. 


Harry Frankfurt introduced that idea of a hierarchical compatibilism which in some cases is known as Frankfurt’s hierarchical mesh theory.  Frankfurt’s main argument is that an agent must have the ability to cause self-evaluation which is demonstrated via the use of first-order and second-order desires.  Frankfurt defines “will” as the free first-order desires that move us to action that act complementary with the second-order volitions, these are second-order desires that move us to action.  This provides a possibly good account of the problem of free will resolved, but it remains with many difficulties to overcome, and those being the ever ascending desire stages and the problem of a manipulated control mesh.


The reasons-responsive compatibilism was designed by Fischer.  Fischer has found the need to provide a “mechanism-based” approach to moral responsibility rather than the “agent-based” approach.  In theory Fischer states that, “We wish to present a general theory that indicates the circumstances in which individuals are morally responsible for their actions and omissions, the consequences of these actions and omissions, and perhaps also for aspects of their characters.”  Looking at this theory simply, it works through a rather complex system of receptivity and reactivity.  According to Fischer’s theory, agents who are unresponsive to appropriate rational considerations do not act out of free will, but agents who do respond to rational considerations do.  This theory functions on the basis of a mechanism-based reasons-responsive theory.  By offering this theory Fischer wishes to maintain that there is a compatibility with guidance control and determinism.  Below one can view a diagram depicting a sketch of the process of the moderate reason-responsive theory.  This is probably the best argument that the compatibilist has for the solution of free will yet, but there are still some details that need be resolved in order for it to claim to give an account of the free will problem. 



Einstein stated:

"I don't believe in the freedom of the will.  Schopenhauer's' saying that a very human can do what he wants but can not will what he wants accompanies me in all of circumstances and reconciles me with the actions of humans, even when they are truly distorting.   This knowledge of the non-freedom of the will protects me from my good humor and taking much too seriously myself and my fellow humans as acting and judging individuals."


Modern scientists, such as Einstein, contend that determinism is essential in the pedagogy of science.  However, there are distinct interpretations of how determinism in science would be viewed. Before modern science, scientist in the 19th century viewed free will as an illusion because their best science, Newtonian physics, was founded on deterministic principles.  19th century scientist viewed the state of the world as being determined by very small particles of matter that move about in virtually empty chaotic – dynamical systems of space.  These particles act on one another with forces that are uniquely determined by their positioning and velocities.  Furthermore, the forces of interaction uniquely determine (in accordance to Newton's laws) the subsequent movement of particles.  Thus, the subsequent state of the world is deterministic.  The focus of the 19th century “free will” illusion argument has two central themes.  First that the world is "really" space in which small particles move along definite trajectories and secondly determinism, the notion that events in the world have specific causes at particular times, is true.


As stated above, there are distinct interpretations of how determinism should be viewed in modern science.  For instance, philosopher/scientist sought how to explain Newtonian physics by trying to determine whether or not a system had underlying deterministic laws with chaotic phenomena, or had a system of indeterministic laws (or no laws) that have genuinely stochastic phenomena.  An additional question that philosopher/scientist might pose is whether such questions (about chaotic systems of Newtonian physics) can carry over to one of the scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century – Quantum Mechanics.


Quantum Mechanics is situated on a probabilistic account of phenomena. This is substantially different from Newtonian physics that established the possibility of chaotic systems in physics.  The scientific breakthrough of Quantum Mechanics not only gave the perception that it was a strongly non-deterministic theory, but it requires that the pedagogy of science be a reflective and critical philosophy.  Essentially, among the interpretations of determinism in science, philosopher/scientist such as Einstein attempted a reconciliation of determinism with science, sighting the non-deterministic theory of Quantum Mechanics as a defect and an incomplete theory of reality (in addition to the fact that it didn’t comply with Einstein’s theory of relativity), which needed to be removed eventually.  The methodology that Einstein, and other physicist, had proposed was a hidden variable theory

God does not play dice” – Albert Einstein

The hidden variable theory can best be explained as an objective foundation underlying the level of indeterminacy.  In other words, underneath the probabilities of quantum mechanics, there lye several fixed variables that ultimately make these indeterminate probabilities determinate.  A really good sense of this theory is that the course of the universe is deterministic, but humans are shielded from the knowledge we can gain from these determinative factors (sounds a little like Plato’s Demiurge in the Timeus).

