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  Determinism (from Old French déterminer, ‘to fix’) is the philosophical doctrine which regards everything that happens as determined by what preceded it. From the information given by a complete description of the world at time t, a determinist believes that the state of the world at time t + 1 can be deduced; or, alternatively, a determinist believes that every event is an instance of the operation of the laws of Nature. The wide acceptance of this view, at least in the Western world, was a result of the work of mathematical physics in the 18th and 19th centuries. At this point, it looked as if Newton and his successors had reduced the universe to systems of equations, through which the position of any particle in the universe could be predicted forever, provided that sufficent information was known about the factors affecting its motion (in other words, providing that the position of all other particles in the universe was known). Determinism is not a position of which Newton himself would have approved, since it denies any need for the existence of God, and seems to reduce human beings to the status of predictable machines. It was, however, regarded by others (for example the 18th-century mathematicians Laplace and Lagrange) as the triumph of science, showing that, through the laws of cause and effect, the future was as fixed as the past.

In science, determinism as a serious philosophy could not survive the demise of the Newtonian view of the universe. As the quantum theory of Planck and his associates brought chance into physical theory at the beginning of the 20th century, as the uncertainty principle of Werner Heisenberg (1901 - 1976) showed that some events were inherently unpredictable, and as Einstein\'s theory of relativity so changed the concept of time that physicists could no longer be certain which events came before or after others, determinism became more and more untenable, and many philosophers (for example Russell) began to feel that the concept of cause and effect was itself just an illusion. Not only that, but in the meantime Kant\'s view that mathematics (and in particular Euclidean geometry) was a priori truth had been shattered by the construction of non-Euclidean geometry by Lobachevsky, Bolyai and Reimann—an event which made scientists far more inclined to accept that mathematical equations were not necessarily the arbiters of what goes on in the universe.

The new non-determinism which resulted from all this has led to the view, held by many scientists and others throughout the 20th century, that the universe is inherently chaotic, that actions do not lead to consequences. This view was a major influence on existentialism, a world-view which (it could be argued) has come to prevail in the Western world. In this, all actions are equally meaningful (or meaningless); what matters is to validate one\'s existence by taking action, though what that action is is not important. A third point of view is ‘compatibilism’, which holds that it is possible to give an account of human freedom without invoking non-determinist explanations of human action.

As applied to political and historical thought determinism describes the views of those who think that individual ‘choice’ is (a) determined by conditions beyond the individual\'s control, and/or (b) that it is the result of free will. Historical determinism emphasizes the limits imposed by antecedent and long-term economic, political and social conditions, as in the writings of exponents of the Annales school. Economic determinism is the theory which attributes all major social and political interests and actions and their organization to the prerogatives of economic causes. In rational choice writings, economic determinism takes the form of assuming that individuals are always seeking to maximize their utility functions, and are always engaged in ‘rent-seeking’. In Marxist thought, economic determinism is supported by the doctrine of historical materialism which attempts to explain history as the product of changes in material conditions rather than as the product of changes in ideas, values and culture. Economic reductionism is frequently used as a pejorative label for determinist arguments which ignore or subsume non-economic factors in their accounts of phenomena like culture, nationalism and political power.

In philosophy, the distinction is made between determinism and indeterminism. Determinism is the doctrine that every event has a determining cause: is one which causally suffices for its effect. Some causes may merely raise the probability of their effects without causally determining them. Smoking causes lung cancer, but smoking merely raises the probability that one will get lung cancer, rather than causally determining that one will.

Indeterminism is the view that some events do not have determining causes. So indeterminism is true only if some events are uncaused, or some events have only probabilistic rather than determining causes, or both.

Philosophers have long worried about whether freedom and responsibility are compatible with determinism: see comments on existentialism above. They have more recently begun to worry about whether freedom and responsibility are compatible with indeterminism. Clearly, if freedom and responsibility are incompatible with both determinism and indeterminism, then it is impossible to be free or responsible.

In psychology, those, like Freud, who believe in psychic determination in psychiatry, assume that all mental events have causes. Freud believed that the existence of unconscious forces proved psychic determinism to be a fact of mental life, but he also recognized that consciousness, far from being just the result of unconscious forces, had its part to play in mental phenomena. Nevertheless, he regarded psychoanalysis as a science based on causal-deterministic assumptions and this makes difficulties for psychoanalytic theory when describing aspects of what we call free will, choosing, deciding, etc.

One aspect of psychic determination in psychoanalysis that has been severely criticized by women is the notion that their egos and superegos (the I and the moral conscience) are biologically determined; that girls experience the two main complexes of childhood, the Oedipus complex and castration anxiety, differently because of their lack of a penis. Simone de Beauvoir and later feminists objected to Freud\'s determinism, and put descriptions of female sexuality into social and political contexts without eschewing the psychological ones.

Freud also invented the concept of overdeterminism. This is the theory of multiple causation, where various factors reinforce a position or action a much more complex notion than simple determinism. An example of over-determinism is when emotional states like anger are over-determined by past anger, at other objects and events, being brought in to a present situation. AJ MJ SMcL BO\'L

See also chaos theory; dualism; mind-body problem.Further reading Karl Popper, The Open Universe; , T. Nagel, The View from Nowhere; , P.F. Strawson, Individuals; , R. Weatherford, The Implications of Determinism.



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