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The determinism (of Latin determinare , set ',' set limits 'limit') is of the opinion that all - especially future - events are clearly defined by preconditions. The counter-thesis ( indeterminism ) represents that there are certain events that are not clearly determined by preconditions, but are indeterminate (= indeterminate).

In natural philosophy , a general determinism is usually supported by two assumptions: first, that all natural processes are determined by natural laws and, second, that the equations of motion provide a clear solution when inserting exact values ​​and thus determine the results. Whether these assumptions are consistently true is a matter of dispute. In any case, if world events are fixed, this seems to create a contradiction for the existence of free will . Whether this contradiction exists is just as controversial as the respective consequences.

There is no uniform concept of determinism, rather there are different variants. According to the classical division of William James , the philosophical conceptions can be divided into hard and soft determinism. Paul Edwards also makes the division into ethical, logical, theological, physical and psychological determinism.

Historical development

Determinism was developed by Greek philosophers of the 7th and 6th centuries BC, specifically by the pre-Socratics Heraklit and Leukippus , later Democritus and Aristotle and mainly the Stoics dealt with it, in Roman antiquity also Marcus Aurelius .

Determinism is closely related to materialism , whose thought leaders in antiquity sought natural explanations of reality rather than mythological ones. The ancient Greek philosopher Democritus is considered the essential intellectual father of determinism . With his doctrine of atomistic materialism , he traced everything back to the interplay of elementary natural processes and thus decoupled nature from transcendent and metaphysical influences and the then widespread notion that gods constantly intervened in world events.

In the Age of Enlightenment , these ancient ideas were taken up again and further developed. The work Système de la Nature by Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach , published in 1770, is a milestone . In it d'Holbach describes nature as a closed system that includes both the laws of nature and the eternal rules of morality. In nature there is nothing more than matter that moves and is involved in a consistent sequence of cause and effect. In particular, with this monistic conception , he turns against dualism and the position of the division of the world into material and spiritual.

With the establishment of classical mechanics and the mechanistic world view , representatives of mechanistic determinism, especially Pierre-Simon Laplace, concluded that if the world is subject to fixed physical laws and at no point events without cause (e.g. through supernatural phenomena or by objective chance ) then future events must inevitably be determined. Furthermore, it was  postulated - pointedly in the Laplace demon - that a "world spirit" who knows the present with all the details can predict the past and future of world events in all details ( classical determinism or Laplace's determinism ).

Limits of Determination

Dominoes illustrate the chain of cause and effect. When the first stone falls, the effect of the last stone is already determined.
Density fluctuation in the young universe. Hard determinism assumes that from this initial state all subsequent states of the universe are irrevocably fixed.

Newer disciplines in physics ( chaos theory , relativity theory , quantum physics ) have given rise to various objections, each in principle, to such predictability.

The French mathematicians Henri Poincaré and Jacques Hadamard discovered at the end of the 19th century that even simple dynamic systems like the three attracted bodies lead to very complicated trajectories and that even such elementary physical processes as the movement of a mass point along geodesics contribute Small deviations in the starting angle can grow into changes of any size in the result. Today your work forms the basis of chaos research . Deterministic chaos can lead to dynamic systems not being predictable at all or only for short periods of time. Poincaré made a distinction between strong and weak determinism in view of the complexity of the phase space structure he had discovered .

Deterministic systems are completely determined by the initial conditions, but are only partially determined; Determination is defined as the degree of “predeterminedness” of such systems, closely following a predictability . Both practical and fundamental limits with regard to the accuracy of the measurements or the calculation steps limit a prediction.

The physicist Walter Seifritz shows that the course of ideal billiard balls is no longer exactly reproducible after just a few (about 8) hits. He shows `` that a very small disturbance, of which one initially suspects that it is completely negligible, can build up and bring imponderables into play, so that it can no longer be described completely deterministically. ''

Chaotic trajectory of an idealized double pendulum
Phase space of a magnetic pendulum over three magnets

Examples of deterministic systems that depend so heavily on initial states that they do not allow any prediction in practice, be the throwing of dice or the drawing of balls in the urn model - one also speaks of chance . Examples of partially, for short periods of time predictable, deterministic systems are the double pendulum , the magnetic pendulum , the weather or economic cycles .

