What is hard determinism


First, we should define under which points of view the free will can speak. The term "free will" is defined with the following three conditions, all of which must be met:

  1. Condition of being able to act differently: The decisive person has an alternative to actually acting
  2. Authorship condition: The decision depends on the person himself
  3. Control condition: The choice of decision must be free from constraints

According to this, a person has free will precisely when he has a choice and can decide for one of the possibilities, free of necessity, for (or against).


The next obvious question is whether such a situation can exist in reality. The biggest problems are the implications of the causal determinism. The determinism thesis states that every event in the universe has sufficient causes or preconditions so that there is only one possible future at any time. This causal chain of events pervades all physical levels, including those of the quanta. According to determinism, all natural processes are subject to non-probabilistic natural laws. This creates conflicts for the three conditions of free will.


Now there are different points of view that one can take:

Compatibilists claim that free will is compatible with the determinism thesis. A soft determinist is a compatibilist who takes the position that determinism does not affect free will.

Incompatibilists however, they claim that free will cannot be reconciled with causal determinism. Among the incompatibilists a distinction is made between those who claim that determinism is true and therefore there can be no free will (tough determinists) and those who claim that free will exists and that the determinism thesis is false (Libertarians).

There are also skeptics who fundamentally reject free will and do not refer to determinism. Hard determinists also become the Freedom skeptics counted.

One thing in advance: I personally am a hard determinist and the conviction that there can be no free decisions. This article is not entirely devoid of subjective views. This article does not claim to be complete. Comments and suggestions can be posted by you at the end of the article.

Compatibilism (soft determinism)

Compatibilists must be able to demonstrate how that three conditions of free will compatible with determinism are. For this, the terms are defined more precisely.

Further definitions of terms

Conditional and unconditional free will

Before properly describing the types of compatibilism, let us further examine and delimit the concept of free will Freedom of action from. A person is free of action if he is not prevented from doing something by external compulsions and that can do what she wants. Some philosophers (including Hobbes and Hume) are of the opinion that freedom of action alone is sufficient to be considered free. To freely plan one's will is not relevant as long as we can live it out freely. Desires, motives and beliefs are not necessarily freely determinable with pure freedom of action.

Schopenhauer: "Man can do what he wants, but he cannot want what he wants."

But if one restricts free will only to the free exercise of will, can that still be called real freedom? Are we really free when our motives / desires / beliefs are determined?

Heroin addicts may be outwardly free in their actions, but are subject to an inner bondage. Only free will would make them free people.

Higher level wishes to Frankfurt

Frankfurt (1971, 1988) starts from a step model of our desires. Level 1 wishes are about direct actions, such as wanting to buy a house. 2nd level wishes (higher level desire) relate to 1st level wishes. A higher level wish could be no longer wanting to buy a house. Higher-level desires are often guided by longer-term beliefs. First-order wishes are more intuitive and impulsive. We only become aware of our 2nd level desires when they do not match the 1st level desires.
If a drug addict manages to adapt his 2nd order wish not to want to take drugs any more to the 1st order wish to want to take drugs (compulsively), he has free will. Only when the conflict has been resolved is the person free.

This thesis is also independent of determinism. Even if the world is deterministic, a person can be free. Freedom of action and free will are defined differently than in hard determinism.

Free will according to Moore

A person possesses free will when they can want what she wants (1912). This definition is similar to Frankfurt's step model. It is enough to have the ability to want something different.

Locke free will

For one thing, the person must have the Have the ability to think about the decision beforehand and consider what is right for the person. On the other hand, the person must have the ability to act accordingly after the decision made. Only when both criteria are met does a person have free will.

Intelligibility argument

Free will relies on determinism as a decision must be based on personal reasons. A person acts intelligently when they are negotiating understandable reasons acts. Without a causal chain, free will is also not possible.

