Determinism 1

The scientific world-view and human freedom


What philosophy is. One idea: the ragbag conception - philosophy as all those problems for which there is no clear approach.

One source of important philosophical problems may be the clash of systems of thought.

Start philosophy by simply trying to think carefully and sceptically.

First problem: Do human beings have freewill?

There seems to be an incompatibility between our belief in human autonomy and the principle of causality.

We believe human beings are autonomous at least some of the time.

'We' are all 'scientists' in the sense that the culture we belong to is structured by science - i.e. is a 'scientific' culture.

As 'scientists' in this sense, we automatically focus on the causes of things that happen, rather than eg regarding them as having meaning and being interested in that.

Another possibility our culture does not encourage us to pursue is to regard things that happen in the physical universe as rewards or punishments.

A strong way of putting this focus on causes is to say we seem committed to the idea that nothing happens without a cause (the 'Principle of Causality').

This implies that everything that human beings do is fixed beforehand - because the things that we do are of course 'happenings' and so must have causes - which in turn must have causes, and so on ad infinitum.

The first five weeks of the course are devoted to investigating this apparent clash between belief in human autonomy and belief in the principle of causality.


The quotation from Laplace I borrowed from Nagel: The Structure of Science, London, Routledge, 1961, p.281, footnote.

Nagel's book is worth meeting.