In the mathematical model of deterministic chaotic systems, the phase space can have a fractal structure with infinite roughness . The infinite roughness indicates that not only small deviations from the initial state have a major effect on the result state - see also butterfly effect - but that this is already caused by infinitely small deviations. Deterministic systems can therefore develop non-deterministic behavior along fractal phase space structures (rippled basins) . Due to unavoidable noise in practical scenarios, an on-off intermittency , i.e. the spontaneous change between completely different system behavior, can occur.

With Norton's Dome , a thought experiment was presented in 2003, which even leads to different results without any deviation in the initial state and thereby remains fully compliant with Newtonian mechanics.

But that's not all - there are a number of other boundary phenomena, which are usually added to Newtonian mechanics and which can destroy the unambiguous solvability of the differential equations and the determinism derived from them: infinite space, unlimited speed, continuity, point particles and singularities .

In addition, some areas of physics are described not by deterministic, but by probabilistic laws.

(Classical) thermodynamics deals with systems made up of many particles, the system state of which can in principle be described by the individual states of all particles, but because of the impracticability of measurement and calculation, this is dispensed with and statistical physics only calculates with statistical mean values. In this way, despite extensive ignorance of the microscopic particle states, very precise predictions can be made at the macroscopic level.

The formalism of quantum mechanics is also limited to probabilistic statements about future events. Whereby the accuracy of a prediction can not be made better than a certain value, even with any increase in the measurement accuracy, which is limited by the uncertainty relation . Many physicists, including in particular the representatives of the Copenhagen interpretation , have explained this by stating that our world is fundamentally non-deterministic on the microscopic level of quantum mechanics. There are also deterministic interpretations ( de Broglie-Bohm theory , ensemble interpretation , many worlds interpretation ). The assessment of whether our world is deterministic or indeterministic in its basic components depends on which interpretation and philosophical attitude one takes. These different interpretations are based on the same mathematical formalism and deliver the same prediction results. The Schrödinger equation - the differential equation on which the undisturbed temporal development of (nonrelativistic) quantum systems is based - is completely deterministic, i.e. its solutions are unambiguous if initial conditions are given. Only through the measurement process does indeterminism come into the quantum world, which is also known as a measurement problem .

The physicist Stephen Hawking uses the term determinism for all interpretations of quantum mechanics, including the variants that are referred to as indeterministic . He justifies this choice of words by saying that this avoids the possible false impression of irregularity. Even under the assumption of a fundamental randomness of nature, instead of a specific future and past, the probabilities for various possible futures and pasts would be precisely determined by the laws of nature, i.e. H. determined.

Statistical determinism

Statistical determinism assumes that even if individual events cannot be predicted, certain statistical relationships can often be determined for groups of events and used for prognoses. Adolphe Quetelet and Henry Thomas Buckle , who were the first to investigate social phenomena using statistical methods, are considered to be the main protagonists of statistical determinism. They encountered astonishingly stable regularities in the number of births, deaths, marriages, various crimes and suicide rates, and concluded that this indicated underlying laws.

The statistical methods they helped to develop are similar to those used in geodesy or meteorology . This is done with the inclusion of extensive databases and the effort to find patterns in them that can be identified as regularities. Today these methods are also assigned to the field of pattern recognition .

Adequate determinism

The synergy of information theory and physics gave rise to explanatory approaches that attempt to resolve (apparent) contradictions between indeterminism on the microscopic level of quantum particles and determinism on the macroscopic level of astronomy or everyday occurrences, as well as free will between inevitable laws, chaos and to give meaning to pure coincidence. Above all, the Harvard scientist Robert O. Doyle (* 1936) propagates the concept of adequate determinism .

It is assumed that not all information (about the future) has been available since the beginning of the universe, but (objective) chance at the quantum level ensures a constant entry of information. A two-stage process, chance plus selection, can then emerge structure that carries this information content. Doyle sees in the process of creativity "all actions that bring new information into the universe", be it the formation of new stars and galaxies or the composition of a piece of music.

