Predeterminism is the idea that all events are determined in
Predeterminism is the philosophy that all events of
history, past, present and future, have been already decided or are
already known (by God, fate, or some other force), including human
Predeterminism is closely related to determinism. The concept of
predeterminism is often argued by invoking causal determinism,
implying that there is an unbroken chain of prior occurrences
stretching back to the origin of the universe. In the case of
predeterminism, this chain of events has been pre-established, and
human actions cannot interfere with the outcomes of this
Predeterminism can be used to mean such
pre-established causal determinism, in which case it is categorised as
a specific type of determinism. It can also be used
interchangeably with causal determinism—in the context of its
capacity to determine future events. Despite this,
predeterminism is often considered as independent of causal
determinism. The term predeterminism is also frequently used in
the context of biology and hereditary, in which case it represents a
form of biological determinism.
1 Definitional difficulties
2 R. E. Hobart
3 Philippa Foot
5 External links
Predeterminism is difficult to discuss because its simple definition
can logically lead to a variety of similar, complex (and, perhaps,
better defined) concepts in metaphysics, theology, and the philosophy
of free will. The term predeterminism suggests not just a determining
of all events, but the prior and deliberately conscious determining of
all events (therefore done, presumably, by a conscious being). Due to
this, predeterminism and the similar term predetermination are easily
and often confused or associated with ideas ranging, for instance,
from the physicalist (and often scientific) notion of causal
determinism to even the theological (and often religious) notion of
A secular example to try to illustrate predeterminism is that a
fetus's future physical, emotional, and other personal characteristics
as a matured human being may be considered "predetermined" by
heredity, i.e. derived from a chain of events going back long before
her eventual birth. However, one of the difficulties with defining
predeterminism using this example is that the word predetermine
necessarily implies a conscious being "doing" the determining ahead of
time. With regards to predetermined heredity, a conscious being
(perhaps a genetic scientist) is presumed to be the one speculating on
what the fetus's personal characteristics will turn out to be, for
example, based on looking at the genomes of the fetus and its
ancestors. If there were not this conscious entity, the scientist,
then one could say merely that the fetus's characteristics are
determined by heredity, rather than predetermined. Predeterminism
necessarily implies, at the very least, a passive but all-knowing
observer, if not an active planner, designer, or manipulator (of the
fetus's personal characteristics). This basic scientific idea of
hereditary determination, though, already fulfills the definition of
causal determinism, a metaphysical concept.
While determinism usually refers to a naturalistically explainable
causality of events, predeterminism seems by definition to suggest a
person or a "someone" who is controlling or planning the causality of
events before they occur and who then perhaps resides beyond the
natural, causal universe. This creates a definitional conflict because
predeterminism, by this understanding, logically leads to a belief in
the existence of a conscious being who must determine all actions and
events in advance and who, possessing such seeming omnipotence, almost
certainly operates outside of the laws of nature. This conscious
entity is probably, then, a being who is omnipotent as well as
presumably supernatural and omniscient. The definitional confusion
here is that there is already a name for this very concept:
Predestination asserts that a supremely powerful being
has, in advance, fixed all events and outcomes in the universe; it is
a famous doctrine of the Calvinists in
Likewise, the doctrine of fatalism already explicitly attributes all
events and outcomes to the will of a (vaguer) higher power such as
fate or destiny. Furthermore, in philosophic debates about the
compatibility of free will and determinism, some argue that
predeterminism back to the origin of the universe is simply what
philosophers mean by the more common term "determinism." Others have
suggested that the term "self-determination" be used to describe
actions as merely "determined" by an agent's reasons, motives, and
When various interpretation of the word predeterminism can be defined
even better by other terms, such as the aforementioned determinism,
predestination, or fatalism, then the definition of predeterminism
itself appears awkward, unclear, and perhaps even worthless in terms
of practical or philosophic discussion.
R. E. Hobart
R. E. Hobart is the pseudonym of Dickinson S. Miller, a student of
William James who was later one of James' closest personal friends and
for some years a colleague in the Harvard philosophy department.
Hobart (Miller) criticized the core idea of James' The Will to
Believe, namely that it was acceptable to hold religious faith in the
absence of evidence for or against that faith. James referred to
Miller as "my most penetrating critic and intimate enemy."
Nearly 25 years after James' death, R. E. Hobart published a short
article in Mind in 1934 that is considered one of the definitive
statements of determinism and compatibilism. It was entitled Free Will
as Involving Determination and Inconceivable Without It.
Hobart's compatibilism was similar to earlier landmark positions by
Thomas Hobbes and David Hume, as refined in the 19th-century
compatibilist views of John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, and F. H.
Bradley. But unlike them Hobart explicitly did not endorse strict
logical or physical determinism, and he explicitly did endorse the
existence of alternative possibilities, which can depend on absolute
He was writing just a few years after the discovery of quantum
mechanics and indeterminacy, and also makes passing mention of the
ancient "swerve" of the atoms espoused by Epicurus:
'I am not maintaining that determinism is true...it is not here
affirmed that there are no small exceptions, no slight undetermined
swervings, no ingredient of absolute chance.':2
'"We say," I can will this or I can will that, whichever I choose".
Two courses of action present themselves to my mind. I think of their
consequences, I look on this picture and on that, one of them commends
itself more than the other, and I will an act that brings it about. I
knew that I could choose either. That means that I had the power to
Hobart supports the existence of alternative possibilities for action
and the capability to do otherwise.
