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Can hard determinism be defended?

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Philosophy Essay

Can hard determinism be defended against the strongest objections raised against it? Explain and defend your answer.


                                Terence Landman


In this academic essay there will be a clear and defined description of both hard determinism and its eventual nemesis indeterminism. Based on these definitions there will be a personal attempt at denying hard determinism. This will be accomplished through the introduction of David Hume and his radical philosophy on causality and the relation this may have on hard determinism, as well as the various possibilities it may distinguish. Furthermore the Causal Principle will also be introduced and slandered in its incapability to provide a concrete defense for hard determinism and its potential in proposing a solution through indeterminism. All these factors will ultimately point to the possibility in which when A happens B is likely to happen but not essentially determined in happening. This will give rise to the possibility of a random event occurring and therefore the demise of hard determinism.

Determinism is the doctrine that man’s choices, decisions, and actions are decided by antecedent causes, inherited or environmental, acting upon his character: opposed to free will. (Funk & Wagnalls, 349) Hard Determinism is the belief that everything is determined, the most aggressive stance within determinism, leaving no possibility or room for either quantum mechanics, or free will itself. Indeterminism on the other hand is merely determinism’s denial.

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Hume further strengthens his claim by exerting that there are no objects which by the mere survey, without consulting experience, we can determine to be the cause of any other, and no objects, which we can certainly determine in the same manner not to be the causes. (David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section 7)

In this suggestion by Hume surely there is the possibility, or the birth of a possibility of indeterminism? If cause A cannot guarantee that it will cause B to occur but rather that it is likely, but not absolutely concrete that B will follow, surely then this provides the opportunity in which indeterminism has the possibility of flourishing? Consider the following example created by a contemporary Humean:

“It once happened that while the screen of a motion picture theater showed the blasting of lumber, a slight earthquake shook the theater. The spectators had a momentary feeling that the explosion on the screen caused the shaking of the theater” (Hans Reichenbach, The Rise of Scientific Philosophy, 157-158)

Since repetition is the only factor that distinguishes the casual law from a mere coincidence, then casual relation is embedded in constant repetition. In clarifying this, we need to understand that all that is meant by causal relation is that if the theater would always shake when an explosion were screened, then it would have a causal relationship.

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Lastly in relation to the casual principle, consider the following example:

“If there are two clocks, which as far as you can tell are identical in every detail, next to each other in the same room, with the same temperature and atmospheric conditions, but you discover after a time that one of them is running just a bit fast although the other still keeps perfect time.” (Freedom And Necessity, 148)

In this situation wouldn’t you conclude that there was (had to be?) a difference in one or more of the conditions, to account for the difference in keeping time? How would one respond to a suggestion that maybe there wasn’t a difference in the conditions? For an indeterminist to prove that the causes were the same, he would have to show that the prior state of the whole universe was exactly the same in the two cases (Freedom And Necessity, 149), only then would he have proved that different effects could result from identical causes. Only then would he have the capability in making such a claim. This is obviously a ridiculous and an extremely unjust demand, revealing the lunacy and severe misguided interpretation involved in determinism.

In concluding it is clear to say that hard determinism is refuted by indeterminism, through the extension of Hume’s causal theory, as well as the lunacy embedded within the causal principle.

Work Cited

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section 7

Hans Reichenbach, The Rise of Scientific Philosophy, 157-158

Freedom And Necessity, 146-149.

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