Entries of the quantum mechanical chance in observable, macroscopic objects create something new and information (irreversibly) is generated and recorded. According to the information-theoretical interpretation, information is to be equated with negentropy , i.e. negative entropy . At certain points, the entropy decreases due to creative processes. At the same time, entropy must be released into the environment so that the 2nd law of thermodynamics remains intact.

Erwin Schrödinger defines life in his book Was ist Leben? as something that absorbs and stores negative entropy. This means that life is something that exports entropy and keeps its own entropy low: negentropy import is entropy export.

Since we live in an expanding universe , the number of possible states increases, so that the entropy as well as the information in the universe can increase at the same time.

Subject-specific determinism

Historical determinism

Philosophers and historians have controversially discussed whether there are law-like relationships that determine historical processes and thus determine historical development and, if necessary, also enable a prediction of the future. This could include, for example, the cultural cycle theory or Oswald Spengler's historical morphology. The accusation of historicism is raised against wide areas of the philosophy of history , e.g. B. by Karl Popper , who called it a mistake. In addition, Theodor Lessing criticized “history as giving meaning to the meaningless” insofar as it explains historical facts teleologically as the result of history.

Psychohistory can be viewed as a previously fictional variant of historical determinism . In this science, introduced in the science fiction novels of the Foundation cycle by Isaac Asimov , individuals are considered analogous to gas particles in gas kinetics, so that hardly any predictions can be made about the behavior of individual individuals, but the behavior of large groups can be predicted with great accuracy .

Technology determinism

Technological determinism describes the view that technology determines social change.


Geodeterminism (also nature determinism, environmental determinism or ecodeterminism) is a research approach in economic space analysis, which states that the different economic development in different parts of the world is primarily determined by the natural, original equipment.

Climate determinism

Climate determinism is a sub-aspect of geodeterminism and comes from historical climatology . It includes interpretations and models that explain changes in individual or social conditions as reactions to climate change . Other environmental factors or social influences are ignored as well as the active role of people in interaction with their environment. Examples of climate-deterministic positions can be found in ancient ideas of the determination of characters by regional weather conditions (see Climate (Historical Geography) ), for example in Aristotle , and were still widespread in the 19th and 20th centuries, for example in Ellsworth Huntington . Aristotle justified what he believed to be a superiority of the Greeks over the barbarian peoples with the prevailing climate in Greece. Huntington explained economic and health well-being of societies and citizens with the specific climates of the region in which they were located. Dangers of war can be attributed directly to global warming , without considering other necessary factors, is also criticized as deterministic.

Linguistic determinism

Benjamin Lee Whorf's hypothesis that the grammar and vocabulary of languages ​​shape the language community's idea of ​​the world, so that different language communities see the world differently, the more their languages ​​differ, the more differently.

Biological determinism

Biological determinism takes the view that humans are exclusively or predominantly determined by their biological nature and not by their social or cultural environment. Assessing the influence of biological factors very highly is also known as biologism , as a counterpart to sociologism or culturalism , which classifies social or cultural influencing factors as primarily decisive. The terms social determinism and cultural determinism are used accordingly .

Genetic determinism represents the conviction that all life forms and processes can be fully explained by the number, arrangement and interaction of genes or that the cell can be reduced to a genome.

Logical determinism

Logical determinism is based on the consideration that statements are always true or false, never undefined, which also applies to statements about the future. But if today a statement "You will get married on October 1st, 2525" is already true or false, then the event must also have already been determined.

A related consideration is based on the premise that God is omniscient. So he already knows today what will happen in the future. So the future has to be fixed today.

Theological determinism

Theological determinism is the view that God determines all events in the history of the world. The basis for this is the omnipotence and omniscience of God. This view is found in many monotheistic religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

This first of all raises the question of how divine predestination is to be reconciled with natural laws and at which points divine sphere of influence remains without violating the natural laws.

The predetermination of reality - be it through divine omnipotence or through the regularity of nature - furthermore creates numerous problems in various areas of religious philosophy and dogmatic .

Most religions and their interpreters advocate human free will ; the theistic religions also teach, according to their most common interpretations, the existence of an all-knowing and all-powerful God . According to some philosophers and theologians, it needs to be explained whether and how these three theses are compatible. In addition, it is discussed whether and how God's omnipotence is compatible with a complete determinism of the course of nature, if omnipotence also means the ability of God to intervene after creation. A classic solution is that the eternal God is not subject to time, but creates the world and time and also those events that appear to people as miracles or as an exception to natural laws.

