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Determinism is the philosophical position that for every event, including human action, there exist conditions that could cause no other event.




  • Unlike the Hindu concept of karma, however, karma in Buddhism is not deterministic since there is in Buddhism no idea of a God who is the controller of karma; rather Buddhism takes karma as moral power, emphasizing the possibility of final release from the round of transmigration through a free decision of the will. Accordingly, on the one hand, we are bound by our own karma which shares in and inseparably linked to karma operating in the universe.
  • Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from necessity.


  • There is a way to escape the inference of superluminal speeds and spooky action at a distance. But it involves absolute determinism in the universe, the complete absence of free will. Suppose the world is super-deterministic, with not just inanimate nature running on behind-the-scenes clockwork, but with our behavior, including our belief that we are free to choose to do one experiment rather than another, absolutely predetermined, including the ‘decision’ by the experimenter to carry out one set of measurements rather than another, the difficulty disappears. There is no need for a faster-than-light signal to tell particle A what measurement has been carried out on particle B, because the universe, including particle A, already ‘knows’ what that measurement, and its outcome, will be.
    • John Stewart Bell as quoted in The Ghost in the Atom: A Discussion of the Mysteries of Quantum Physics, by Paul C. W. Davies and Julian R. Brown, 1986/1993, pp. 45-46


  • The statement that "the future is predetermined" seems to us to belong to the language of common sense because we are, from our religious—Judeo-Christian—tradition, accustomed to the idea of an omniscient Intelligence in whose mind this predetermination takes place. To the pagans, since their gods were imagined as more human, this predetermination took place, not in the minds of the gods, but in the mind of "Fate" above the gods...
    If science does not care to include an omniscient Intelligence in its conceptual scheme... it can only mean that it is determined by law.
    • Philipp Frank, Philosophy of Science: The Link Between Science and Philosophy (1957) pp. 261-262.
  • Newtonian laws of motion allow a prediction of the future based on knowledge of the present because these laws are of the form
    ...if the values of the "state variables" are known for the present instant of time , one can "predict" their values for any past or future time . All laws of this kind are called "causal laws." The general "principle of causality" would claim that all phenomena are governed by causal laws which would have the [above] form... where are any variables that determine the "state" of a physical system at the time . ...belief in this general principle is supported by the special case of astronomy where are the coordinates and velocities of mass-points and the functions are known to be simple mathematical formulae derived from Newton's laws of gravitation. ...What caused the success was the simplicity of the laws in comparison of the complexity of the observed facts. If we regard the as arbitrary functions... and admit complicated initial conditions, the causal law... may be "valid" but will not guarantee the same kind of success. It may be that the law is as complex as the observed facts. Then there is no advantage...
    • Philipp Frank, Philosophy of Science: The Link Between Science and Philosophy (1957) pp. 266-267.


  • Old-fashioned determinism was what we may call hard determinism. It did not shrink from such words as fatality, bondage of the will, necessitation, and the like. Nowadays, we have a soft determinism which abhors harsh words, and, repudiating fatality, necessity, and even predetermination, says that its real name is freedom; for freedom is only necessity understood, and bondage to the highest is identical with true freedom
    • William James The Dilemma of Determinism (1884) republished in The Will to Believe, Dover, (1956), p. 149
  • The stronghold of the determinist argument is the antipathy to the idea of chance...This notion of alternative possibility, this admission that any one of several things may come to pass is, after all, only a roundabout name for chance.
    • William James The Dilemma of Determinism (1884) p.153