Arguments against soft determinism

Being able to act differently is unfulfilled

argument: According to Thomas Reid (1788), for example, there is real freedom only if the reasons for a decision are determined by us. External circumstances, on the other hand, are beyond our control; Therefore action-free persons are still unfree. The condition to be able to act differently is not fulfilled.
Reply: Harry Frankfurt (1969) argues against the necessity of the condition of being able to act differently with the following example:
Person A is considering killing person B and person C definitely wants to kill person B. Person C does not want to kill B himself, but wants to force person A to do so with an apparatus. This device is clamped to A's brain and is able to recognize when person A decides to kill B. In addition, the apparatus can read A's decision the moment it happens. The apparatus can even influence the decision if A decides against B's murder. If person A decides to kill B, the machine does not intervene. If he decides against the murder, the decision is reversed to "B murder". In the end, person A cannot decide otherwise than to murder B. If he decides to commit the murder himself, he is even responsible. Person A can therefore be responsible for the murder, although he could not have chosen otherwise. The condition to be able to act differently is therefore sufficient and not necessary.

Argument 2: In a causal-deterministic universe everyone can only act as he actually does. The laws of nature forbid a person to act differently than he actually does. The condition to be able to act differently is not fulfilled.
Reply: George Edward Moore points out the ambiguity of the phrase "can". We claim that a person with the ability to do something can do it too (conditional analysis of ability). The person could have made a different decision. It is impossible for me to choose differently, but I have the potential to choose differently. Accordingly, the determination does not play a role in the condition of being able to act differently.

Argument 2.1: Austin (1956) argues against the conditional analysis of ability: Just because you can ability if A has to do, it doesn't say that it is too always A succeeds in doing. A penalty taker has the ability to score and wants to, but does not always succeed.
Reply: Accordingly, no thing should be ascribed any ability, which is absurd.

Argument 2.2: Chisholm (1964) argues against the conditional analysis of ability: You can only talk about being able to do A if you have the ability to choose A at all. For example, someone who is terrified of heights may be able to climb a high ladder but cannot choose to do so because of their fear.
Reply: This argument is similar to Reid's 1st argument. The ability to decide something leads to a conditional analysis infinite regress.

Authorship condition is unfulfilled

argument: Our desires, motives and beliefs are causally determined. Even if we act according to our wishes, we are not the initial one Urlifter of the resulting actions.
Reply: The decision depends on our wishes, motives and beliefs. Motives are my motives when I recognize them as my wishes, identify with them and take responsibility for them (Fischer / Ravizza 1998). We are the author of the decision because it goes back to us. Even if the reasons are determined, they remain the decisive reasons for the decision.

argument: If we were really responsible for our actions, we would have to be responsible for our wishes, which play a role in weighing a decision. In order to decide we have to choose our desires. You can only vote on the basis of principles. Again, however, these principles are themselves dependent on principles. Infinite recourse threatens.
Reply: Not all wishes are affected. We are not free in things like wanting to eat, wanting affection, etc. that have been given to us by nature since we were born. We are free in other desires.

Control condition is unfulfilled

argument: Actions are only free if our decision to do so was free. Our decisions are determined and therefore unfree. The choice made is inevitable. The control condition is not met.
Reply: The concept of free will needs to be defined more precisely.

Definition of free will is wrong

argument: Frankfurt's step model of wishes is not enough to explain free will. It threatens infinite recourse, since 2nd order wishes have to correspond to 3rd order, and so on. In addition, the Evaluation of moral judgment ignored about the selected wishes.
Reply: To research.

Personal assessment

I am not convinced by soft determinism because I find it logically inconsistent. The authorship requirement is not adequately explained. The term authorship is simply reinterpreted to mean "authorship"; The "original" disappears and the problem is solved for the compatibilists ...
The same game takes place with the control condition. The terms are manipulated until they seem to fit reality. It is not clear whether this is actually the case.
And thirdly, with the act differently condition, the argument is made with the potential ability. Of course, I have the ability not to lose any game of chess, because I only need to play the best moves in every situation, but that does not correspond to reality.

The soft determinism is similar to a religious script in my view. It may help to come to terms with reality and tries to master inexplicable things with new concepts, but is not supported by natural science but exclusively by the humanities.


The core thesis of the libertarians is: there is freedom, so causal determinism is wrong. To prove that this statement is true, one has to prove that there is freedom.

