Determinism and free will

For many years there has been a debate in philosophy about what we call 'free will'. Partly thanks to Nietsche's statement that everything is only interpretation and his statement that God is dead, determinism has been gaining ground since the early 20th century. Even today, the general view is that 'science' will eventually find an answer to everything and that we are therefore determined. Here my view which, of course, is only an interpretation.

Determinism would preclude having free will.

Because the world around us and our interaction with this world is too complex for our brains to comprehend, our brains have evolved over time to think in meaning. This enables us to attribute meanings - which are not there in themselves - to phenomena in the world, in order to be able to do something with the complexity of the world. Language is an important tool in this [a]. Unfortunately, ambiguity is a common flaw in the language; a semantic reference seldom corresponds exactly to the ontological reality [b]. This cannot be otherwise, because if language did cover reality perfectly, it would again be so complex that it would not help people.

A simple example of interpreting at different levels is given by Joel Anderson (1).

Imagine that a participant in a chess tournament (…) suddenly realizes that the game of chess is one big fake, because "Pawns don't exist - it's just wood!". (2)

At that moment, this participant does not realize that we live in a world of meaning and have thus placed a kind of new reality on the complex reality [c]. In his 1949 article, Gilbert Ryle accuses Rene Descartes of making a category error. Since Descartes claims that mind and body have different properties and must therefore be something essentially different (3), Ryle says that one does not follow logically from the other (4). It's like having met all the players on a soccer team, but wondering where it is team now is [d]. The participant in the chess tournament makes the same mistake; on a different level, the same physical substance can have a different meaning. “They don't as if it is a pawn; it is a pawn ”(5).

Determinism states that every event is causally related to previous events.

Another similar error can be found in the question of how it is possible that we, even though we seem determined, still think that we can act freely and therefore have free will. Harry Frankfurt states that although our actions are determined, we can bring our 'will' into line with these actions (6). Freedom is guiding your behavior based on desires; what you do in the end is then a result of your will. This illusion of free will is, in a sense, emergent to the structure of the brain and the world of meanings. Even if we try our best to escape this illusion, it is still inevitable. Or to quote an example from Daniel Wegner: even if you know that you are going to be fooled by an illusionist, you still allow yourself to be fooled (illusion of the magic self)(7).

The conception of the different levels of meaning shows similarities with the 'perspective dualism' of Jurgen Habermas. Habermas states that you can still be held morally responsible for your actions (2nd person perspective), even though you cannot abstract free will from reality as such (3rd person perspective) (8). It is therefore not possible to appeal to the deterministic perspective when acting, because from the reality of meanings - which in this context can also be read as 'society' - you are held responsible for your actions.

Suppose that after reading this article you can agree with the thesis and substantiation and you believe in the vision of the world in the form of meaning, then the chance is small that you will actually act differently in response to this article. the daily life. As mentioned, this is no different: the current reality of meanings and the pressure (too) that this places on us from society is still too complex for us not to be fooled and to switch perspectives. It is no different: our brains are not like that.


[a] Meanings only make sense from a second person perspective, so when interacting between people. As Wittgenstein (9) and Malcolm (10) indicate, it makes little sense to keep these meanings within a 'private language'.

[b] I don't have a source that says this literally, but I think (if I had more time) I could deduce it from Chapters 2 and 3 of Semantics (11).

[c] I use 'reality' to indicate the ontological, complex reality independent of man. I use 'reality' to describe the world as human beings describe it in language (and meaning).

[d] Example taken from a lecture by Dr. Annemarie Kalis.


  1. Anderson, J. (2011). Freedom Through Involvement: Strawson and Habermans Against Free Will Skepticism. Why Free Will ?, pp. 232-251.
  2. Ibid., P. 244.
  3. Ruler, H. van (1999). About the nature of the human mind; that it is better known than the body. Finished Descartes, pp. 237-244
  4. Ryle, G. (2002). Descartes' Myth. The Concept of Mind. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 11-24.
  5. See source 1, p. 244.
  6. Frankfurt, HG (1971). Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person. Journal of Philosophy 68, pp. 5-20.
  7. Wegner, DM (2008). Self is magic. Are we free? Psychology and free will, pp. 226-247.
  8. Habermas, J. (2004). Freedom and Determinism. Pp. 1-11.
  9. Wittgenstein, L. (2006). Philosophical Investigations. Translation Derksen, M. and Terwee S., pp. 109-127.
  10. Malcolm, N. (1958). Knowledge of other minds. The Journal of Philosophy, LV No. 23, pp. 969-978.
  11. Saeed, JI (2009). Semantics (3rd edition). Pp. 23-80.

