Assuming determinism, does this imply that feelings of pride, guilt and remorse are illusions? If we are not truly responsible for our actions, as determinism implies, how can we feel pride in our accomplishments or regret our mistakes?

  • 1
    Excellent point. The ability to make such judgments presupposes an independent standard (i.e. free from determinism) by which to judge. Otherwise it would be like using disorder (incomprehensible data) as a standard to evaluate disorder, which could never yield truth nor emotional preferences.
    – user3017
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 13:10
  • Yes, but the illusion of free will would result in exactly the same emotions. Such emotions do not disprove determinism, if that's what you're implying. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 13:19
  • 1
    But determinism provides no basis for judgment or knowledge, so the illusion of emotions would have nothing to ground them. They would thus have no content, making it impossible to explain the illusion of them being meaningful (i.e. as having the capacity to engage our decision making process).
    – user3017
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 13:27
  • True, but as I said, this doesn't prove we have free will. It only proves that emotions are illogical, if we don't have free will. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 13:31
  • 1
    Free from what? If you mean free from natural determinism, that's exactly what it proves. Otherwise, knowledge would be impossible.
    – user3017
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 13:34

3 Answers 3


We need to divide the emotions. Those you mention all assume that we are free agents who have voluntarily acted in ways that justify pride, guilt, remorse. If determinism is true, it is not the emotions that are illusory, since they really occur. What is illusory is our belief that we have voluntarily acted in ways that justify pride, guilt, remorse. As mental states the emotions are real; as moral phenomena we are mistaken about the non-existent voluntaristic psychology behind them.

By contrast ...

In the case of emotions such as fear, disgust or surprise we do not assume voluntariness. They are on any account involuntary states of mind. I do not decide to fear the snarling dog about to attack. Nor do I have any choice about feeling disgust at certain odours. Or about surprise when I open a letter and find a million dollar check. I cannot see that determinism could expose any illusions here. Automatically I feel fear; automatically I feel disgust; automatically I am surprised. I do not suppose myself to be a free agent in regard to these emotions and so determinism cannot correct any mistakes I have made about my status as a free agent, since I have made none.

  • Thank you. I was thinking along those very lines. But here's my problem. I don't believe we have free will, yet I still feel pride in 'my' accomplishments. In this situation, is my feeling of pride an illusion? Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 13:41
  • 1
    @ZaneScheepers: maybe its your belief in determinism thats at fault here? Even Dirac said that 'Nature makes choices'. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 14:08
  • 1
    @ZaneScheepers. I agree with you that if your judgment is determined by natural causes, truth is illusory. But if the truth upon which the knowledge is based is illusory, how does it qualify as knowledge? Wouldn't it also be illusory?
    – user3017
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 14:35
  • 1
    @ZaneScheepers: Hmm, I don't see any unassailable logic here, merely unassailable assertion... Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 15:06
  • 3
    @Zane Scheepers. 'But here's my problem. I don't believe we have free will, yet I still feel pride in 'my' accomplishments. In this situation, is my feeling of pride an illusion?'. I don't think it's an illusion in this sense - it's not an illusion that you feel pride. It's a fact that you do. But it's a reaction, feeling or whatever inappropriate to the facts. You have done nothing that could warrant praise, since a praiseworthy action is voluntary and determinism means that nothing you do is voluntary. A case of cognitive dissonance perhaps ? Best - Geoff
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 22:01

If we have information about emotions they are exactly what we know they are. Illusion is a fallacy approach because it mean something that by definition is different from what it is. In other words we can remove entropy from the question "what emotion we have" and receive the corresponding information. Before to receive the information the emotion is uncertain so any possible answer is imagination, after we receive the information the emotion is certain (probability = 1).


Assuming determinism is true these emotions of pride, guilt and remorse give us completely false information about our moral responsibility. However, these emotions are real states of mind. We actually have them. They are facts, but completely unreliable facts. But if they are not reliable, what purpose do they serve? Why do we experience them at all?

This situation forces a choice upon us between two conflicting ideas. Either the empirical evidence of our emotions is completely unreliable and must be rejected or the idea of determinism, which is after all only an abstraction, is false. The very existence of this choice is a defeator for determinism which has no use for choices and so determinism should be rejected.

This goes beyond emotions. Under determinism all of our cognitive faculties are unreliable as well. There is no point having them. Our very discussion here is pointless. We can’t change anyone’s mind not even our own. Because of this, it seems that the only choice that preserves rationality is again to reject determinism. If we accept determinism we are admitting that our cognitive faculties are unreliable and we are irrational.

Here is the question: “If determinism is true, are emotions like pride, guilt, and remorse illusory?”

Given determinism, these emotions are completely unreliable. We have them, but they give us false information. That we have these emotions, however, is problematic in a deterministic universe. They serve no purpose. This raises a doubt whether our emotions really are completely unreliable. If they are even partially reliable, which is how we experience them, then determinism is false. Based on this empirical evidence we can reject determinism.

  • 1
    I didn't give the down vote but the question is not about whether determinism is true but what would logically follow about the status of emotions if it were.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Feb 17, 2018 at 12:38
  • @GeoffreyThomas I answered the question that they are illusory, indeed, completely unreliable. Explaining why they are completely unreliable leads to a rejection of either the hypothesis of the question or rationality itself. Commented Feb 17, 2018 at 14:01
  • I still don't see how the rejection of determinism is relevant to the question as framed but I also don't agree with the unexplained negative score, which I have reversed. All the answers that are ignored or downvoted without explanation on this site ! So unhelpful. PSE tires me; I don't believe in doing philosophy by democracy and especially not by secret ballot.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Feb 17, 2018 at 17:16
  • @GeoffreyThomas Thank you. I agree with you about the secret ballot. Regarding the answer, as soon as one says "yes" to the question in the OP, one has a defeator for determinism since someone will say, as I did, that if those emotions are "completely unreliable", then that is not the real world and so determinism is false. Those who support determinism need to be careful how they answer this question. I needed to get "completely unreliable" to negate that as "partially reliable" and so I tried to motivate that by a discussion of what I see determinism implying. Commented Feb 17, 2018 at 17:45
  • 1
    I very much disagree with the answer. Determinism doesn't make emotions illusory and unreliable. Determinism means that you didn't have a choice having the emotions you have (and both you and everyone else didn't have a choice in taking all the actions that did produce your emotions), but that doesn't mean these emotions are not real.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 17, 2018 at 17:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .