Hard indeterminism

For a long time, it has been a common conviction that human beings possess free will. With respect to actions, individuals are considered to have a choice between different potentials and therefore, they are also considered responsible for the consequences of this action. With the modern worldview came the rise of a mechanistic and thus deterministic universe in which all events are the cause of antecedent events. This causally closed universe did not leave much room for deliberate human agency.

The apparent contradiction between our perceived free will and the universe as a causally closed system lead to much philosophical reflection on how to reconcile the two positions. Many philosophers, such as David Hume, Arthur Schopenhauer and more recently Daniel Dennett have argued in favour of such a reconciliation of free will and determinism; a philosophical position which is called “compatibilism”. Some philosophers however have argued that free will must necessarily rest on an illusion if we want to go with a deterministic universe, a position known as “hard determinism”. On the other end of the spectrum, there have also been philosophers who take determinism for an illusion. Especially in quantum mechanics, we have seen theories that describe the universe as something “statistical” rather than determined. Since the universe is not determined, in their views, a human free will is perfectly feasible – a position which is called “liberalism”.


One philosophical position has been neglected in these reflections. Since quantum mechanics still stands as one of the most successful physical theories of all time, all evidence points into the direction of a indeterministic universe. But this does not necessarily imply that therefore the actions of human beings are the result of a free acting agent. In short: the universe could very well be undetermined, but still human beings have no free will. This position is called “hard indeterminism”. Since many of our contemporary scientific insights point in the direction of the illusion of subjective will, but also the illusion of determinism, I believe “hard indeterminism” deserves more attention by contemporary philosophers.


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