P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 32
19th May 2002
I. 'Free Will, Fatalism and Determinism' by Martin O'Hagan
II. 'The South Stoke Festival of Thought' by Richard Symonds
III. 'Philosophical Society of England: Paying by Standing Order'
by Martin Gough
I. 'FREE WILL, FATALISM AND DETERMINISM' BY MARTIN O'HAGAN
Traditionally the distinction between the concepts implies that fatalism (or
lazy sophism as it is nicknamed) has a religious even magical connotation, That
there is something out there beyond mankind conducting the entire operation. It
perhaps reaches its high point in theological fatalism that God knows all about
our future actions and can lead to the worse kind of quietism.
For example if we are ill there is no point in seeking help; for if the
individual is going to get better then he will and if he or she is going to die
then the will of God will make any medical care futile. Compare the Jehovah's
Witnesses objection to blood transfusion and other medical interventions
because they flaunt God's will.
Let us divest this notion of its theological trappings and fatalism still
remains. Examine the tautology and 1950s popular Doris Day song 'What will be
will be'. Atheists are even known to have accepted this idea. Consider the
proposition that atomic war between the former Soviet Union and modern China is
inevitable. If it is true there is no point in worrying about it since we will
all be dead. But if it is false why bother worrying since it won't happen.
It is logically necessary that any statement about the future must be either
true or false. But the events that determine tomorrow are not logical truths.
Logical truths about propositions are not causes of events. The future state of
the world is determined by the present state but is not influenced by necessary
truth about propositions.
It follows that the fatalists who argue what will be will be and there's
nothing that can be done about it are in fact arguing that human actions never
produce any changes in the world. From a harmless tautology which tells nothing
about the world the fatalists constructs a dangerous set of ideas that something
or someone outside humanity and the nature is causing the future. They are
saying that whatever it is that causes the future to be what it will be, that
our own actions can never have any part in it. It brings to mind the dangerous
situation a few years ago involving Nancy Reagan the wife of the US President.
Mrs Reagan consulted astrologers before policy decisions were made and enacted.
This is magical thinking that forces the fatalist down an impasse. Everyone
knows that human beings spend their lives in all sorts of activities that quite
obviously influence events. Human effort is not always doomed to frustration.
The Minister for Transport's latest plans for less cars on Britain's road will
have an impact. Whether it's the particular effect expected has yet to be seem.
The future will be but there is no justification for saying it will be what it
will in spite of anything that is now done.
It is casual factors such as human thoughts desires and actions that shape the
future. In the words of Marx, 'Men [and presumably women] make their own
history but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under
circumstance chosen by themselves but under circumstance directly encountered,
given and transmitted from the past' (Feuer p360).
According to Roy Bhaskar (ed. Bottomore p139-141) this and other passages in
Marx has been interpreted in different ways. The debate centres around whether
the future is inevitable as some of those in the Second International would
have argued. Or whether it was perhaps fated, that no matter what anyone did or
didn't do the socialism dawn would be a reality.
Bhaskar rubbishes the notion of Marx being a fatalist concluding that Gramsci
was right to suggest that 1917 was a 'Revolution against Karl Marx's Capital.'
Bhaskar accepts that what happens in the future will happen because or at least
in virtue of, not despite, whatever men and woman do; any other view would
constitute a gross reification of the historical process and be contrary to
Marx's repeated assertions that it is men who make history.
The fatalist - unlike his apparent determinist opposite - believes that human
actions are not to be found among the factors that determine the world. They
accept as logical necessity that the future will be what it will be. Indeed
they may deduce that the relationship between events is similar to that between
the premise and the conclusion in logic. that is to deduce that human actions
have no effect.
In contrast, the determinist believes events are determined by other events and
not by logical relationship between propositions. The 'What will be will be''
tautology contains nothing of relevance to the world.
On the other hand, if we look to the state of the world and beyond and say,
'what is was to be', this is not a tautology but expresses the determinist's
position in its essence. The state of the world - how it is - has been
determined by previous states of the world - what was.
