Philosophy of Mind: Does materialism entail hard determinism?

As the title says, does materialism/physicalism/naturalism entail hard determinism?

It would depend on the person. Most people are materialistic because material things make life comfortable. The only reason we’ve got the high standard of living we do is because of material machines.

For the intellectual type, who wants an explanation for everything, materialism could lead to hardline determinism, or hardline determinism eg. Marxism could lead to materialism.

The first communists weren’t rich by any means, but they wanted egalitarian materialism. So their determinism lead to materialism.


An odd question arises. What exactly is determinism?

It was inevitable that you would ask that.

How so?

That’s determinism.

de·ter·min·ism (dûr The philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs. :slight_smile:

The first communists were Christians who sold what they owned and shared everything! They weren’t materialists because they believed in God.

Materialism has three meanings:

**1. ** Philosophy The theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena.
**2. ** The theory or attitude that physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life.
**3. ** A great or excessive regard for worldly concerns.

  • TheFreeDictionary

The last often applies to Christians!

Oh, interesting. :slight_smile:
Some have this weird notion that the saying “If you want it, there are ways to do it. If you don’t want it, there are excuses for it.” is determinism.

Hmmm. So the very subject and substance of logic itself would actually have to be material then. . . Or would it?

I somehow feel compelled to answer nevertheless: Perhaps. But, I guess, not necessarily, pending thorough empirical research into the physics behind logical inference.

I mean, OK, sure, determinism probably does follow. However, that’s only if the Principle of Sufficient Reason is really a legitimate one; that is, y’know, if the world is in fact intelligible instead of, on the contrary, one (well, vaguely one-ish, at least) giant, chaotic mess of random happenstance and disorderly nonsense and stuff – yes, even well after the fantastic discoveries about the physical world at the sub-atomic level of quantum theory have been invoked in all their counter-intuitive, entirely-material glory.

If the latter, we’d as a result have absolutely no way of having any idea about the matter at all, as indeed the intelligibility of that which is intelligible would have to be immaterial itself, along with the possibility of the immaterial intellect that it would thus necessarily demand. And of course the truth of that matter just wouldn’t really exist as any topic for discussion whatsoever, like it presumably does now, certainly not “in fact” or any such ridiculous thing.

Ahhh, see, I’m now beginning to lose a sufficient conceptual grasp of the concrete meaning and objective significance underlying the matter we’re supposed to be discussing in this thread (and I suspect you may be too). With this in mind, I’m inclined to wonder: maybe that’s the only effect I should ever ultimately expect with any sort of confidence whenever I find myself trying to determine the abstract implications of theoretical materialism.

Determinism is unpalatable because we insist on “free will”.

But will is not completely free. It depends upon the physical states that power our minds. However, there is enough chaos in the system of our human mind to allow some wiggle for our will. Entropy leads to indeterminacy.


I think you mean “determination”, not “determinism.” Determinism is the philosophical stand that all events, including human thoughts and actions, are the inevitable result of material processes, I.e. you and your thoughts are just the latest incidental product of a domino like chain of physical forces and chemical reactions that was set off by the big bang; it couldn’t have happened any other way, your sense of identity and freedom is an illusion, you have no will or choice; everything you do is determined by the particular conditions of your biology. That’s determinism.

You are correct. Hence, the saying “If you want it, there are ways to do it. If you don’t want it, there are excuses for it.” is actually the opposite of determinism.

There is a concept in philosophy called supervenience with which some have tried to reconcile materialism and free will. The theory goes something like this: Human beings are sufficiently complex enough to have a second order of thoughts (the level of abstraction and self-reflection). It can be demonstrated that these higher level thoughts can affect (“supervene”) on the lower processes. You can rationalize something and your anger subsides or you think positively and your body releases more potent disease fighting cells. This complexity has some materialistic philosophers thinking they have avoided determinism.

However, there is one problem with this view. If all that exists is physical, then your mind is merely responding to physical stimulae, no matter how complex the process. Your mind, will, higher emotions… if these only exist because of physical processes, then the higher order of thoughts still is determined by material stimulae. And thus the theory doesn’t avoid determinism.

Why couldn’t there be a self-directing process that is physical in nature?

Why is this such a discomforting issue? Is it just that if “will” is not fully free, we might have to adapt some of our other cherished abstractions?


I cannot think of what a wholly physical, free, self-directing process would be. If materialism is true, then physical stimuli are like Boolean operators and our intelligence is like logic. No matter how complex the thought process is, it is still dependent on the input. A self-directing and free process would need one of two abilities: 1) The ability to generate thought apart from physical stimuli and 2) the ability to direct the process against the outcome of logic. I cannot think of a way that either of these happen without something akin to the soul.

For analogy, take artificial intelligence. Sure we can create complex programs that mimic the physical thought process of humans and possibly imitate being self-directing., but we could not get it to operate without physical stimuli (fails 1) or go against the outcome of the program (fails 2). This means that artificial intelligence, no matter how advanced, cannot be called a self-directing.

It should follow then if higher order functions are material and determined, then the logic to whatever input should be a repeatable output for every person. By common experience, this is not the case. Ergo, either materialism has to avoid determinism by necessity, which it can’t, or materialism is false. This also includes property dualism since it advocates higher order functions emerge from material properties, to mental properties and revert back to material properties.

I do not see how it could not but lead to hard determinism. Clearly, if there is nothing in the ‘system’ but matter, then things must progress according to pre-existing causes.

Unless, of course, causality was rejected. But to attempt to reject causality would be far-fetched.

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