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Determinism Argument and Objection to It Essay

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Updated: Jul 6th, 2021

The Argument from Determinism Against Free Will

Determinism is the argument that denies the freedom of will and choice. The key idea behind this notion is that “everything that’s happening now and that will happen in the future was already guaranteed to happen by things that happened in the distant past.”1 Namely, it states that events of the past and the laws of nature cause a unique future. In this paper, I intend to display the drawbacks of this argument. In the first section, I am going to present the argument and the reasoning and motivation behind it. Section 2 will be devoted to the criticism of a determinist point of view. In part 3, I will question my arguments and discuss the possible responses that may arise to my statements from section 2.

Determinism claims that all current and future conditions of the entire universe are “physically necessitated by the states of the universe in the distant past.”2 The events that determine our present activity might have happened before we were born, so we could not influence them. In other words, there is only one possible course of action that the events can take, and humans cannot make choices that are not predetermined. Determinists believe that even when people feel that they are making choices, there is only one way how events can evolve. According to this point of view, people do what they do because of who they are, and they cannot influence their character.

The determinist argument against free will begins from the statement that determinism is true and concludes that if it is so, then not a single one of our actions is performed freely. Breaking up the determinist argument into logical elements, we have the following premises and conclusions:

  • (D1) Determinism is true
  • (D2) If it is true, then all our actions are predetermined, and we cannot act otherwise
  • (D3) If we cannot choose another course of action, none of our actions is free
  • (D4) So, we are not free

The premise D1 can be explained by the example of calculating how physical objects will move knowing the present situation and applying the laws of physics to it. According to D2, for any act a person has done, they could not have decided to do anything else. D3 comes from the assumption that for acting freely, we need to have alternatives to choose from. So, even if it seemed to you that there was a choice, you could not have chosen anything else because of who you are, and in this case, your actions are not free.

Criticism of Determinism

An objection to determinism as the argument against free will may focus on either D1, denying that determinism is true, or on D2 and D3, denying its connection to free will. In this section, I will argue against D1, focusing on its universalism. First of all, we should consider the randomness of the universe proved by the laws of physics. However, it will not be supportive of the objection as random events are neither determined nor free. The conclusion about the actions being caused by previous events and laws of nature is logical and undeniable. Nevertheless, I would argue against the universal applicability of determinism.

The motivation of the determinist argument is the example of the game of pool. Knowing the information about the positioning of balls, their weight, and the speed of the cue ball, we can calculate whether the ball it strikes will hit the pocket. However, this example does not account for the player’s decision on how to strike the ball. Determinism is true when concerning the physical world, but it cannot be applied to human mental actions. They are not subject to physical laws, neither they are random. The idea is that “physical states of the universe… don’t physically necessitate present and future nonphysical states of the universe.”3

Most of our decisions are indeed motivated by the events of the past that formed our character, but this fact cannot justify absolute determinism. There is no proof that determining events leave us with no choice at all. They limit the number of options, but it does not mean that they force us to have only one of them.

We often choose from several alternative possibilities, and our choice can sometimes be unpredictable and creative. The creativity that happens in our minds is another factor that rejects absolute determinism. This process is also influenced by inherited features, education, and the environment, but these factors do not justify the limitation of options to one. The human will can decide the course of action choosing from the variants provided by previous experience and determining events of the past.

A Response to Criticism

In the third section of my paper, I will focus on two possible objections that determinism defenders might use to respond to my arguments. The first response is about the actions our physical bodies perform, and the second is based on the factors that form our mentality. Determinists assume that our physical bodies are acting exclusively within the borders of the physical universe, so they are subject to physical laws.

The problem of this argument is that it does not include the mental decision behind these actions. Determinists prefer to look at the game of pool the moment after the ball was struck, and then they see only one possible course of action. If they had decided to look at the situation a couple of seconds earlier, they would see the player who would be considering several options. Each of his decisions would have a different effect on the ball’s trajectory. Thus, I conclude that our physical manifestation of actions depends on our mental decisions, which are free.

Another objection that determinists may raise is that our mental actions are also determined. Their belief implies that the traits of our character determine our decisions, and these features are formed by the number of factors over which we have no control. Namely, they rely on the impact of inhabited traits and the influence of environment and education. However, it is too bold to assume these factors as the only ones that contribute to personality development.

Psychologists have not proved the existence of the soul or other mental forces, but they claim that heredity and external factors are not the only ones. So, the decisions we take may have different contributing factors, such as inner creativity. In general, the defenders of determinism try to operate by the laws applicable to the physical world and transfer them to non-physical entities, and this is the moment where their argumentation fails.

Bibliography

Korman, Daniel Z. Learning from Arguments: An Introduction to Philosophy, 2019.

Footnotes

  1. Daniel Korman, Learning from Arguments: An Introduction to Philosophy (2019), p. 49.
  2. Daniel Korman, Learning from Arguments: An Introduction to Philosophy (2019), p. 49.
  3. Daniel Korman, Learning from Arguments: An Introduction to Philosophy (2019), p. 51.
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