The title sort of says it all.

Aren't Determinism and Free Will indiscernible from the mortal perspective?

Under Determinism if I don't know what the plan is then whatever I do is was and always will be whatever I was always going to do and have done, so it makes no difference. From my perspective (determined or not) I'm making choices, though potentially some entity somewhere with enough data could theoretically predict my choices with absolute precision.

I found a question that I believe hits on the same nerve however I'm specifically looking for answers that express ways that we might probe reality in order to separate the two, and not so much wanting to decide if such an idea as "freedom" matters or not.

I recently found a name for the running theory I have about the "entity with enough data" model, Laplace's Demon.

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    For attempted experiments concerning free will see neuroscience of free will. However, since free will, like causality, is a holistic concept that must accomodate the totality of empirical evidence individual experiments are unlikely to be dispositive. For general arguments see arguments for incompatibilism
    – Conifold
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 20:22
  • what we "discern" is the appearance of freedom in our actions on a 1st personal level. Some studies might show otherwise in terms of analyzing behavior en masse. Not sure how that equates to "indiscernable from the mortal perspective"
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 3:30
  • You won't be able to separate the two. There is no need for the phrase 'human perspective' in your question. These are two aspects of the same phenomenon, two ways of looking at it. metaphysical problems are solved by 'sublating' the distinctions on which they depend. . There's no other way. Compatibilism rules okay.
    – user20253
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 10:52
  • It's truly amazing how modern telecommunications enables brave, bright minds to cross beams, shattering barriers that kept out forefathers in the dark. Truly enlightening! Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 17:48
  • whatever I do is was and always will be whatever I was always going to do and have done, so it makes no difference - I would suggest to you the possibility that the alternative isn't better and doesn't make you more free.
    – TKoL
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 12:25

3 Answers 3


Your point, "Determinism and free will are not discernible from the mortal perspective" is indeed the third antinomy (paradox) of Kant. According to Kant, human capacity for knowledge is innately limited by his 12 categories. The categories function like a fish net. Those that are caught by the net constitute human knowledge, and those that go though the net are something we will never know. Kant calls those uncapturable things transcendental (or Ding an Sich). According to Kant, if we try to gain the knowledge of transcendental things, we will always arrive at a contradiction, thus impossible is the knowledge of the transcendental stuff. Kant proposes that there are four such transcendental objects, the third of which is free will. Our sense of free will could be like a rock thinking that it is flying when I throw it to the air.

  • Respectfully, how does this answer his question? Quantum mechanics reinforces the probabilistic or statistical nature of human experience as well as reality, i.e. the best things in life happen by chance. So to say that, e.g., a lack of ability to predict the future with 100% accuracy, does not result in reality being transcendental. My idea is that we can effectuate outcomes over time by stacking the deck. Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 1:08
  • I am just answering based on what I think is the best answer, which is Kant's. The free will debate is still popular (from hard determinism to compatibility views to voluntarism). Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 15:20
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    "Critique of Pure Reason contains a defense of free will," The question is not a defense of free will, but the existence of free will, which Kant believes we will never know. To Kant, the existence of free will is a postulate in Critique of Practical Reason, since no free will means no responsibility for the outcome' s of one's own action, ergo, the impossibility of the moral agent. Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 13:36
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    The point is that Kant's official "know" is very different from the colloquial one, by that standard we can not "know" chemistry or psychology either. So that tells us very little about "existence", and that Kant goes out of his way to reconcile free will with phenomenal causality makes his view clear enough, even aside from "sole fact of reason". The question is about mortal discernibility, and does not even mention Kant, so it is unlikely the OP identifies "discern" with Kant's "know". At the very least, the post should address Kant more fully, and a broader outlook would be even better.
    – Conifold
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 22:30
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    @Conifold. what you are asking for is done in SEP and IEP on free will. I like to answer based on what I think is a good answer to the question. I never think mine is the correct answer. Maybe you should offer yours. Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 22:05

This response assumes you to be asking whether or not a human is able to experientially distinguish between a deterministic universe devoid of free will and a non-deterministic one in which free will exists.

Given only one of these options is likely to be true (ignoring other options for a moment), and given the fact we don't know for sure which is true, it seems any means by which we could arrive at anywhere close to discernment will incorporate some degree of imagination.

If a person can suspend judgement for a moment as to which 'reality' is true - a difficult task - one can begin to experience life more and more as the 'ride', the inevitable unravelling of events, that would ensue from purely deterministic processes.

This is where meditation can prove of use. Meditation equips a person - via the diminishment of external stimuli - to pay more attention to the way thoughts arise 'out of nowhere'. The meditative experience can then be carried over into the 'day-to-day' experience via mindfulness techniques, which enable a person to retain this sense of being 'separate from the thought', 'separate from the emotion'. This in turn provides insight as to how, when we are not aware of this separation, our behaviour is largely (if not always) causally determined by mental phenomena such as thoughts, emotions, desires and so on (This likely goes some way to explaining Buddhism's adherence to a deterministic world view).

Once this is achieved, it is far easier to begin to achieve the discernment about which you enquire; between the aforementioned 'ride' (the deterministic experience) and the typical self-directed/controlled experience.

The ramifications of this discernment can permeate a person's daily life quite profoundly. The mindfulness (essentially an increased awareness of one's mental processes), equips us to exert greater control over the way we react to stimuli, and to view our own behaviour (and therefore the behaviour of others) without condemnation. It becomes easier too, to view each other as unique embodiments of predetermined circumstance equally deserving of compassion and respect, to shed notions of virtue and immorality, and to be far more grateful for our relative good fortune.

For the meditation-averse, this thought experiment can provide a quick, accessible and powerful experience of deterministic mental processes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwjD4hfrDsg).


Both determinism and free will are terms. A term is defined as

a word or phrase used to describe a thing or to express a concept, especially in a particular kind of language or branch of study.

Indiscernible is defined as

impossible to see or clearly distinguish.

So respectfully your question, "Aren't Determinism and Free Will indiscernible from the mortal perspective?" seems unreasonable in light of the fact that you articulate the question which suggests that you grasp the terms - the terms are discernible to you.

Free will is said to be considered by Aristotle well over 2,400 years ago. Wikipedia has excellent information on these terms/concepts. See Free will and Determinism.

  • I would appreciate feedback on how my answer is in error, or wrong? I'd like to learn! Please provide feedback if possible. Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 1:11
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    The question is asking if a free will has a different phenomenal experience than a determined will. You have simply noted that we have separate words, not what they are like.
    – Canyon
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 4:23
  • @canyon your comment, while appreciated, is indiscernible. Certainly, free will does not experience anything and your usage of the term phenomenal is redundant. The second sentence is clearly inaccurate as I provide definition of what each term is (like). Don't give up though! Philosophy is invaluable. Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 19:40
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    While I thank you for your sage guidance, I think you have missed the point. The question is: does a will that is free carry with it a specific sensation or other distinctive marker? Definitions are not sensations; the definition of red is not what red is like.
    – Canyon
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 20:21
  • @Canyon i think i like you. On a personal level. Your framing of the question is riveting [no sarcasm intended]. I'm gonna think about that. As an aside, check out the book Color for Philosophers: Unweaving the Rainbow By C. L. Hardin from the great folks at HACKETT. Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 17:36

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