This relationship is clearly not a logical one as the fatalists might have us
believe. But it is contingent on observation and scientific laws - that is,
laws that describe how things work. Human input, which the fatalist denies, is
among the causes. The fatalist would have us believe that the Book of Destiny
was written at the beginning of time containing everything that is to happen.
But the determinist would look to its current pages in use and see human
actions holding pride of place.
The positivistic world view had input from the fatalist perception. It is based
on an analogy with the mechanistic description of the solar system had profound
effects on philosophy and the social sciences. Laplace (1749-1824) was once
asked where does God fit into his mechanistic world and replied that he had no
need for that hypothesis. (Stroll and Popkin p 204). The notion of anyone
determining future events was foreign to his particular paradigm.
His more modern representatives included B.F. Skinner, an American
psychologist, argued that human actions is based on genetic fingerprints or
social reinforcing. The free will debate, he insisted, was not based on reason
but on a primitive superstition. (Vivian p 42) The more sinister analogy of
human society with insects was a form of social Darwinism that led directly to
the gas chambers.
Baruch Spinoza, who was in the metaphysical tradition of the Stoics and
Descartes, pulled few punches when he insisted that free will didn't exist. All
events were determined by natural laws so that people are not free. Nothing is
good nor is it bad in themselves. But the good life consists in possession of
an attitude towards the world (Hampton).
Yet clearly human volition does exist by virtue of the fact that 1 have chosen
to ask, 'Where does free will fit into a deterministic universe?'
The problem of free will in a determined universe deals with the human factor.
Augustine was tormented by the paradox that a perfect God could not be the
author of so much evil. He concluded free will is necessary if sin and evil in
the world was to have any meaning. He was then able to reconcile - albeit not
as satisfactorily as he would like - a supremely good God with the more mundane.
Historically there is a duality which on the one hand allows free choice and
the ability to act and deliberate. Human Beings are conscious of freedom in
this sense. On the other hand, there is also the realisation that what we take
as free will is the result of personal and social factors. It could be argued
that the more we learn about human nature the more we realise that the social,
material, psychological chemical, biological and now genetic factors have a
Despite the above some of the presuppositions that we employ in our moral life
seems to require that we accept some degree of free agency on the human level.
The libertarian can show that determinism is incompatible with certain aspects
of our experience and belief. Many point to the Heisenberg Uncertainty
Principle. This asserts that there is a fundamental indeterminacy in our
knowledge about particles. It is not possible to determine both quantities of
velocity and position of a particle without uncertainty.
The interpretation of this scientific law is that there is an element of
indeterminacy in nature. If this exists on the most basic level of nature
therefore by analogy such freedom must occur on a higher levels such as the
human. This is fanciful since no serious analogy between the results of' modern
physical science and the basis of human volition seem possible,
According to Berger freedom is not empirically available; in other words it is
not open to scientific methods. We can not produce a scientific proof of the
reality of freedom. Empirical science operates within certain assumptions, one
of which is universal causality: That is an object or an event that is its own
cause lies outside the scientific universe of discourse.
Hume's approach to the problem dismisses the antithesis of freedom of will and
determinism. He insisted that one is compatible with the other. Human beings
can only make choices in a world governed by causation. This was a mental habit
caused by frequent repetitions. If the world was not predictable we could not
choose; to choose is to anticipate an outcome. It is this outcome that one
causes. He insisted that a world without caused choices would have no effects.
Kant on the other hand thought that the idea of causation is embedded in the
mind a priori. Expectation of regularities is prior to the events themselves.
But it seems that both might be right because they may be speaking about
different things. It is possible to accept Hume's basic tenet that a young
child gradually realises that certain causes produce certain effects because of
regular association. The youngster uses this to make further explorations of the
environment bringing in Kant's notion of cause to work upon various successions
of events which are presented to the mind.
