Maarten Maartensz:    Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek                      

 D - Determinism


Determinism: The notion that what happens was bound to happen.

Classical physics was deterministic: Given such and such a physical situation, in which so and so happened, this and that must happen, caused by the situation and the event, "because of the nature of things".

This changed with the arisal of quantum mechanics, where what happened on a sub-atomic level is supposed to be non-deterministic and essentially unpredictable in precise and determinate detail.

The problems and confusions about determinism are not so much physical as moral: Both determinism and indeterminism, as these words are used in physics, seem incompatible with free will such as most persons believe this holds for them, and such as is used in the law to impute responsibility to persons for their actions.

The main reason is that most persons - including judges and prosecutors in courts - will insist and believe that many human actions were willed by the persons who did them; that they were free to will other than they in fact did, and in this sense not determined by anything other than their own choice, which was freely up to them, only dependent on but not determined by their preferences and beliefs; and that also what they did choose in fact was not a mere matter of chance, but deliberately chosen, because the alternative seemed worse, yet not necessarily so, since even if one strongly prefers an alternative one has the freedom to perversely choose something else.

Also, those who believe that physics - apart from quantum-mechanics - is deterministic often miss the real reason for this, which is not some insight about the nature of reality or causation, but the fairly simple mathematical fact that what got used in most physical theories are functions, in the mathematical sense, which lead from given inputs to one single output.


See also: Disjunction, Free will, Indeterminism


Abro, Bunge, Nagel, Toraldo, Stegmüller

 Original: May 23, 2005                                                Last edited: 12 December 2011.   Top