15 thoughts on “Determinisme en de vrije wil”

  1. In order to determine whether determinism affects your free will, you must first ask yourself: Who determines whether determinism is also absolute? As soon as you have found the answer for yourself, you also immediately know that the answer always lies with 1 person, the one who applied determinism. 1 person can never take away your free will or freedom of thought.

    Only when your DNA has established that you have to be in a group of people and you have the character to adapt to that group of people will your free will be affected. In that case, as a herd animal you do not have free will in advance because you have the character to follow the leader in whatever determines that leader.

    If you are not a herd animal you always have free will, for example the free will to give Dark Energy the name Green Blubber.

  2. In terms of meaning, the point is that the other person knows what you mean. Don't get lost in the details of one language, thanks to your striving to be exact, while there are so many different languages, people can communicate so poorly with each other, and rather be violent than talk. Listening is also very difficult for many people. So there must be a will here first, otherwise you will achieve nothing with perfection.
    May I bring another addition:
    Imaginations and thinking relate to the past.
    Feeling relates to the present.
    Lusting and wanting relate to the future.
    You can also think about whether you want to bring out the spontaneously occurring feeling reaction, really at this moment, as your behavior or your answer, for example.
    Or to calm feelings; think differently about something or do or want to do something different.
    Furthermore, you have even more choices where you can use your free will, but the limitation is in the possibilities, for example living in systems.

    1. Julie,

      I do not get lost in the details of 1 language, on the contrary, in almost all languages on our globe people know what is meant by the word Chair, once there might have been someone who called the word chair in mandarin trouser wrinkler, in another language the chair was called Seat Heater and in another language it was perhaps back support with legs. Someone else in another language was tired and started calling it simply Stoel. Ultimately, everything that is determined can be traced back to 1 person to whom the rest of the herd has adapted. That does not mean that what is determined is also the absolute truth.

      And further, well ...

      Imagination and thinking relate to the past ????? This does not apply to me, I am a visionary.

      Feeling relates to the present ???? There are plenty of people who feel that they have done something wrong in the past or feel that happiness or sadness awaits them in the future.

      Desire and want to relate to the future ????
      Most everyone on the globe desires and wants something right now… or any other time you can call the present and read this.

      You also have more choices where you can use your free will, but the limitation is in the possibilities, for example living in systems ????
      Didn't I say this already? If you are a herd animal, your free will is automatically affected.

  3. In principle, you can use the concept of "determinism"
    set; that all information from the environment and the body has a form of program exchange with the brain. According to this principle, the brain then runs the program from which it composes reality. The language then allows an interaction with the second person, whose reality becomes your reality, at least if the interpretation becomes synchronous, and indeed there are no differences due to deviant semantic interpretations. In addition, reality then exists as we do not perceive it, because of the complexity of its aspects, the logical availability of descriptions in language and mathematics, but also education and thus knowledge that is indispensable for the perception of reality. With regard to perception, I give here a practical example from my own childhood. At one point I was asked if I wanted to participate in a meeting of the Baptist congregation, and I went into that. After all, bias as to whether a god exists is not real if you do not know whether you have established the right attitude for communication yourself. In short, no communication was initiated according to the procedures followed, which in my opinion were purely suggestive. Later I made a second serious attempt, now in complete isolation, and of course I was terrified, because imagine ……. No result, but a completely different insight into reality. I called this the Thing Reality. The existence of a separation between dead and living matter, with the distinction; organization of substances as we consider them alive, and unorganized substances from which life can arise. This had a profound impact on me, for I realized that the values of individuals were so relativized to organic material mechanisms, regardless of whether they were family or strangers. I felt like an alien among aliens.
    You can assume from me that reality as it is presented to us in the available versions is much more attractive than reality. The experience was unique, because indeed, the chess pieces lose their meaning, they become pieces of wood, but that also literally applies to everything around you, for me everything consisted of living and non-living things. So there are risks to deterministic thinking. The reality that people accept as reality is a form of self-protection against reality as it is. Man is not suited for this, and it offers a bleak reality to future synthetic brains, unless, according to the principle of quantum entanglement, they will have a perfect link with our world of experience. I know what I'm talking about ……