  • The curve described by a single molecule of air or vapor is regulated in a manner just as certain as the planetary orbits; the only difference between them that which comes from our ignorance.
    • Pierre-Simon Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities from a École Normale Lecture (1795) Tr. (1902 from 6th edition) Frederick Wilson Truscott, Frederick Lincoln Emory, p. 6.
  • We ought then to regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its anterior state and as the cause of the one which is to follow. Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings who compose it—an intelligence sufficiently vast to submit these data to analysis—it would embrace in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atom; for it, nothing would be uncertain and the future, as the past, would be present to its eyes. The human mind offers, in the perfection which it has been able to give to astronomy, a feeble idea of this intelligence. Its discoveries in mechanics and geometry, added to that of universal gravity, have enabled it to comprehend in the same analytical expressions the past and future states of the system of the world. Applying the same method to some other objects of its knowledge, it has succeeded in referring to general laws observed phenomena and in foreseeing those which given circumstances ought to produce. All these efforts in the search for truth tend to lead it back continually to the vast intelligence which we have just mentioned, but from which it will always remain infinitely removed.
    • Pierre-Simon Laplace, Théorie Analytique des Probabilités (1812) Tr. Frederick Wilson Truscott as Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1902) p. 4.
  • The worldview of the classical sciences conceptualized nature as a giant machine composed of intricate but replaceable machine-like parts. The new systems sciences look at nature as an organism endowed with irreplaceable elements and an innate but non-deterministic purpose for choice, for flow, for spontaneity.
    • Ervin László (1996) The systems view of the world: A holistic vision for our time p. 10-11.


  • This is a funny question: we all know what it means to do something. But the problem is, if the act wasn't determined in advance, by your desires, beliefs, and personality, among other things, it seems to be something that just happened, without any explanation. And in that case, how was it your doing?
    • Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy (1987), Ch. 6. Free Will
  • If determinism is true for everything that happens, it was already determined before you were born that you would choose cake. Your choice was determined by the situation immediately before, and that situation was determined by the situation before it, and so on as far back as you want to go.
    Even if determinism isn't true for everything that happens -- even if some things just happen without being determined by causes that were there in advance -- it would still be very significant if everything we did were determined before we did it. However free you might feel when choosing between fruit and cake, or between two candidates in an election, you would really be able to make only one choice in those circumstances-though if the circumstances or your desires had been different, you would have chosen differently.
    • Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy (1987), Ch. 6. Free Will


  • Biological determinism works as a phenomenon that normalizes same-sex desire while leaving heterosexism in place and disenfranchising certain queer people from fully participating in an accurate articulation of their experiences in political and popular discourse.

See also[edit]

Philosophy of science
Concepts AnalysisAnalytic–synthetic distinctionA priori and a posterioriCausalityCommensurabilityConsilienceConstructCreative synthesisDemarcation problemEmpirical evidenceExplanatory powerFactFalsifiabilityFeminist methodIgnoramus et ignorabimusInductive reasoningIntertheoretic reductionInquiryNatureObjectivityObservationParadigmProblem of inductionScientific lawScientific methodScientific revolutionScientific theoryTestabilityTheory choiceTheory-ladennessUnderdeterminationUnity of science
Metatheory of science CoherentismConfirmation holismConstructive empiricismConstructive realismConstructivist epistemologyContextualismConventionalismDeductive-nomological modelHypothetico-deductive modelInductionismEpistemological anarchismEvolutionismFallibilismFoundationalismInstrumentalismPragmatismModel-dependent realismNaturalismPhysicalismPositivism/reductionism/determinismRationalism/empiricismReceived view/semantic view of theoriesScientific realism/anti-realismScientific essentialismScientific formalismScientific skepticismScientismStructuralismUniformitarianismVitalism
Related topics AlchemyCriticism of scienceEpistemologyFaith and rationalityHistory and philosophy of scienceHistory of scienceHistory of evolutionary thoughtLogicMetaphysicsPseudoscienceRelationship between religion and scienceRhetoric of scienceSociology of scientific knowledgeSociology of scientific ignorance
Philosophers of science PlatoAristotleStoicismEpicureans
AverroesAvicennaRoger BaconWilliam of OckhamHugh of Saint VictorDominicus GundissalinusRobert Kilwardby
Francis BaconThomas HobbesRené DescartesGalileo GalileiPierre GassendiIsaac NewtonDavid Hume
Immanuel KantFriedrich SchellingWilliam WhewellAuguste ComteJohn Stuart MillHerbert SpencerWilhelm WundtCharles Sanders PeirceWilhelm WindelbandHenri PoincaréPierre DuhemRudolf SteinerKarl Pearson
Alfred North WhiteheadBertrand RussellAlbert EinsteinOtto NeurathC. D. BroadMichael PolanyiHans ReichenbachRudolf CarnapKarl PopperCarl Gustav HempelW. V. O. QuineThomas KuhnImre LakatosPaul FeyerabendJürgen HabermasIan HackingBas van FraassenLarry LaudanDaniel Dennett

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