Libertarianism predicts two types of causality. On the one hand there is the "normal" Event causality, after which the last domino is knocked over by the previous fallen stones and on the other hand there is the so-called Actor causality. With actor causality, there are personal reasons for A or B before every decision. There are also different reasons for each possible alternative. However, these reasons do not determine the decision, but the self weighs up and decides. The decision breaks the causal chain of determinism and path A or B occurs.
The determinism and the chain of events of cause and effect are only valid until the decision is made. The actor has a substantial will. Actor causality manages to work between the event causality chain. After the decision, the causal principle prevails again. The actor himself creates a new causal chain and is therefore the cause of his action.

Arguments against Libertarianism


argument: If our universe is not causally determined, it is subject to chance. A random decision is not a free decision. That is why libertarianism must be wrong.
Reply: There is one Actor causality. Trying people off themselves.

Actor causality is event causality

argument: Statements on actor causality such as: "The soldier caused the death of a civilian" are basically inadequate statements about event causality. "Firing the rifle caused the death of a civilian." it should say. All statements on actor causality can be rewritten as statements on event causality. It must genuine cases of actor causality give so that libertarianism is true.
Reply: There are genuine cases of actor causality.

Genuine actor causality contradicts the laws of nature

argument: Genuine actor causality contradicts the currently applicable laws of nature. There is no empirical evidence whatsoever for a new causal chain created by the actor. Without genuine actor causality, libertarianism cannot be true.
Reply: We have a strong natural feeling that we have free will. Such a strong intuition cannot deceive us. (Intuition argument).

Actor is otherworldly

argument: The actor must obviously be an entity, which outside the event causal chain lies because he himself and freely determines his decision. The other way around, however, it is possible for him to intervene in the world through his decisions. This contradicts the scientific results of our time; Libertarianism is wrong.
Reply: To research ...

Decisions remain random

argument: Decision-making continues coincidentally, because it remains unclear how a certain decision is made. In the first situation the actor decides on reasons for A and in the second situation for B. If one can decide one time for A and another time for B despite identical reasons, the choice was obviously unfounded. The decisions are made randomly, which is contrary to the conditions for free will. Libertarianism is wrong.
Reply: To research ...

Personal assessment

Admittedly, this setting is very intuitive and corresponds to the natural state of health. But why should the laws of nature stop working for a short time just because I decide in the moment? I like the idea that it corresponds to reality, but I doubt that it really is, as there is little or no empirical evidence for this thesis. In addition, there are strong counter-arguments that are only reinforced by weakly supported theses. It would be nice, but I personally doubt it. Whether or not libertarianism is true is currently a question of faith without empirical evidence.

Hard determinism

In a causal-deterministic universe it can only one future give. This future may not be known, since it is impossible for an entity (Laplacian demon) located in it to grasp and further calculate all initial states, but it is fixed for all time. The course of the world is therefore a line without branches. Just as the past is unambiguously determined and unchangeable, the future is only determined in one way and cannot be changed. Everything that was and will be is in the now. Time goes on and we walk along the line at one point. Tough determinists believe that we are gear-driven machines with minds.

The concept of freedom requires that the future be completely open and indefinite.Proponents of free will claim that only the decision made by a being with decision-making power should be able to change the future. What are these decisions based on? According to determinism, the decisions are based on causal causes. Why should a human thought of all things be able to influence the physical world (a stimulus in the brain)?

The Consequence argument by Peter van Inwagens refutes the concept of free will by means of determinism. It consists of two premises and one conclusion:
(P1) When determinism is true, our actions follow natural laws and events from the distant past.
(P2) It is not in our power to change the laws of nature, nor the events before we were born.
(K) So the causal consequences of the past and the laws of nature are not in our power, including our own actions. "

Since our actions are determined even before we are born by the causal chain evoked by the laws of nature, there can be no free will.

If determinism is true, then a decisive person has no alternative. His decision does not depend on himself either, but rather go back to previous events. In addition, the decisions are not free from constraints, since it was already clear which decision was made. All three conditions for free will are therefore unfulfilled.

Unfortunately, the determinism is unproven or there is heated debate in the physicist community about what our reality is like. Nonetheless, determinism is plausible and applicable to all known levels of the physical world. From classical mechanics to thermodynamics to quantum mechanics, all events can be explained deterministically. It is due to our inability to measure reality exactly that we will probably never scientifically / empirically prove and thus prove determinism at the quantum level. This is not an argument against or for its existence in reality.