And he clearly prefers "determination" to "determinism." Hobart's
article is frequently misquoted as "Free Will as Involving
Philippa Foot is one who misquoted Hobart's title, but who had the
same misgivings about determinism.
In 1957 she wrote an article in The Philosophical Review entitled
"Free Will As Involving Determinism."
Nevertheless, she criticized arguments that free will requires
indeterminism, and in particular the idea that one could not be held
responsible for "chance" actions chosen for no particular reason.
Her article begins with the observation that determinism has become
widely accepted as compatible with free will.
"The idea that free will can be reconciled with the strictest
determinism is now very widely accepted. To say that a man acted
freely is, it is often suggested, to say that he was not constrained,
or that he could have done otherwise if he had chosen, or something
else of that kind; and since these things could be true even if his
action was determined it seems that there could be room for free will
even within a universe completely subject to causal laws.":439
Foot doubted that the ordinary language meaning of saying our actions
are "determined" by motives has the same meaning as strict physical
determinism, which assumes a causal law that determines every event in
the future of the universe.
She notes that our normal use of "determined" does not imply universal
"For instance, an action said to be determined by the desires of the
man who does it is not necessarily an action for which there is
supposed to be a sufficient condition. In saying that it is determined
by his desires we may mean merely that he is doing something that he
wants to do, or that he is doing it for the sake of something else
that he wants. There is nothing in this to suggest determinism in
Foot cited Bertrand Russell's view of causal determinism:
"The law of universal causation . . . may be enunciated as
follows:...given the state of the whole universe,...every previous and
subsequent event can theoretically be determined."
^ a b c McKewan, Jaclyn (2009). "Predeterminism". In H. James Birx".
Encyclopedia of Time: Science, Philosophy, Theology, & Culture.
SAGE Publications, Inc. pp. 1035–1036.
^ "Predeterminism". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford Dictionaries. April
2010. Retrieved 20 December 2012. . See also "Predeterminism".
Collins English Dictionary. Collins. Retrieved 20 December 2012.
^ William F. O'Neill (1981). Educational ideologies: contemporary
expressions of educational philosophy. Goodyear Pub. Co. pp. 105,
393. ISBN 978-0-8302-2305-3. Retrieved 20 December 2012. All such
determinism implies predeterminism in the sense that anyone who is
hypothetically possessed of perfect knowledge of the world as it
exists at the present (in all of its complexity) would be able to
predict the future without error and to reconstruct the past by
logical implication on the basis of existing information.
^ "Some Varieties of Free Will and Determinism".
Ethics. philosophy.lander.edu. 10 September 2009. Retrieved 19
December 2012. Predeterminism: the philosophical and theological view
God with determinism. On this doctrine events throughout
eternity have been foreordained by some supernatural power in a causal
^ See for example Hooft, G. (2001). "How does god play dice?
(Pre-)determinism at the Planck scale". arXiv:hep-th/0104219 .
Predeterminism is here defined by the assumption that the
experimenter's 'free will' in deciding what to measure (such as his
choice to measure the x- or the y-component of an electron's spin), is
in fact limited by deterministic laws, hence not free at all ,
and Sukumar, CV (1996). "A new paradigm for science and architecture".
City. Taylor & Francis. 1 (1-2): 181–183.
doi:10.1080/13604819608900044. Quantum Theory provided a beautiful
description of the behaviour of isolated atoms and nuclei and small
aggregates of elementary particles. Modern science recognized that
predisposition rather than predeterminism is what is widely prevalent
^ Borst, C. (1992). "Leibniz and the compatibilist account of free
will". Studia leibnitiana. JSTOR: 49–58. Leibniz presents a clear
case of a philosopher who does not think that predeterminism requires
universal causal determinism
^ Far Western
Philosophy of Education Society (1971). Proceedings of
the Annual Meeting of the Far Western
Philosophy of Education Society.
Philosophy of Education Society. p. 12. Retrieved 20
December 2012. "Determinism" is, in essence, the position which holds
that all behavior is caused by prior behavior. "Predeterminism" is the
position which holds that all behavior is caused by conditions which
predate behavior altogether (such impersonal boundaries as "the human
conditions," instincts, the will of God, inherent knowledge, fate, and
^ "Predeterminism". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster,
Incorporated. Retrieved 20 December 2012. See for example
Ormond, A.T. (1894). "Freedom and psycho-genesis". Psychological
Review. Macmillan & Company. 1 (3): 217. doi:10.1037/h0065249. The
problem of predeterminism is one that involves the factors of heredity
and environment, and the point to be debated here is the relation of
the present self that chooses to these predetermining agencies ,
and Garris, M.D.; et al. (1992). "A Platform for Evolving Genetic
Automata for Text Segmentation (GNATS)". Science of Artificial Neural
Networks. Citeseer. 1710: 714–724. doi:10.1117/12.140132. However,
predeterminism is not completely avoided. If the codes within the
genotype are not designed properly, then the organisms being evolved
will be fundamentally handicapped.
^ a b c R. E. Hobart "Free Will as Involving Determination and
Inconceivable Without It," Mind, Vol XLIII, No. 169, January, 1934
^ Alternative Possibilities
^ E.g., Fischer and Ravizza, Perspectives on moral responsibility, and
even in the Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy Archived 2009-07-31 at
the Wayback Machine.
^ a b
Philippa Foot "Free Will As Involving Determinism," The
Philosophical Review, vol LXVI, (1957).
R. E. Hobart on Information Philosopher
Philippa Foot on Information Philosopher
Compatibilism and incompatibilism