Nelson Pike says that previously know and projections as intended in the event of an omniscient being who does not err can more closely related. Anthony Kenny points out that simultaneity is a transitive relation . If God's work is simultaneous with every moment, then all events are simultaneous. According to him, Thomas Aquinas teaches the former . Since the latter is absurd, such a concept of God must be given up.

In monotheistic theologies, differently strong theses were put forward about the objective or humanly insightful systematicity of divine action and about the extent to which the individual is effected by God. An extreme form is the thesis that only individual atoms are created by God for only individual moments of time and that there is neither a lasting substance nor stable natural laws - a so-called occassionalism , which u. a. was represented in some schools of the Arab Kalam and is accompanied by a strong emphasis on the divine will (so-called voluntarism ), against which human rationality and the stabilities and laws assumed by it become unfounded. This occassionalism is obviously incompatible with physical determinism.

The more God's work is understood as the creation or predetermination of individual events, the more the need to explain the compatibility of the evil with the understanding of God's goodness, the so-called theodicy problem. If there were universal determinism, all human actions, including evil, would be indirectly attributable to God. This could not ask people to avoid evil and would not even be completely good itself. However, since, according to the arguments of natural theology , God can be shown as existent and perfectly good, there can be no complete determination of the world.

Further theological problem areas are the discussion of a predestination ( predestination ) of individual individuals for their respective end-time salvation or the possibility of believing religiously at all or of acquiring gifts of favor .

Free will

The compatibility of determinism and free will is still controversially debated , among other things in the philosophy of mind .

Numerous philosophers hold the view that determinism and free will are mutually exclusive ( incompatibilism ). Either, in the case of a deterministic interpretation of reality, freedom of will is an illusion (hard determinism), or else freedom of will is real, but reality is then not deterministic ( libertarianism ). The opposite thesis is that even if reality is deterministic, free will can be real ( compatibilism or soft determinism). Thus, if an incompatibilist considers free will to be real, then determinism is wrong, or vice versa. Both positions were and are represented by incompatibilities.

The different positions on determinism and free will

An incompatibilistic position is mostly justified by the defense of a reducibility of mental states to natural or physical states. Because if a mental state is identical to a state that is described using the terms of deterministic physical theories, then mental states and, in particular, voluntary decisions are also determined. Such a reductionism or a non-existence of the spiritual (see materialism and eliminativism ) is represented in particular by theorists who fundamentally argue that there are only natural objects, so-called naturalists .

It is often argued that the randomness of thermodynamic or quantum mechanical processes is irrelevant to the question of whether free will is possible. This is justified by the fact that our concept of freedom means a decision that is self-determined by reasons and not a sequence of events determined by chance.

The theological assumption that all events are predetermined by God (theological determinism) also poses problems for some theorists for the reality of free will (see above).

Definition of terms

The philosophical positions of fatalism and predestination are also characterized by predestination. In detail, the peculiarity of determinism is causality , i.e. the state of an isolated system at time t + dt is determined by its state at time t. Fatalism and predestination assume an open system, the future state of which is determined by the external intervention of fate and not by the current state. Fatalism and predestination again differ from one another in that hypothetical gods in fatalism are also subject to fate and in predestination they control fate through a hypothetical free will.



Philosophy of mind and practical philosophy

For literature on the problem of free will see there.

Climate determinism

Natural philosophy and philosophy of science

  • Jeremy Butterfield : Determinism and Indeterminism. In: Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Routledge, London 1998.
  • Robert C. Bishop: Determinism and Indeterminism. In: Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Volume 3, pp. 29-35.
  • David Bohm : Causality and Chance in Modern Physics. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1957.
  • Mario Bunge : Causality, History and Problems. Mohr, Tübingen 1987.
  • John Earman : A Primer on Determinism. Reidel, Dordrecht 1986.
  • Klaus Mainzer : Determinism. In: Jürgen Mittelstraß (Hrsg.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. 2nd Edition. 2005, pp. 167-169.
  • Brigitte Falkenburg : The Myth of Determinism: How Much Does Brain Research Explain to Us? . Springer 2012.