Arguments against hard determinism

Indeterminacy of the quantum world

argument: Due to the Heisenberg's uncertainty alation it is impossible to describe a quantum system completely and exactly. Determinism does not correspond to reality.
Reply: The fact that measurements cannot be carried out exactly does not matter to the nature of reality. It refutes that Laplaschen demon, a being who knows about all information in the universe and is itself part of it, but does not prove the falseness of determinism.

Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

argument: Quanta only have a solid state when they are measured / observed. The future is indefinite; That is, determinism is wrong.
Reply: The De Broglie-Bohm Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics reproduces the same predictions as the Copenhagen variant and is completely deterministic. In this model, quanta lie on orbits. In contrast to the Copenhagen variant, the measurement itself does not play an important role. Both interpretations of quantum mechanics have their raison d'etre (Copenhagen variant is easier to calculate). Wave functions appear to me personally fixed tracks closer to reality than probability wave functions, in which chance should prevail up to a measurement. Why should just observing a system change it?

Determinism is self-arguing

argument: If someone believes that his / her I is predetermined must also be worldview (of hard determinism) predetermined be. Determinism therefore cannot be true or false and refutes itself.
Reply: There are also people who believe that 7x8 is 58 and not 56 when doing mental arithmetic. Some people just know the truth value and some are mistaken. Whether one knows the truth is (unfortunately) outside of our free decision, since the entire life and what we know was causally predetermined.

Known representatives

  • Albert Einstein (1879–1955)
  • Max Planck (1858-1947)
  • Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827)
  • David Hume (1711–1776)
  • John Locke (1632-1704)
  • Baruch de Spinoza (1632–1677)
  • Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679)

Personal assessment

Determinism is often accused of creating a pessimistic worldview. I say: Use and enjoy life, even if you do not have any free influence on it, or simply give in to the illusion of a free decision. Our mind is an observer of this world. Decisions are made by you, only these are unfree and predetermined. So what the heck?

Freedom skeptics

Freedom skeptics are also called tough incompatibilists designated. They develop concepts of reality in which it is irrelevant whether free will is compatible with in- / determinism. All the implications of free will have to be reconsidered. Whether the universe is causally deterministic or not must not play a role.

If both the consequence argument and the intelligibility argument were correct, this would show that freedom is not compatible with either determinism or indeterminism. Freedom would be an illusion.

If there really is no free will, it will have a direct impact on ours responsibility. Concepts like condemnation and punishment would have to be reconsidered. In some situations we already think that way today. For example, we judge and punish the mentally ill (or drugged) differently than healthy people because we do not hold them accountable for their actions. We do not allow them free will; Obviously, those affected could not act otherwise.

Our human interaction could change if one accepts that no one is responsible for their actions. Reactions like resenting someone or being grateful for stunted customs because there is no longer any reason for them. You get one objective attitude to his fellow man and loses the subjective.
It is only when someone acted unintentionally or unconsciously that we do not hold something against them. Only when someone acts willingly and knowingly do we resent something. It is irrelevant here whether the event was determined or not. It has come about and an appropriate reaction follows (take offense, be grateful, etc ...). The view of a freedom skeptic therefore also works for an indeterministic world.

Personal assessment

I see this view as an opportunity to get rid of all the moral resentment that only plagues people and, at the same time, to humanize our judicial system. I would be ready to give up hard determinism for a freedom-skeptical view if the determinism thesis should be refuted.

Final remark

For incompatibilists, it is not enough just to have the will to do something. They demand a final authorship and an explanation of how this will came about. Compatibilists, on the other hand, are satisfied with having the will they have. Therefore the concepts of freedom of the two parties also differ. Compatibilists associate freedom with willfulness and incompatibilists associate it with ultimate authorship. Some are believers, others are skeptics.

They are all fidgeting; The soft determinists, the libertarians and the freedom skeptics. The adherents of hard determinism have the least to contend with their worldview, since it is empirically supported at all levels. Determinism does not need any additional (made up) concepts to explain reality. As a scientifically oriented person it is only reasonable to represent hard determinism. In any case, I am of the opinion that humans will never succeed in proving what reality is like and that it will forever remain a question of faith. What you ultimately believe in is (not) up to you. :-)