Kant was in no doubt that human beings impose regularity upon events rather
than the reverse. We actively look for causes rather than observe nature
The notion of free will is necessary for modern legalistic systems since they
are based on the concept of individual choice. A person can choose between
committing a crime or not.
This notion of freedom does not mean unpredictability for as Weber insisted
that if it did then the madman would be the freest person of all. The person
who is conscious of his own volition doesn't stand outside the world of
causality but rather perceives his own freedom as a special category of cause.
It is in this sense that men and women are free to accept or reject a course of
action. For example the two young men who planted the car bomb at Omagh would
argue that they had no choice but to do what they did because of the numbers of
uniformed police officers about.
They would claim that difficult communications made it impossible for them to
inform the authorities of the new location of the deadly device. The slaughter
was not their fault but the problem lay at the feet of those in charge. It was
an horrific consequence of war.
In fact there was choice and the terrorists are using such excuses as alibis
for personal cowardice. Sartre would argue that they could have said 'no.' They
could have put their hands up and surrendered allowing vital minutes to defuse
the device. Sartre would describe the terrorist refusal to take such a course
of action as 'bad faith.' This is to pretend something is necessary that is in
fact voluntary, 'Bad faith' is running away from freedom, a fraudulent
avoidance of the 'agony of choice.'
'Bad faith' expresses itself in many situations ranging from the common place
to the worst disaster. Sartre uses the example of the shuffling Cafe waiter. He
is in 'bad faith' insofar as he pretends to himself that the waiters role
constitutes his real existence. I am in 'bad faith' insofar as I believe my job
as a reporter is my real existence. The Omagh terrorists are in 'bad faith'
because they excuse themselves by pretending the dead are a result of war. Real
humans are reduced to the abstract term the dead.
The concept of 'bad faith' allows us to see that society is covered by a 'film
of lies'. It is the very possibility of 'bad faith' that shows us the reality
of human freedom - albeit in a determined universe. An individual can be in
'bad faith' only because he or she knows they are free and will not face that
freedom. Berger argues that 'bad faith' is a shadow of human liberty (Berger
pp163-165). It's attempt to escape liberty is always doomed, Hence Sartre's
famous maxim we are 'condemned to freedom.'
The Newtonian deterministic universe has taken a battering over the last 90
years. First there was quantum physics that, according to Series, Davis et alia
(p499), introduced chance back into the cosmos. And then there was Chaos Theory
that left the future states of the Universe 'open' in some sense.
In a line from Tom Stoppard's play 'Arcadia' Valentine proclaims that the
future is disorder and not the tidy world of the Enlightenment. 'The
unpredictable and the predetermined unfold together to, make everything the way
We're better at predicting events at the edge of the galaxy
or inside a nucleus of an atom than whether it'll rain on
auntie's garden party three Sundays from now...
A door like this has cracked open four or five times since
we got up on our hind legs...
It's the best possible time to be alive when almost
everything you thought you know is wrong.
Series, Davis et alia p503.
'Philosophy made Simple' 3rd Edition Richard Popkin, Avrum Stroll (1993
'Fractals, Chaos and Strange Attractors' C. Series, P. Davis et alia, 'Faber
Book of Science' edited by John Carey (Faber 1995)
'Human Freedom and Responsibility' Frederick Vivian (Chatto and Windus 1964)
'Marx and Engels, Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy' edited by Lewis S.
'An Introduction to Western Philosophy' Anthony Flew revised edition (Thames
and Hudson 1989)
'Spinoza' Stuart Hampshire (Pelican Books 1953)
'Invitation to Sociology' Peter Berger (Pelican Original edition 1975)
(c) Marie O'Hagan 2001
Martin O'Hagan IN MEMORIAM
The current issue (Spring 2002) of 'The Philosopher', Journal of the
Philosophical Society of England, carries a version of Martin O'Hagan's article
'Philosophical Considerations on Discourse/ Praxis', edited by Martin Cohen 'for
the purposes of clarification and completeness'.
