We had this little discussion in class. Are your actions for every type of determinism determined before your birth? We're discussing traditional theories, so Quantum Mechanics aren't relevant (yet).

I'd say yes, because determinism doesn't accept external factors, therefore the new situation necessarily follows up on the old situation and, with mathematical induction, therefore up on all old situation, also before your birth.

But is this also true for social determinism? Then, your actions are determined by other actions, the social situation. Can your actions already be determined before those other actions have been performed?

Again, I'd say yes. If your actions are determined by other actions, so are the actions of others. Therefore you can go back and back in time until before your birth.

I realize my whole reasoning depends on that I say that determinism does not accept external factors. Is that true? Also, for my reasoning, I cannot have people with free will, then at least the reasoning for social determinism is invalid. But determinism goes for everyone, if it goes for anyone, right (according to determinism)?

Am I correct, or is there any form of determinism possible where your actions are not determined before your birth?


However, can your actions already be determined before those other actions have been performed?

According to a strictly deterministic view, yes. The amount of fuel in your gas tank determines how far you can travel, even though you haven't yet done that traveling. If a computer program is designed with a memory leak, the program will fail when memory is exhausted, even though the program has not yet been run.

To my understanding, the essence of classical determinism is that the actual events do not have to take place for their outcomes to be determined.

Perhaps scholars who dwell on these subjects will disagree - I am admittedly not familiar with all the scholarly literature. I can certainly accept the notion of what I would call soft or fuzzy determinism: A system in which pre-existing conditions would constrain outcomes such that they would fall only within certain parameters, but not definitively determine precise outcomes.

A rather prosaic example of such fuzzy determinism might be if someone has a genetic makeup that dictates that their height will be at minimum, 7 feet, 4 inches tall. It is absolutely determined that this person will have a hard time finding a suit that fits well. It is not absolutely determined that they will never have a suit that fits well. But perhaps "having a hard time finding a suit that fits well" is already a deterministically defined outcome.....

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • 1
    Do you realize that your answer currently consists of four questions only? :) – user3164 May 19 '13 at 21:07
  • @Gugg - duly noted and edited. :-) – Vector May 19 '13 at 21:24
  • I think your current last sentence is not necessarily (logically) true. Counterfactual definiteness is at odds with superdeterminism. – user3164 May 19 '13 at 21:36
  • 1
    Though the question is pretty open, I'm thinking cites would be great for some of this -- and it occurs to me it might also be productive to unpack some of the argument in the last paragraph a bit further. – Joseph Weissman May 20 '13 at 0:05
  • 1
    There's nothing wrong with thinking, but since other people have also done a great deal of thinking, citing them can deliver a lot of information. Also, common sense can be wrong, and what is common sense to you may be nonintuitive to someone else--probably is if the question was on that very topic--so more careful forms of argumentation are to be preferred (even if not cited, at least mention why the view is a thought to be a useful/plausible one--"I just made this up and couldn't be bothered to see if anyone else did" doesn't give us much help in deciding whether it's worth pursuing). – Rex Kerr May 20 '13 at 14:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.