Hard determinism is the philosophical theory that, because every event has a cause, all human action is predetermined and therefore choices made by free will do not exist. Though the assertion of the hard determinist that nothing can occur without a cause may seem rational, the conclusion that no one ever acts freely has sparked much debate in the philosophical world.
The Four Principles of Free Will and Determinism
In order to better understand hard determinism, it is necessary to analyze four general principles involved in the discussion of free will and determinism:
- The Principle of Universal Causation: This states that every event has a cause. In other words, if “X causes Y” is true, then X and Y are events; X precedes Y; and if X happens, Y has to happen.
- The Free Will Thesis: This states that sometimes people act freely.
- The Principle of Avoidability and Freedom: If a person acts freely, then he could have done something other than what he in fact did. Yet, if no one could have done anything other than what he in fact did, then no one ever acts freely.
The Auxiliary Principle: This asserts that if every event has a cause, then no one could have done anything other than what he in fact did. Therefore, if sometimes a person could have done something other than what he in fact did, then some events are uncaused.
Though all four principles initially appear to be intuitively plausible and a case can be made for believing each, it is ultimately apparent that they are incompatible with one another. In other words, not all principles can be true. Much philosophical debate has subsequently been dedicated to determining which of these principles are true and which are false.
Hard determinism responds to this incompatibility of the principles by accepting the principle of universal causation, the principle of avoidability and freedom, and the auxiliary principle as true and rejecting the free will thesis as false:
- Premise 1: Every event has a cause (principle of universal causation).
- Premise 2: If every event has a cause, then no one could have done anything other than what he in fact did (auxiliary principle, part one).
- Premise 3: If no one could have done anything other than what he in fact did, then no one ever acts freely (principle of avoidability and freedom, part two).
- Therefore, no one ever acts freely (denial of free will theory).
Premise 1 is the thesis of determinism: Every event is subject to the law of causality. The rationale for this premise is its appeal to common sense; it seems impossible to even imagine what it would mean for an event to be “uncaused.” Premise 2 defines causality: If an event is caused, then it must happen. If it must happen, then nothing else could have happened instead. Premise 3 simply expresses what is meant by “free.” Surely if an act must occur, the person committing the act has no choice and is thus not acting freely.