A similar example of the hidden variable theory is Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiment of the “cat”.  The experiment can best be explained by a translation of Schrodinger’s “The Present Situation of Quantum Mechanics”. 

One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.


It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a "blurred model" for representing reality. In itself it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.

Schrödinger’s articulation of the “Cat” speaks to the restricted indeterminacy of microscopic/atomic particles, and how they transform into a macroscopic indeterminacy.  Schrödinger argues that without the presence of an observer of the quantum scenario, we can never resolve the tension between the macroscopic and microscopic worlds.  In other words, the experiment stops the indeterminate state of the cat, while in the box, being neither dead nor alive.  This is due to upon opening the box a day later, we can find a discrete state of whether or not the cat died or survived.  Essentially, it is not the case that the indeterminate microscopic state of the cat does not spill over to the observed macroscopic state of the cat after the experiment. 

However, in the sense of Schrödinger’s argument, what exactly are we observing between the dead/alive cat prior to the poisoned metal cage and the radioactive decay/hydrocyanic acid that destroys or saves the cat?

The answer to this question lies with Schrödinger’s time dependent derivative of the quantum state (quantum state = the dead or alive state of the cat within the cage), which explicitly and uniquely predicts the wave length with time (time = indeterminate state of the dead/alive cat).  For instance, perhaps we wrote a wave equation that describes the state of the cat.  The intrinsic notion of the uncertain/indeterminate state of the cat (it being dead or alive) during the process means that we have probability waves.  Once we have, a day later, discovered whether or not the cat has survived or died, we can now say that the wave equation has collapsed because of our observation of the dead/alive cat.

Therefore Schrödinger’s cat, in reference to him showing the incompleteness of quantum physics because of indeterminacy, attempts to reconcile determinacy with the objective reality of the wavelength.  Ultimately, if we accept wave functions as a reality, than we have an account of a hidden variable that predicts determinacy. 

However, no matter how hard Einstein, and other philosopher/scientist, attempted to reconcile determinism with science through Quantum Mechanics, their attempts where to no avail.  The hidden variable theory does not prove that Quantum Mechanics is at all defective and a violation of reality.  Nor does it disprove the short comings of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  Rather, the hidden variable theory helps shows how Quantum Mechanics violates classical notions of physics, in addition to preserving Quantum Mechanics as our best science of our time.


An account of an attempt to show the inadequacies of the hidden variable theory was an experiment by the philosopher John Bell.  Bell’s Theory states that no physical theory of local hidden variables can ever reproduce all the predictions of quantum physics. 

This shows that the hidden variables of indeterminacy require a certain type of phenomena that can’t be accounted for in quantum physics.  This requirement of locality became a problematic conundrum called quantum entanglement, which is very similar to Schrödinger’s wave collapse.

Some resuscitation of the hidden variable theory can be seen in David Bohm’s ontological reconstruction of the theory.  What Bohm does is concede the “non-local” argument provided by Bell, but articulates that the particles communicate with each other about their states.  This interpretation has been rejected, however, due to the impossibility of all the particles of the universe being able, to instantaneously, communicate information with each other.

However way a philosopher/scientist slices or dices the uncertainty’s of Quantum Mechanics, the principles of indeterminism, with probability as its focal point, still remain the unbeaten ontology.  Incompatibilist, such as Robert Kane, continue to defend the incompatibilist free in Quantum Mechanics and chaos.

However, there are several newer interpretations of indeterminism in classic mechanics.  Such philosophers, like Karl R. Popper, have attempted to dismiss the notion that classic mechanics is only governed by determinism.  Popper, and others, argue that there are more similarities between classical and quantum physics then what meets the eye.  Popper extrapolates on the importance of this observation, and calls upon the concept of the “predicator” in classical systems in order to show the relation between quantum and mechanical mechanics. 

