Instigator / Pro

Determinism is true


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After 2 votes and with 6 points ahead, the winner is...

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Contender / Con

I'm doing devil's advocate here. First round is for acknowledging the challenge or whatever. Just leave a few words to start the debate. I will start with offering arguments for determinism in Round 2,3 and so on. I think it's up to my opponent whether to rebut or just offer cases in favor of freewill.

Round 1
That was quick. I will start my argument first and then you can either rebut or offer your own. I'll begin preparation for round 2 and good luck.
So, its basically a 3 rounder.

Very well.

Since you instigated the debate and are Pro of it, I'll let you begin.

Good luck to you too.
Round 2
I want to consider determinism, a position which I'm adopting as devil's advocate. I’m a theist and I wholeheartedly believe in free will. However, for the purpose of our debate, I shall momentarily consider it to be true. As part of my devil’s advocate play, I want to offer free will arguments only as means to point out their flaws.

For this debate, I think the problem of free will can be roughly understood through the lens of Aristotle. In his book, Physics

For some moving principles can only cause movement in one direction, while others can reverse the direction of their action: thus fire can heat but cannot chill, whereas it seems that one and the same mental skill may act in opposite directions.

I would not imagine solving the question of man’s freedom through an oversimplified event that merely considers agency (i.e. my ability to say yes or no) without natural inclination (i.e. having a set of desires and needs). Nevertheless, free will believers would have me believe that if I wanted a stone to move by the swing of my hand, I could do so. In addition, If I wanted to rebel against the prediction that I will move the stone, I could simply act in what Aristotle would call the "opposite direction". Free will enthusiasts would urge me to believe that my own movements are of my own volition.

This conception of freedom is problematic. The challenge I have in my disposal is that freedom is false and the charge of determinism is true even if I have the ability to say yes or no. A caged raccoon with a mad disease (pick anything that’s contagious) still has the ability to move itself but it cannot will itself to break out of the cage. It has no control over the events that falls on it. My own freedom is also part of this “cage”. Events are predetermined for me. There is no sole arbiter of natural laws, I have them because events have predetermined them for me. There is no sole arbiter of morality, I have feelings to discourage me from committing evil things because events have dictated me to have feelings. I have no control over the events; I merely follow them.

For the sake of this world, I hold that determinism is true and that we are not ultimately responsible for our actions.

To clarify, I'd like to point out that here determinism is referring to only the hard determinism as Pro has been advocating against free will leaving no room for soft determinism. As a theist and compatibilist myself, I will attempt to articulate how hard determinism is not reasonable from any sense through my first round arguments and rebuttal.


My arguments will not connect myself with my own compatibilist views since that would be kind of an imposition. However, from the tons that I will argue with it might sound a little bit subjective but through a broader spectrum you can see how they are justified.

My arguments in this round will point out some of the fundamental flaws in hard determinism as follows,

External Determinism. External determinism holds external stimuli such as environment, childhood etc responsible for the choices and decisions that we make. Sigmund Freud might be the most renowned figure in this regard as he approves of unconscious mind storing experiences and desires that later render through actions. In 1961, in a study by psychologist Bandura, children were found to be more aggressive due to upbringing by violent parents and the case was termed as an evidence for external determinism. But look how that pans out with a logical approach. The case seems more like an acquired behavior than a determined behavior since you can't possibly predict what turns out next. Limitation of behavior sciences here rules out the absolute possibility of a predetermined roadmap of those children. So, say if any one of them was to turn out to be less aggressive or calm even in the later life of them, the entire effect of the stimuli would fail to claim a hand. Besides, there has been a certain tendency in neo-freudians that allow us to think that Freud might have been a compatibilist himself. Because his psycho analysis therapy although was based on the theory of determined experiences, his remedial approach was more dependent on patients themselves making a change to their routines. Without free will and belief, that seems out of question. Erich Fromm in his 1941 book Fear of Freedom reflects the ideology very beautifully. 

Internal Determinism. Internal determinism relies upon the notion that biological processes and metabolism have a determined cycle and it controls the entirety of a system. In a word, it sounds pretty much of a bleak argument in favor of determinism. In fact, the conception renders the humans as nothing but biological machines. But that naturally is not the case as it contradicts the evolutionary, psychological and hierarchy aspects of living organisms. Christian List, an atheist philosopher, has a very strong argument as he points out a sort of duality in human beings- as a mass of chemical particles and biological processes and also as something called an intentional agency. According to him, disbelief in free will results from a reductionistic worldview. Reductionists limit the scientific possibilities and work through the lens of reducing the whole of universe to only physical processes. Such an unscientific method of propounding perspectives is clearly not acceptable in the mainstream scientific community and so the only way that the humans make sense of beings is when we consider them intentional agency; not just a matter of biological origins [1]. Since behavior science hasn't been able to counter that so far, internal determinism stays just a basic mistaken theorem. 

