If everything is ruled by determinism, what rules determinism itself?

Has any philosopher ever explored this matter?

  • Dennett et al (the physicalist determinists) say that the chance conditions of the big bang created causality, and that free will is an illusion. Some idealists like descartes say the physical is subject to determinism, but not the mind.. which is somewhat paradoxical. Other idealists say that determinism is an illusion. Determinists in general seem to take causality a-priory, and why not, we take integer addition as such, and that wouldn't work without causality.
    – Richard
    Feb 27, 2019 at 13:30
  • @Andrej, do you mean determinism in the physical sense, or in the philosophical sense (Philosophy of mind and free will) ?
    – SmootQ
    Feb 27, 2019 at 14:13
  • 2
    Yes, the elaboration of this is called the cosmological argument, and, assuming the question makes sense, the answer is the "first cause", a.k.a. God. Unfortunately, the question most likely does not make sense, determinism is an abstraction that can not "rule", nor can it be "ruled".
    – Conifold
    Feb 27, 2019 at 21:39

2 Answers 2


I am afraid I have never heard of a philosophy that explores this very point, but I have something to add in this subject.

Physical Determinism asserts that everything that exists could not be otherwise (At least this is the definition I agree with). Let us see where logic may take us here.

Our assertion is physically deterministic in essence, since most determinists (in the physical sense of determinism) would agree with it, (let us ignore quantum mechanics and suppose that physical determinism is true).

Premise : for all x, if x is the case (C) then it is not possible (not-P) for x to not be the case. With : C = be the case, and P = possible to not be the case. I chose P instead of ◇ to avoid using modal logic for a physical possibility, which would lead to a controversy).

By possible I do not mean: logical possibility in modal logic, but just 'physical' possibility if you will, that is why I only content myself with predicate logic (not modal logic). Which means that there are certain physically possible configurations that will never happen, and it is not possible for them to happen physically, not because they are impossible, but by virtue of deterministic causation that does not bring forth these configurations .

So, in predicate logic : (∀x)(Cx → ~Px)

The problem is that this proposition seems to be sufficient to define determinism, we do not need anything else other than saying that determinism is that everything that is the case is impossible to be otherwise (impossible does not mean logical impossibility here).

(∀x) means EVERYTHING , since the definition is self-sufficient, and gives an account for physical determinism, then there no reason to think that (∀x) means "everything except determinism itself".

Thanks to ChristopherE's comment, I add here that the universe of discourse (i.e: the domain over which our variables of interest range, for all x) is everything that exists (and if Determinism exists, is actual, then it is also considered part of our universe of discourse).

If we substitute x by determinism, by universal instantiation, it follows that : "If determinism is the case, then it is not possible for determinism to not be the case (to be otherwise)" .

Hence, determinism is ruled by itself, if the assertion is true (and we agree that this is indeed the definition of determinism), then it follows that determinism is impossible to be otherwise.

Of course, if it is possible to say for something that it is 'ruled by itself'.

  • 1
    You are missing an x for the P predicate to apply to. Also, where you write “(∀x) means EVERYTHING” it would be useful to make clear that the universal quantifier applies to everything in the assigned domain, and that you are assigning a domain of everything that exists (or similar). May 30, 2019 at 13:45
  • Thank you for elaborating on my answer, I totally agree, no answer is perfect in every respect though. I took "everything" to mean "everything that exists", and if "determinism" exists, then the Universal quantifier applies to it, as a result: I did not think of specifying a universe of discourse, I'll add that to my answer, thanks again.
    – SmootQ
    May 31, 2019 at 23:39
  • I added a note in the middle.
    – SmootQ
    May 31, 2019 at 23:44
  • 1
    Insightful. The problem I see, is that the existence of determinism (assuming its truth) seems to be of a different kind than the entities 'ruled' by determinism. The first I'd consider an abstract object, the others particulars. At least I find it difficult to conceptualize determinism determining abstract objects and in this way itself. Jun 15, 2020 at 20:06
  • @YvenJohannesLeist I agree, thank you .. You can think of it this way : Physically determined things are ruled by determinism, determinism itself is a brute fact. (of course this is not the case, since Quantum Mechanics is not deterministic).
    – SmootQ
    Jul 2, 2020 at 12:16

Determinism is ruled by determinism if the premise holds.

If Determinism was ruled by something else, then not "everything" is ruled by determinism (determinism itself being one example), and thus the premise would be falsified.

Of course one could try fixing this like: "If everything except determinism was ruled by determinism..." But then, assuming there was an x that ruled determinism, that x would also have to be exempt from being rule by determinism, else determinism would rule x and thus also rule itself again. So the question would become "If everything is ruled by except determinism and x, ..." we would need to fin a y that rules x, and so forth.

So really the question is broken because it does not use any proper categories.

  • If you have a reference to others taking this position it would help support the answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. The OP also wants to know if any philosopher has explored this. May 30, 2019 at 11:53
  • "Everything" includes determinism. Such simple nonsensical statements are resolved by First Order Logic. If everything is made out of cheese, what it this sentence made of? Cheese.
    – tkruse
    May 30, 2019 at 22:55

You must log in to answer this question.

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