(                                                                                                                                    (Popper, 119)

“Deterministic metaphysicians can comfortably hold to their view knowing they cannot be empirically refuted, but so can indeterministic ones as well.” (Suppes (1993), p. 254)


Like physics, biology attempts to include the notion of determinism within the parameters of the pedagogy.  Basic biology tells us that various aberrations of out genes lead to the inter-heredity of characteristics, or sometimes abnormalities such as physical or mental diseases.   With this notion in mind, we can assert with quite certainty that human beings are physically determined by our genes.

However, a group of genetic determinist are attempting to take it farther by making the claim that human behavior is also determined by our genetic makeup.  Ultimately, any effort made to change our moral nature is useless because we are victims to our genetic makeup – dancing on the strings of our genes.  The free will/determinism debate can best be realized by two distinct methodologies of genetic determinism: genetic fixity and innate capacity


The doctrine that holds that genes of a parent determine the characteristics of their offspring is called genetic fixity.  The compatibilist philosopher, Daniel Dennett, names this type of genetic determinism “sphexishness” (borrowed from D.F. Hofstadter) from the example of the intelligent behavior of the digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus).  What Dennett articulates from “spexishness” is a general response to the idea that the wasp’s behavior can be mindlessly mechanical, and the possibility that this behavior spills over to human beings as well.  This kind of behavior has been coined an “intuition pump”.  An example of an intuition pump is the idea that we are all puppets, and all of our reality is determined.  Dennett argues, however, that even if there is a possibility of humans exhibiting “sphexiness” behavior, because we shouldn’t always keep in mind embellished stories like such.  In other words, there are bigger and better questions about the human determinist condition.

An important observation in genetic determinism is the idea that genes don’t embody human behavior.  Rather, biologist like R.C. Lewontin extrapolate on the issue that we can never have complete knowledge of child’s genes and developmental environment would not allow necessary conditions to account for genetic determinism.  He argues that we must chance plays a significant role in development.  However, some biologist have showed that chance might no be the case in some instances of development, but rather a non-linear, dynamic, deterministic process.  The problem with this observation is that all these processes have been shown through computer simulations, but have not been accounted for in real organisms.


Innate capacity is a rather easy, and slightly more sophisticated.  Lewontin argues that innate capacity is similar to the depiction that humans are like buckets waiting to be filled.  In an impoverished environment, all people will end up with similar characteristics (wealth, knowledge etc.); but in an enriched environment, those who naturally have big buckets will end up with more than those with small buckets.  An example of this is malnourishment.  People who are malnourished tend to be smaller in height when compared to those who are well nourished. 


One of the more heated debates about genetic determinism is addressing the question of whether or not human behavior from culture and environment is more important than genetics and biology.  If the concept of genetics determining behavior is true, then it would be impossible to hold people responsible for their actions.


 “Stop the chance, shut up with the noise" - René Thom, French philosopher

One of the more pressing issues of philosophy today is the relation of determinism and predictability within evolutionary biology and physics.  One of the characteristics that astonished philosophers and scientist is the ability to for new emergent properties to exist in systems of that are uniquely deterministic but unpredictable.  Some philosophers have articulated such phenomena/behavior as being an account of the existence of free will, even though free will as an ontological entity is assumed not to exist.  

Essentially, one of the most important features of emergence is the formation of new properties that can’t be predicted and repeated, even if they aren’t explainable. Therefore, if it where the case that there is no observation of problems with determinism and emergence, we could say that emergence might not need the notion of indeterminacy.

For instance, let’s consider strategy board games like chess.  Chess has fundamental rules that must be followed; there are no hidden concepts, and no random events (necessary conditions).  Nevertheless, chess with its simple deterministic rules still has the ability to use a large number of unpredictable moves.  Essentially, this is analogous with emerganitist account of free will, that that interaction of finite rules and deterministic parameters yield unpredictable behavior. 

Could this talk of emergence have serious implications for our current physics?




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