Humanistic Approach Against Determinism. This argument is a rather spin-off of my previous arguments. Humanist psychology has been a very active sector constantly dismantling the idea of determinism. It's supported not only by human psychology but also by practical biology and neurology. According to the best of of human psychologists like Maslow and Rogers, freedom is intrinsic and absolutely essential to define a human. If we are familiar with the Maslow's Hierarchy of human psychology on which almost all the classical and traditional psychologists agree upon, we can see that self-actualization is the highest up in the ladder. This self-actualization is nothing but an acquired skill to call in inspiration to claim uniqueness from any other species and is possible to achieve through individual efforts. So, even within social sciences, free will is fundamental and integral to being a human in the first place.

For character limitation, I'm ending my arguments for now and will continue to articulate new arguments in later rounds. I'll request the judges to look at my arguments in one and homogenous form, not via a break for every round.


I’m a theist and I wholeheartedly believe in free will. However, for the purpose of our debate, I shall momentarily consider it to be true
I'm not sure if the debate policy has anything written regarding this because I can easily use this statement against Pro as a weak display of conduct and can further issue a possibility of lack of unbiased sources from him. Using it in description is okay but within a round of debate seems pretty naive.

Burden of Proof. Pro provided no solidity in his claim; he dedicated only one of the paragraphs to why free will is problematic, Not a single reference to how determinism may be the truest in its form. Unless he carries the burden of proving that through scientific and philosophical window, the debate edges towards Con's favor.

There is no sole arbiter of morality, I have feelings to discourage me from committing evil things because events have dictated me to have feelings.
The only sound statement from Pro but still it is easily denied by my external determinism argument since Pro mentions events dictating actions. However, my next arguments will focus more on that but for now it may be deemed self-contradicting for Pro as he doesn't seem to find a solution for predetermined feelings of those who commit crimes.



Round 3
I am sick and I am currently undergoing self-isolation. This is day 3 of my quarantine.

I waive this round. Feel free to award appropriate points to my opponent. 

Thanks for your effort,Safalcon. You may pursue additional arguments or rebuttals in the third round.

Because of my opponent's inability to continue, I'll just continue my arguments in this round as I mentioned before and urged the judges to consider my arguments as one due to space limits of each round. Just to remind you, my arguments are based on refuting the topic claim and the burden of proof is on Pro that hasn't been met yet.


Behaviorists' Dilemma. There is a very basic problem that determinism deals with that has no answer till now. The most famous advocate for determinism in terms of behaviorism is B.F Skinner. According to him, free will doesn't have any existence in the physical world. He proposed in his scheme that there is basically "no wrongdoing" in the world. So, any person that commits a crime or violence has nothing to worry about since it was not a deliberate choice he made but a decision he didn't have any control over. External, environmental and personal experience and stimuli have rendered him involve in such a  situation. In my External Determinism argument, I already pointed out the flaws of that dogma. Also, from a simplistic point of view, in the modern world, this take on the subject is highly controversial. Because justice is something that people in general seek for the circumstances and if one takes away the moral responsibility of a human, the entire moral ground collapses and any act of evil or harm is then justified; ironically proving to be unjust to the victims.

Moral and Psychological Dilemma. This argument is a spin-off of the previous one as to why determinism doesn't stand a chance to represent the existential aspect of human beings. Psychologists have attributed these deterministic world views to an irrational deduction of causation. Irrational, because human beings possess a unique sensation and complex mechanism of cognition and metabolism. Actively bouncing between binary (Yes & No) mindset is a specific quality that materializes the human success for psychological development. Determinism actually poses a serious disrespect to that extraordinary biological and mental structure of human beings. Eliminating moral evaluation and mental calculation leads humans to be classified as lower breeds of animals. Without moral responsibility, the essence of evolving human superiority is heavily compromised. So, hard determinism cannot be defended in any way in this regard.

I might have a couple of other arguments against determinism but I will articulate them while my opponent is able to counter the five arguments I have stated so far; otherwise the debate will have a lopsided edge towards Con.


Round 4
I am back. I’m ready for this debate.

I think my interactions with this community have been positive and I owe thanks both to my opponent and to the users of this superb website. I invite my opponent to a DART philosophical discussion between Athias and simplybeourselves I had read a week ago( I want to draw everyone’s attention to simplybeourselves' cited source: Galen Strawson’s The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility.

In his paper, Strawson calls his argument against free will The Basic Argument and it contains these ideas (simply put):

(1) Nothing can be causa sui*
(2) In order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects.
(3)Therefore nothing can be truly morally responsible

Causa sui*- cause of itself
The word “Nothing” in his argument includes ordinary finite human beings. Strawson says that a further rephrasing of this argument (in less simplistic form) is offered by Nietzsche:

“It is a sort of rape and perversion of logic. But the extravagant pride of man has managed to entangle itself profoundly and frightfully with just this nonsense. The desire for “freedom of the will” in the superlative metaphysical sense, which still holds sway, unfortunately, in the minds of the half-educated; the desire to bear the entire and ultimate responsibility for one’s actions oneself, and to absolve God, the world, ancestors, chance and society involves nothing less than to be precisely this causa sui…”
~Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Now, my opponent may argue that ethical dilemmas in cases of moral responsibility are irrelevant in the nature of free will. I beg to differ. I think the problems of free will are metaphysical and ethical. Moral responsibility is the ability to make right or wrong choices in ethical dilemmas. I believe that free will is problematic precisely because it’s intimately tied to the nature of moral responsibility. I think the presence of moral responsibility tells us that ordinary human beings are free. Likewise, I think the absence of moral responsibility tells us that ordinary human beings are not free.