Philosophy of religion

  • Shams Inati: Determinism, Theological. In: Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Volume 3, p. 23 f.

History of ideas

  • WH Dray: Determinism in History. In: Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Volume 3, pp. 35-41.
  • Richard Taylor : Determinism, A Historical Suvey of. In: Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Volume 3, pp. 4-23.

Social Sciences, Philosophy of Culture and History

Web links

Wiktionary: Determinism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Stefan Jordan, Christian Nimtz (eds.): Lexikon Philosophie , Reclam, Stuttgart 2009 ISBN 978-3-15-010711-9 , p. 63
  2. ^ William James: The Dilemma of Determinism . In: The Will to Believe and other essays in the popular philosophy . Dover, New York 1956, p. 149, (PDF)
  3. ^ Paul Edwards: Determinism. In: Paul Edwards (Ed.): Encyclopedia of philosophy. Macmillan, London 1967
  4. ^ Terminology according to Wolfgang Detel : Basic Philosophy Course. Volume 2: Metaphysics and Natural Philosophy. Reclam, Stuttgart 2007 (Universal-Bibliothek, 18469), ISBN 978-3-15-018468-4 , p. 76
  5. H. Thomas, T. Leiber: Determinism and Chaos in Physics . In: K. Mainzer, W. Schirmacher (Hrsg.): Quantum, Chaos and Demons. Epistemological aspects of modern physics . Mannheim: BI-Wissenschaftsverlag, 1994, p. 148 ff .
  6. Walter Seifritz: Growth, Feedback and Chaos: An Introduction to the Theory of Nonlinearity and Chaos. Hanser, Munich, 1987, ISBN 3-446-15105-2 , pp. 85 .
  7. John C. Sommerer: The End of Classical Determinism . tape 16 , no. 4 . John Hopkins APL Technical Digest, 1994, p. 333-347 ( [PDF]).
  8. ^ John D. Norton: Causation as Folk Science . Philosopher's Imprint, 2003.
  9. ^ John D. Norton: The Dome: An Unexpectedly Simple Failure of Determinism . tape 75 , no. 5 . Philosophy of Science, 2006 ( [PDF]).
  10. ^ Edward N. Zalta (Editor): The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Stanford University, 2016 ( - see Chapter 4.1 Classical mechanics).
  11. ^ Edward N. Zalta (Editor): The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Stanford University, 2016 ( - see Chapter 4.4 Quantum mechanics).
  12. Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow: The great design . Rowohlt, 2010, ISBN 978-3-499-62301-1 , p. 71 .
  13. Kevin Donnelly: Adolphe Quetelet, Social Physics and the Average Men of Science, 1796–1874 . Routledge, 2015.
  14. ^ Theodore M. Porter: Probability and Statistics . Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016 ( ).
  15. ^ Robert O. Doyle: The Cogito Model . ( The Information Philosopher ).
  16. ^ Robert O. Doyle: Adequate (or Statistical) Determinism . ( The Information Philosopher ).
  17. See WH Dray: Determinism in History . In: Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Volume 3, pp. 35-41.
  18. History as giving meaning to the meaningless . 1919, or Reinicke Verlag, Leipzig 1927. Reprint: Matthes & Seitz, Munich 1983, ISBN 3-88221-219-5 ,
  19. ^ Franz Mauelshagen: Climate history of the modern age . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2010, ISBN 978-3-534-21024-4 , pp. 21 .
  20. Idean Salehyan: From Climate Change to Conflict? No Consensus Yet . In: Journal of Peace Research . tape 45 , May 2008, doi : 10.1177 / 0022343308088812 ( abstract ).
  21. Hartwig Hanser (Ed.): Lexicon of Neuroscience . Spectrum Academic Publishing House, 2000 ( ).
  22. Joachim Schummer. The work of God. The artificial production of life in the laboratory. Suhrkamp Berlin. Edition Unseld Volume 39. 2011. ISBN 978-3-518-26039-5
  23. Leigh Vicens: Theological Determinism . The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  24. In God and Timelessness 1970, taking up a corresponding argument by the late antique philosopher Boethius .
  25. ^ Aquinas, a Collection of Critical Essays