  4. Folks, please keep it a little fun with the discussions. For example, I do that in the following way:

    'The truth' does not exist for me (see Nietsche's “everything is just interpretation”). So I see every story and every reaction to it as a moment when I can learn to look at a problem or idea from a different perspective. My philosophical discussion is often discussed from a practical perspective. That is less my street, but all the more educational for me.
    Based on the idea that the truth does not exist and that I can learn something from everyone, I respect the other's message. If they say something I don't agree with, I try to teach them where their fallacy is. If the person does not want to take over this, that is no problem either. That is unfortunate for that person, he / she could have learned something from me, and I will move on to something else.
    In other words: if the other person makes a comment that he / she cannot substantiate with legitimate sources, then I will make a (judgmentless) comment about it, and that is the end of it for me. If I know I'm right, why should I still get it?

  5. Communicating via a medium such as the internet is nowhere near the same as in real life and therefore has many more challenges. An interpretation error is made faster because irony often does not come across, intonation does not exist or someone can simply read over something. That can happen, so please take that into account.

    As far as Germen and me are concerned, the above reactions are the end of the story. The responses to this article will be cleaned up tonight or soon.
    [Edit 09-02] - Some comments have been removed.

    See you elsewhere on this site!

  6. Why should I believe the world is any different than it appears to me? That seems to me because I cannot provide sufficient justification to show why my view is objectively correct. You say you have seen an objective picture of reality. The only difference was between that which was alive and that which was not alive. This seems to me to be a form of categorization and thus language and therefore meaning. However, it gets even more problematic. It would be a bleak reality that is not suitable for humans. however, this is the pinnacle of meaning attribution. More subjective than calling something desolate is almost impossible (then I might as well say that my dog is objectively super cute). Third, it is also clear that you have experienced this as negative. If the thing reality is meaningless, how can you experience it negatively. So negative, in fact, that you claim that other people are concocting another reality to suppress the horrors of this one.
    So the main points are. 1. You contradict yourself by assigning meaning to what you think is objective, meaningless reality. Second, I would like to point out the many immunisasites. The idea of a thing-reality cannot be falsified. The idea of an unobservable reality is also not falsifiable. The idea that how we see reality is tied to our logic and mathematics is also not falsifiable.
    Then I would also like to say something about Niek. Firstly, eliminating all fervor / passion from a discussion is often not conducive to the conviviality or the level of the discussion. If you would still like to learn from other people, then just assume that you would do well not to avoid or remove any belief that you do not like.
    Second, you argue that from the view that the truth does not exist you can learn something from everyone and that respect would follow. First, there is of course the classic problem that you naturally claim that the view that there is no truth is true and that it follows that your claim itself cannot be true. Second, you seem to be such a naive relativist who seems to think that it follows from denying objectivity or truth that you should respect someone else's view. The point is if neither view is true, or every view is equal, every view is on the same level, and so treating people disrespectfully, aggressively, intimidatingly is justified on the same level as treating people kindly, respectfully, and openly. Third, I am disgusted with these types of "tolerant" people like you because, ironically, they are based on their moral superiority. Take the message from above where you are going to explain exactly how it should and should not be done. This seems to be at odds with your denial of truth and respect for others (their autonomy). Fourth, something like a judgmental comment is simply misplaced in a philosophically oriented forum. I could also have said under the bullshit of Alfa. Whales are one of the largest mammals on this earth or the earth has a circumference of about 40000KM. However, this makes no sense in any way. If you have guts you leave it

    1. Dear tangible,


      First of all, the comment that you are responding to an article and statements from more than 2 years ago. My views have changed somewhat in the meantime; so I no longer fully support the content of this article. And when I read my reaction about 'the truth', I have to admit that I could have formulated it a little better and started to think a little differently about it.


      "Firstly, eliminating all fierceness / passion from a discussion is often not conducive to the conviviality or the level of the discussion."

      Is this situation I dare to doubt. It has been over 2 years since the discussion took place, but as far as I can remember the discussion was off-topic and my decision was respected by both people in the discussion. More about our generally pretty reasonable forum policy, see here: . As stated in the comment, I have removed previous comments, so we will not know exactly what preceded them.


