Libertarianism versus Determinism

‘So, a lot of us figure that our thoughts and actions are free. But, most of us also believe that every effect has a cause, and that everything that happens now, in the present, is the necessary result of events that occurred in the past. This view is known as hard determinism. And [many people would argue that both can be true]; that many of your actions are free, and that the world is governed by cause and effect.

But, it turns out, you can’t rationally hold both views. Because, traditionally, libertarians have defined free actions according to what’s known as the Principle of Alternate Possibilities. That might sound like the plot device for a sci-fi show, but this principle says that an action is free only if the agent – that is, the person doing the thing – could have done otherwise.

So, truly free actions require options. Determinism, by contrast, doesn’t allow options. It holds that every event is caused by a previous event. Which means that an agent can never have done anything other than what they did, and therefore, they are never free.’

– Green. H. (2016, August 15) Determinism vs Free Will: Crash Course Philosophy #24


In theology, predestination is the doctrine that God has foreordained all things, especially that God has elected certain souls to eternal salvation. In crude simple terms, the concept of predestination is synonymous to the term ‘fixed destiny’.

The concept of predestination is a problem with respect to the theological idea of theodicy – the branch of theology that concerns itself with the question: ‘If a superior entity is both omnipotent and “good”, how can evil exist in the world?’ Presuming all events are predestined, all evil must be unavoidable as well. Therefore, the doctrine of predestination makes it virtually impossible to call an omnipotent entity “good”.

Also, predestination causes a paradox when combined with the philosophical concept of free will; man can hardly have free will when everything is ‘meant to be’. The philosophical case against predestination is argued quite persuasively by Christopher Hitchens:

“People say, “Well, how do you have free will? Do you think you do have it?” Well, it’s a very, very difficult subject indeed. Some religions say you don’t in effect have it, that all is determined by heaven, you’re really only a play thing in a larger game. I take that to be that some of the point of Calvinism. There are some schools of Islam also that say, “It is only as Allah wills.” There’s no will of yours really involved as long as you’re willing to make the prostration and the obedience. So the connection between religion and free will isn’t as simple and easy as some people think it is.

But I would say, yes, I think we have free will. When asked why I think so, I would have to take refuge in philosophical irony and say, “Because I don’t think we have any choice but to have free will.” Well at least I know at this point that I’m being ironic and that some of the irony is at my own expense and it’s a risk I have to be willing to run. But the Christian answer is, “Of course you have free will, the boss insists upon it.”

This somewhat degrades the freedom and redefines the idea of will and it seems to me also that there’s something degrading in the idea that saying that morality is derived in the same way; that it comes from on high; that we, ourselves, are not good enough; that we don’t have the dignity; we don’t have the self respect; we don’t have the character to know a right action or a right statement when we see it or when we want to perform it.

It’s this servile element in religion—it’s not strictly speaking the subject of our debate this evening, I know, but I’m damned if I completely forgo it—it’s the idea that, buried in the religious impulse, is actually the wish to be unfree, is the wish for an immovable, unchangeable, celestial authority, a kind of heavenly North Korea that will take our decisions away from us and commit us only to worship and praise and thank a Great Leader and his son, the Dear Leader, forever and ever and ever. I’m so glad that there’s no evidence that this is true.”

Christopher Hitchens


Predeterminism is the idea that every event is caused, not simply by the immediately prior events, but by a causal chain of events that goes back well before recent events. For example, one’s personal characteristics are predetermined by heredity, by a chain of events going back before one’s birth.

In philosophical debates about the compatibility of free will and determinism, it is predeterminism back to the origin of the universe that philosophers mean by the more common term determinism. Some philosophers have suggested the term ‘determination’ be used to describe actions as merely determined by an agent’s reasons, motives, and desires.

Predeterminism and the similar term predetermination are often confused with the theological notion of predestination.