I said above that the problems of free will are metaphysical and ethical. I now want to return to Strawson’s ideas. I think he is right to point out that for moral responsibility to be true, we have be responsible for “the way we are.” What is the way we are? I think he means that a finite human being would have to be responsible for the conditions she was born in. In my understanding, there has never been a case where a person is held responsible for entering into our world. For this to be true, a baby would have to fly out of thin air and we would have to hold the baby responsible for existing in this world.

Rebuttal section:

External Determinism: The case seems more like an acquired behavior than a determined behavior since you can't possibly predict what turns out next. Limitation of behavior sciences here rules out the absolute possibility of a predetermined roadmap of those children
 I am arguing for hard determinism and this neither proves his case to be true or my case to be false. For a start, we held ourselves to be truly responsible if I find myself (in Strawson's terms) in a situation where I "flow necessarily" from sources outside my circumstances. Acquired behavior is actually behavior learned from circumstances.

Christian List, an atheist philosopher, has a very strong argument as he points out a sort of duality in human beings- as a mass of chemical particles and biological processes and also as something called an intentional agency. According to him, disbelief in free will results from a reductionistic worldview.
 A reductionistic worldview? Hard determinism isn't necessarily reductionist. Even if it's true, one would have absolve other factors (i.e. God, society, evironment) for one to be truly free and morally responsible.

My opponent articulated an excellent point defending his position and I'm glad to have come out to challenge it now. Given the broadness of the topic, I'll only discuss rebuttals to the Basic Argument by Galen Strawson here,


Vagueness. Strawson's Basic Argument is pretty obscure in his own terms. We can realize this vague lining when we critically analyze his theories and rationally perceive what it actually represents. See that, he propounds the belief that one's reason to act causes one's actions. So according to him, one has to be responsible and self-determined for his reasons to be responsible for his actions. So as Pro pointed out that existing as a being is a reason that no one can be responsible of and so any action he does is not for him to account for. While this is a legitimate point to argue by, Strawson has sufficiently struggled in his linguistic and intrinsic abilities to convince a crowd for what he believes in. Because he states "to determine" one's action as-

 “to play a crucial role in whatever process it is that finally determines the nature of [e.g. one’s actions] (1986: 34-35)
Here "to play a crucial role" indicates a very non-causal term of reasoning. So, if one can prove that reasons are not always causal to actions, the entire Basic Argument falls right apart from it's intuitive force of perspective.

Now, a wide range of reasons or a single out of them may determine one's action according to Strawson. But if "determine" is defined as "to play crucial role" also according to him, his premises of Basic argument fail to satisfy the essence of the postulation. Because as his two premises suggest,

(1) “one’s reasons play a crucial role in determining one’s actions,”
(2) “thus, to be truly responsible for one’s actions, one must be self-determined in one’s reasons for performing that action,”
So, because the core of the Basic Argument is the premise (2), it allows for all the crucial reasons explanations to hold responsibility to cause one's actions. And therefore true moral responsibility doesn't have any problem to be taken for any given action as long as one of the reason behind it plays a crucial role. So, what that means is that by Strawson's own definitions, almost every action has a self determined reason (to play crucial roles).

Existence Paradox. As Pro stated that according to Galen, being born doesn't depend upon one's will and since we are not responsible for that, we are hard determined. But according to my first rebuttal here, me being in the universe has a crucial role to play for my actions to pan out next and so I can safely say that I have self-determined my existence and so I am truly morally responsible for my actions. This is coming from Strawson's own dogmatic documentation.

Missing Causal Link. Not a single paragraph in Strawson's work dedicates to set up and prove a causal link between one's reason and action which he firmly asserts in his articulation. So, why should I presume in the first place that reasons necessarily cause actions? Since, he provides such non-causal definitions of terms like "determine", it is really suspenseful as to why he doesn't clear the air. Obscure painting of playing a crucial role in actions is not as same as ultimately causing the action and therefore his postulation seems far fetched and forced according to his own ideology.

Carl Ginet's Work. Carl Ginet propounded that looking for causal justification is unnecessary behind an action as an agent is entitled to carry out an action regardless of what is deemed plausible. So, figuring a reasons explanation is to convince the motivation behind an act but that's that. One doesn't have to prove a causal link otherwise it interrupts the agent's true responsibility itself. It doesn't suspend the reason explanation sought by Galen but dismisses any need of that which is pretty rational compared to what Galen holds.

Time Delay. If a reason has to cause an action, it is only logical to materialize that act as soon as possible. But thats usually not the case. A driver knowing to stop at a signal immediately doesn't stop before the signal is given out. A man is to be baffled with different choices to make in life and therefore he has to take time to go through the possibilities. That also fails the Strawson's argument here disproving the need of reasons to justify actions.