What Is Hard Determinism?

Hard determinism (or metaphysical determinism) is a viewpoint about free will which holds that determinism is true, is incompatible with free will, and thus there is no such thing as free will. Hard determinism is the idea that causal determinism is true, so that free actions and moral responsibility are not possible. Hard incompatibilists hold that both free will and moral responsibility are not compatible with determinism. There would therefore have to be two positions for the hard incompatibilists, but current proponents usually claim to be agnostic as to whether either determinism or free will is true.

Furthermore, hard determinists believe the causal determinism of all human actions means no human actions are free. Hard determinists admit that humans in a certain sense choose, or deliberate–though in ways that are subject to the laws of nature. Hard determinists believe all human actions are causally determined by the laws of nature, and initial conditions. To say every event is determined by antecedent causes and by the workings of natural laws is to say it is necessarily to occur given these prior conditions.

Since not every event is predictable, and because an entirely caused event (determined) would have been predictable, not every event is caused. Hard determinists examine this record of successful predictions, and they conclude that the premise on which they rest–that every event is causally determined–is clearly established, allowing for no exceptions. While compatibilists think it is possible to have a sense of responsibility even if determinism is true, hard determinists think that we are deterministic, and blame and punishment cannot be reconciled with this fact. Because individuals do not choose who or what they are, hard determinists argue that our present punishment practices are entirely without justification, since perpetrators do not–indeed, cannot–deserve punishment.

I do not think that hard determinism is inconsistent with moral accountability outcomes (praise, blame, punishment, rewards), although it is inconsistent with the idea of moral accountability in the classical sense. The results of hard determinism are actually not all that frightening; we simply need to reconsider some ways of looking at and treating others. Moral responsibility is not nebulous, like an accumulation for any one group, but quite concrete. We may even think that hard determinism will undercut a lot of our social practices, particularly those related to blame, rewards, and punishment. This is coupled with a concern that, if our actions are determined by forces beyond our control, we cannot enforce basic fixtures of human interactions, such as being able to judge someone, to punish someone, and to praise/blame someone.

Humes quotation suggests we are all, on some level, accepting hard determinism, knowing humans are just as constrained in their actions as non-living objects. According to hard determinism, circumstances, inheritance, unconscious drives, defense mechanisms, and other influences cause humans to behave as they do; and, as a result, they are not accountable for their actions. Men are fooled, for they believe they are free… And the only reason they think this is because they are aware of their actions, and unaware of the causes that determined these actions. The widespread view that we enjoy some special kind of autonomy, or self-determination, because we are capable of exercising the mysterious force that we call free will, is a delusion.

For instance, the rigid determinist may view humans as a kind of thought machine, but think that to say that they arrive at decisions, or choose, is inaccurate. Hard determinists will usually try to argue that adopting a hard determinism does not have a great deal, if any, impact on our lives. Next, we need to address a supposedly frightening consequence of hard determinism, the same result soft determinists often employ in order to demonstrate why their philosophy should be the philosophy we embrace. While determinism is the idea that we do not control our behavior, there are different degrees of determinism, including hard determinism and soft determinism.

In contrast to hard determinism (which claims determinism is incompatible with freedom), soft determinism says we are determined but are nevertheless still free. Soft determinism, as explained by David Hume and Daniel Dennett, and hard determinism, as explained by Paul Edwards, are two different theories about whether there is any freedom at all, or, more precisely, about the kind of freedom that is required to have moral responsibility. This position is called compatibilism, or soft determinism, because (like hard determinism) it admits that all events, including human actions, have causes; but it allows free actions where actions are caused by ones own choices, not external forces. In other words, indeterminism (the view that certain human actions do not have specific determinate causes) is preferred over determinism in the morally reasonable framework.

This recognition seems to render even the entire enterprise of debating issues such as free will vs. determinism meaningless, as one is already determined to take which view. One example is a Best Standard analysis stating that laws are just a useful way to sum up all past events, and there are no metaphysically pushy entities at all (this path would nevertheless put people in conflict with free will ideas). Einstein, for example, could not accept the finding of quantum indeterminacy, and still to this day, there are some physicists who think quantum indeterminacy is just obvious, and eventually some new model will develop which restores the fully deterministic perspective.

One important exception is this: Quantum mechanics may have damaged the prestige of determinism as a universal doctrine, but this does not mean it has saved the idea of free will. Hard determinism implies you still need to try everything that you believe is going to get your life going in the best way. Although hard determinism usually refers to nomological determinism, it may also be the position taken regarding other forms of determinism which require that the future is fully determined.

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