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Determinism Essay

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Determinism is a belief that is held by many thinkers, and to many seems imcompatible with the doctrine of free will, which most people hold.

Determinism states that all events have causes, and that identical causes produce identical effects.

Free will implies a breakage with this model that we freely apply to the world around us - if we can freely choose our actions, regardless of the environment around us, we need to break this cause and effect sequence, perhaps through our soul, spirit or consciousness.

There are compatibilist and incompatibilist schools, which say that either free will and determinism are compatible or they are not, as ever it depends on quite what you mean by each term.

Determinism is the belief that everything that happens to us is the result of something beyond our control: "God", genetics, astrology, or some other factor makes us so that we have only one set of behaviors in this life, and everything we do is laid out before we do it. Some people even argue that all of our actions can be calculated by someone who knew the formula and written down, and we would be powerless to change our actions (I may say I'll commit suicide or move to another country to change the course of my future, but I'll be unable to actually go through with it).

Free will holds that we consciously and intentionally perform every action that we do, and have every choice to alter our futures however we want. If I'm the 23rd in a line of kings, and was raised to be a king, and want to be a king, I can still decide to be a chef instead of a king.

Personally, I believe that both free will and determinism are flawed concepts, and that people tend to fall along a spectrum with free will and determinism at opposite ends of said spectrum.

we're not robots, but we're not entirely free yet either. We have to work for our freedom, but when we gain some (and I know I gain a little morsel every so often), it's a huge leap for us

Determinism: The view that every event has a cause and that everything in the universe is absolutely dependent on and governed by causal laws. Since determinists believe that all events, including human actions, are predetermined, determinism is typically thought to be incompatible with free will.

To a determinist, there are no counterfactuals. Nothing that didn't happen could possibly have happened. Everything that did happen was the only possible thing that could have happened at that point in time and space, given the causes.

To a determinist, all choice is illusory. The literal meaning of choice is that there are multiple options, and the person selects one of them. Thus, choice requires multiple possible outcomes, which is a no-no to determism. To the determinist, the march of causality will make one outcome inevitable, and so it is wrong to believe that anything else was possible. The chooser does not yet know which option he or she is going to choose, hence the subjective experience of choice. Thus, the subjective choosing is simply a matter of one's own ignorance - ignorance that those other outcomes are not really possibilities at all.

To illustrate: When you sit in the restaurant looking at the menu, it may seem that there are many things that you might order: the fish, the chicken, the steak, the onion soup. Eventually you will make a selection and eat it. To a determinist, causal processes dictated that what you ordered was inevitable. When you entered the restaurant you may not have known, yet, that you would end up ordering the chicken, but that simply reflects your ignorance of what was happening in your unconscious mind. To a determinist, there was never any chance at all that you could have ordered the fish. Maybe you saw it on the menu and were tempted to get it, and maybe you even started to order it and then changed your mind. No matter. It was never remotely possible. The causal processes that ended up making you order the chicken were in motion. Your belief that you could have ordered the chicken was mistaken.

Choice is fundamental in human life. Every day people face choices, defined by multiple possibilities. To claim that all that is illusion and mistake is to force psychological phenomena into an unrealistic strait jacket.

To believe in determinism is thus to go far beyond the observed and known facts. It could be true, I suppose. But it requires a huge leap of faith, as well as a tortuous effort to deny that what we constantly observe and experience is real. Instead, I think psychological science is better suited to a belief in indeterminacy. As far as I can tell, there is no proof of any deterministic causality anywhere. That is, there is no proof that any result is 100% inevitable, though in practice some things seem to be very highly reliable. When I turn on the light switch, the light pretty much always comes on, unless some other causal factor (e.g., burned-out lightbulb, power failure) prevents it. Still, there is no way of saying whether this is 100% inevitable or simply a very high probability. Indeterminacy lurks at the subatomic level, and once in a very long time this could show up at the macro level. In human behavior, of course, things are not nearly so reliable or predictable. Hence accepting the reality of choice amid genuinely multiple possibilities seems a more prudent and useful basis for psychological theorizing than deterministic inevitability.



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