I have a wife and two kids. According to hard determinism, I was determined since time began moving forward to marry my wife and have my children. Every moment we share together was also predetermined, and my affection for them is a chemical reaction in my brain that is likewise bound by the laws of physics.

How can a person truly love another if hard determinsim is true?

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    I don't see a contradiction in your post. What's the problem?
    – Chelonian
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 13:52
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    If hard determinism is true, then no soft "why" question is logical.
    – Joshua
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 16:56
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    The implicit assumption in this question is that love is only considered 'true' if it is a consequence of free will. That's an assumption driven by culture, not by definition. Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 18:44
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    Please clarify your question. As is it doesn't make any sense as determinism doesn't invalidate love by definition.
    – user30898
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 18:54
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    If determinism is that hard, then discussing it is also meaningless.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 23:27

6 Answers 6


Hard determinism does not entail that your love is a chemical reaction in your brain.

Hard determinism is roughly the view that :

For every event, E2, there is another event, E1, that precedes E2 and is causally sufficient for E2.

If dualism were true, hard determinism could still be true even though E1 and E2 were purely mental, with no physical components whatever. (But I am not a dualist.) Hard determinism does not imply mind/ brain identity; it is merely consistent with it. The two positions are logically independent. Hard determinism could be true without your love being identical with a chemical reaction.

Whether your love is a purely non-physical mental state or a chemical reaction in your brain, either way its nature is not altered by its causation. If love is a feeling of intense attachment, with associated behavioural dispositions, this is what it is whether it has been 'hard-determined' or is a voluntary state.

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    Would it be true to say that under hard determinism, there's nothing especially admirable or honorable, or anything interesting at all about love? Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 18:32
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    No, that's just an opinion. E.g. we know the physics of sunsets, does that mean there's nothing interesting about a sunset? Plenty of people would not agree with this line of thinking. Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 18:38
  • Great answer! All the answers are good, but I like how you include the spirit stuff and show that there’s really no difference between it and a chemical reaction in the brain.
    – Cannabijoy
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 23:31
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    I would say the last line is actually where the confusion comes from. Love is often defined such that an act of will is a component of it, rather than mere feeling. Consider a marriage: couples that stay married for longs periods of time inevitably go through a lot of conflicts where those feelings of affection and attachment wane. If we call their relationship "love," then it must necessarily not consist solely of feelings; it may be better defined in terms of their commitment to maintaining that relationship.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 9:51
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    I agree on the importance of commitment but commitment can, equally with feelings, be open to hard determinist explanation. Love can be a question of feelings, of commitment, or both : and of all such a hard determinist account can be given.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 10:20

If hard determinism is correct then there is no other option so "true" love would be defined as you having the moments you've had and experiencing the corresponding chemical response that you have.


The usual question is whether free will is possible under hard determinism. However, love, particularly romantic love as conceived in the western culture, certainly is not construed as an act of free will. In the popular imagination, it is an involuntary response to someone's qualities. So in fact, quite the opposite, the concept of a predestined love that was "meant to be" specifically demands some form of determinism.

Determinism in the context of love can be interpreted as the sequence of events that someone has certain virtues, that you were predestined to meet that someone, and that you respond to those qualities in the only possible way.

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    So, really, a better question might be "How can a person have free will if true love is real?" Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 17:15

Love is a word we have created for an experience or a set of emotions related to something or someone. It is just a word to describe the experience of this cocktail of emotions.

The word in itself does not in any way disqualify if this experience is in any sense voluntary or predetermined from birth or learned from society or upbringing or maybe even induced by a magical potion (as in fairytales, no?).


I'll challenge the frame of the question.

"Truly love" as in hollywood is a fictitious license / artifact for entertainment purposes.

Real love is a different thing for each relationship. Some are paternal, come protective, some dependent, some mutual admiration, some are a kind of deeper friendship, some companionship, some complicated shared pasts, some sexual/physical, some a form of idealization... And of course, mixes of all those. As you can see, many of these may be considered "shallow". But you can deepen any of those a lot and would be considered real. The one feeling them will at least consider them very real. But some of those, in the deep form, are considered harmful or toxic from the outside. Both are real, the shallow versions and the ones felt strongest. They are real because they exist, and they define behaviors.

Like stones are real, without having anything other than determinism defining their characteristics and behavior.

You may have seen some form of love different from the one you experience, and being a form of love that you have not experienced, may be thinking that the other one has some quality that yours does not have and that makes it more "pure" or "real", but oh boy. The real versions of hollywood "love" (too sexual, too based on idealization of relationships and too hormone based ) end pretty fast, badly, with someone pretty broken, and many times a kid(s) eating what's left.

You experience real love. That it lacks some quality that you have seen from the outside on other loves does not make those more real or yours less. Mind that the outside is usually the best that the participants allow to publicly surface; all relationships have complicated pieces dancing under the surface, and many of those pieces are the closest to determinism and instinct that you can get.


Make sure to understand the difference between "hard determinism" and "ontological monoistic reductionism".

Hard determinism is the view that free will can not exist, because of determinism.

(Matter-centric) Ontological monoistic reductionism is the view that all things can be reduced to matter.

You will find a lot of religious people who believe in hard determinism, but not in reductionism, so they fully appreciate the metaphysical (in theory they could be dualist reductionists, but oh well 😅 ). Ontological monostic "matter" reductionism is the thing that equates "love" to nothing more than a chemical reaction, whilst hard determinism doesn't do that in any way.

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