Free Will and Determinism

To what extent can we decide what we do? Are we really free to choose or have things already been decided for us? Can we control things or is everything out of our hands? This issue is a central problem of philosophy and can have a large impact on everybody if the answer is that we cannot choose anything for ourselves!


Students will research the different philosophical approachs and consider people such as Hume and Nietzsche. In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume discusses the issue of ‘liberty and necessity’ and seems to propose a form of soft determinism. The belief that human beings can act freely is central to Descartes’ dualism; it is discussed in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, and is relevant to the moral, political and religious philosophy themes.


In this module you will study the following topics:


Determinism | Free Will | Impact of Determinism


Click on the above links to be taken to these sections.


The department is aiming to update these topics so that you will be able to access information about your course from this website. If you cannot download something or are having problems using the site, please contact Mr. Winter.

What is determinism?

  • How does the philosophical understanding of determinism affect our understanding of whether we are able to choose and define our own lives?
  • Can we define our own lives if a set of conditions can only produce one possible outcome given fixed laws of nature?
  • How is determinism distinguished from fatalism?
  • How similar is determinism to the religious notion of predestination and predictability?
  • Can chance be compatible with determinism?
  • Is all human action the inevitable result of environmental and hereditary factors?
  • Is human action always subject to natural laws?
  • Is it possible to argue that the experience of free will is merely an illusion?

What is free will?

  • Does free will require indeterminism?
  • If we have free view is there a gap in universal causality?
  • Is it possible to say that human decision-making has a special place outside of the natural order?
  • Is free will compatible with determinism?
  • Can voluntary action be defined in terms of the type of cause from which it issues?
  • What is soft determinism?
  • Can voluntary action be causally determined and yet distinguishable from psychologically or physically constrained action?

What are the implications of determinism?

  • To what extent is determinism the undermining moral responsibility.
  • How does the implications of the view that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ impact this?
  • To what extent can praise, blame and punishment be meaningfully employed if determinism is true?
  • Does determinism undermine rationality?
  • What is the distinction between reasons and causes?
  • What is the distinction between action and bodily movement?