Tag Archives: determinism

Leon Louw

There are no irreversible situations or ‘laws’ of history of the kind popularised as mistaken and dangerous old Marxist recipes. The outcomes in human affairs will always depend on what we are capable of doing every day. Paradoxically, communists and socialists who beat the drum of ‘historical determinism’ never thought they could leave history to roll in on the wheels of inevitability. Socialists in general work more diligently at influencing history than the supposed defenders of freedom.

Leon Louw, ‘The War of Ideas: Lessons from South Africa’, in Colleen Dyble & Bridgett Wagner (eds.), Taming Leviathan: Waging the War of Ideas Around the World, London, 2008, p. 159

G. A. Cohen

I said that believing that no inequality could truly reflect real freedom of choice would contradict your reactions to people in day-to-day life, and that I lack that belief. I lack that belief because I am not convinced that it is true both that all choices are causally determined and that causal determination obliterates responsibility. If you are indeed so convinced, then do not blame me for thinking otherwise, do not blame right-wing politicians for reducing welfare support (since, in your view, they can’t help doing so), do not, indeed, blame, or praise, anyone for choosing to do anything, and therefore live your life, henceforth, differently from the way that we both know that you have lived it up to now.

G. A. Cohen, Why Not Socialism?, Princeton, 2009, pp. 29-30

William James

Old-fashioned determinism was what we may call hard determinism. It did not shrink from such words as fatality, bondage of the will, necessitation, and the like. Nowadays, we have a soft determinism which abhors harsh words, and, repudiating fatality, necessity, and even determinism, says that its real Dame is freedom; for freedom is only necessity understood, and bondage to the highest is identical with true freedom. Even a writer as little used to making capital out of soft words as Mr. Hodgson hesitates not to call himself a “free-will determinist.”

Now, this is all a quagmire of evasion under which the real issue of fact has got entirely smothered up. Freedom in all these senses presents simply no problem at all. No matter what the soft determinist mean by it, whether he, mean the acting without external constraint, whether he mean the acting rightly, or whether he mean the acquiescing in the law of the whole, who cannot answer him that sometimes we are free and sometimes we are not? But there is, a problem, an issue of fact and not of words, an issue of the most momentous importance, which is often decided without discussion in one sentence, nay, in one clause of a sentence, by those very writers who spin out whole chapters in their efforts to show what “true” freedom is[.]

William James, ‘The Dilemma of Determinism’, Unitarian Review and Religious Magazine, Vol. 22, No. 8. (September, 1884), pp. 197-198

John McTaggart

So far as punishment is vindictive, it makes a wicked man miserable, without making him less wicked, and without making any one else less wicked or less miserable. It can only be justified on one of two grounds. Either something else can be ultimately good, besides the condition of conscious beings, or the condition of a person who is wicked and miserable is better, intrinsically and without regard to the chance of future amendment, than the condition of a person who is wicked without being miserable. If either of these statements is true—to me they both seem patently false—then vindictive punishment may be justifiable both for determinists and indeterminists. If neither of them is true, it is no more justifiable for indeterminists than it is for determinists.

John McTaggart, Some Dogmas of Religion, London, 1906, p. 163

John Lucas

Although men may sometimes take a God’s eye view of the universe, they cannot consistently think of themselves as not being covered by any universal account they give of the world or of humanity. For they are men, and live in the world. It is a fair criticism of many philosophies, and not only determinism, that they are hoist with their own petard. The Marxist who says that all ideologies have no independent validity and merely reflect the class interests of those who hold them can be told that in that case his Marxist views merely express the economic interests of his class, and have no more claim to be adjudged true or valid than any other views. So too the Freudian, if he makes out that everybody else’s philosophy is merely the consequence of childhood experiences, is, by parity of reasoning, revealing merely his delayed response to what happened to him when he was a child. So too the determinist. If what he says is true, he says it merely as the result of his heredity and environment, and nothing else.

John Lucas, The Freedom of the Will, Oxford, 1970, p. 114