      "First of all, there is of course the classic problem that you of course claim that the view that there is no truth is true and that it follows that your claim itself cannot be true."

      That is indeed a classic problem that I do not see as a problem. If 'truth' does not exist, we delete it from our discourse. Then saying that that statement must be true is "impossible" in that sense; after all, truth does not exist.

      Anyway, reading my previous response, I don't think I am saying that 'truth' does not exist (note the double negation), but that 'THE truth' does not exist. I would like to nuance that now: I wonder if 'the truth' exists, and I am of the opinion that we probably cannot know it.

      Besides 'the truth' (for the sake of convenience I call it the ontological truth) I also make a distinction between other types of truths. Like everyone's personal truth, but also something like 'social truth'. Is that football player offside? We have set certain rules together, and that player is breaking that rule, so it is true that he is offside. If we change the rules, it is false. The truth then depends on the conventions, so to speak.

      We can know social truth and personal truth, but the ontological truth ...?


      "Second, you seem to be such a naive relativist who seems to think that it follows from denying objectivity or truth that you should respect someone else's view."

      Your wording is correct. I corpse maybe a relativist, but I'm not quite sure yet whether I am. Relativism has such a negative and depressing aftertaste. I see myself more as a kind of 'positive relativist'. So not “everything is relative, so nothing makes sense”, but: “everything is relative, so everything is possible”. I think this can be compared to the position of Paul Feyerabend (see: ), although I don't know his job very well.

      Do you know Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations? In this he introduces the term 'language games'. That's how I see reality, I think, as a (language) game. We follow unwritten rules when interacting with other people, but these rules differ per situation. For example, we address our boss as 'you' and not our friends. But meaning is not absolute either, so 'it's out' means something completely different during a football game than during an argument with your girlfriend. Is that relativism? I don't know, I think there is quite a discussion about that between Kripke's reading of Wittgenstein vs a whole bunch of others. That everything is possible does not mean that everything is actually the case and everything is allowed… it only depends on the situation or the agreements that have been made. You are allowed to walk in that place, but the rules are that you are offside.

      Respect is not something that follows from this reasoning I guess, but it is an assumption. Do you disagree with the assumption that there is no harm in respecting each other in principle?


      "This seems to be at odds with your denial of truth and respect for others (their autonomy)."

      I can reasonably agree with this. With the caveat that we do not know exactly in which context my comment was placed because the comments were removed. I think that the people in question accepted my 'authority' as admin here, all the more because I know them reasonably and I think I have treated them with respect.


      "Fourth, something like a judgmental comment is simply misplaced in a philosophically oriented forum."

      This is where you lose me. 'Simply' indicates a hasty conclusion, something we would like to avoid on a philosophically oriented forum, I think. Can you explain this?

      In my opinion the laws of logic belong to the methodology of that philosophy. The speech. Not the emotion. While Hume says that reason is a slave to passion (which I agree with), ideally a philosopher should put his passions aside when he reasons. Of course there are also philosophical discussions about ethical issues, where value judgments are of great importance, but I am not much of an ethicist myself. If I were to go all that way, I think I am more of the meta-ethics.


      If you want to know more about my visions, it might be more convenient to read more recent work of mine, see here: I also support that more. Although we are not aligned, I hope we can still learn from each other. Sincerely!

      1. Dear Niek, abbreviating Nietsche's thesis in this way is in my opinion already a form of determinism, in my humble opinion it was 'God is dead, we killed him'. In a philosophical context this means that man's growth possibilities are being taken away and no further awareness is possible. The non-social recognition of this natural development potential in itself reinforces determinism. Nietsche also spoke about 'Beyond good and evil', this means the realization of that apparently dead God, a loaded term that is (too) often framed in a literalistic context.

  7. I believe in determinism. Every effect has a cause. Even the world of thinking where you can make choices, so to speak, is an illusion. Everything is fixed from A to Z. And I mean EVERYTHING. For example, you knock over a glass of water. Something that produces a hugely complex result, but it happens according to the laws of nature and at that moment, with those parameters, cannot produce any other result. Your thought process is equally bound to parameters, laws of nature, DNA, your environment, time ... You think you have a choice because you have several ideas, but your ultimate choice for something is because it is the result of the soup of parameters. Parameters that can change through interaction or time, but if you zoom in small enough, any result at a specific point in time is just a logical consequence of a cause at t-1.

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