I should like to point out that it is not the case, as Martin Cohen states,
that 'Shortly after it was submitted as part of a Pathways philosophy project,
Martin O'Hagan became another victim of the troubles'. The article was first
posted on the Pathways web site in 1998, and appeared in issue 16 of the
Pathways newsletter on October 1st, 2001 three days after Martin O'Hagan's murder
by Loyalist paramilitaries.
II. 'THE SOUTH STOKE FESTIVAL OF THOUGHT' BY RICHARD SYMONDS
Another Easter anniversary slipped by unnoticed last month; that of C.E.M. Joad
who died of cancer 49 years ago, on 9th April 1953 aged 61. (He was a
Vice-President of the Philosophical Society.)
We should consider ourselves extremely fortunate that he is not alive today to
afflict the more comfortably numb.
Cyril Joad, with his razor-like mind and scalpel prose to the last, would have
mercilessly cut through and exposed the sophistry and spin which all too often
now passes for truth and substance.
Dr. Joad (Teacher, Broadcaster, Philosopher - and Outcast) is best remembered,
if remembered at all, as the wartime radio Brains Trust 'Professor' with the
famous celebrity catchphrase : "It all depends what you mean by ...". (Remember
there was no TV, only radio and cinema.)
I wonder how many readers remember this BBC programme and Joad, with
'intellectual sparring partners' Julian Huxley and Commander Campbell, plus
Donald McCullough as Question Master. While Dame Vera Lynn was the singer who
won the heart of a nation, the triumvirate of Joad-Huxley-Campbell won the
minds of a nation, with this hugely popular twice-weekly broadcast invented and
produced by Howard Thomas (later to become Chairman of Thames Television).
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Cyril Joad's death. On Saturday
April 5th and Sunday April 6th, at South Stoke Farm, deep in the South Downs
near Arundel (a place of healing refuge he treasured and loved), a
commemorative 'South Stoke Festival of Thought' will take place in tribute to
his life and work.
There is a growing conviction that a greater understanding of this nearly
forgotten 'philosopher to humanity', fading fast from our 21st Century
consciousness, will now be a critical pre-condition for our survival and
well-being as a 'civilized' species.
I would be genuinely grateful to hear from anyone who has any story, anecdote,
memory, book or article on or by C.E.M. Joad and/ or The Brains Trust.
Over 70 books of his were published in this country (30 in America), and well
over 80 Articles and Papers.
I can assure you that any material provided will be made part of the Festival
Weekend in some way.
No Joad 50th Anniversary Tribute could be celebrated properly without an
original Brains Trust session, so if there are any questions you would like to
submit to a yet-to-be-decided panel of six experts and question master, please
send them to me.
The astronomer Sir Patrick Moore has just kindly volunteered to act as a
panelist or question master.
The BBC's Any Questions and Question Time are direct political descendants of
the original Brains Trust vision of encouraging people, of all ages, to think
clearly for themselves - this will be a central theme of the Festival of
Other Events planned for the next year's South Stoke Festival include
Specialist Talks, Debates and Presentations; a Brains Trust Exhibition of Words
and Images, a 'Crystal Clear Thinking' Workshop, a Chess Competition, a Play
called 'Folly Farm' and a Concert of Chamber Music - Beethoven's 'Archduke'
Piano Trio (one of Joad's favourites).
Proceeds go to Marie Curie Cancer Care Daffodil Campaign and Cancer Pain
Any advice, assistance or support to make this Festival a success will be
enormously appreciated. Thank you.
Please write to:
14 Lavington Close
or call 0771 358 8034 (Day) or 01293 535778 (Evenings and Weekends)
or e.mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard W. Symonds M.C.I.P.D.
(c) Richard Symonds 2002
III. 'PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY OF ENGLAND: PAYING BY STANDING
ORDER' BY MARTIN GOUGH
I have recently been elected Hon.Treasurer and seek to serve members of the
Society by keeping financial records up to date. I would like to welcome new
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