Illusionism and the Illusion of Determinism

One reason I prefer to look at agency is to avoid the claims and counterclaims of proponents of free will and of determinism, each having factions causing the other side of clinging to an illusion. As I’ve noted previously, at present I am a self-described soft-determinist insomuch as I declare myself to be agnostic.

My hypothesis is that humans have little or negligible agency. Under hard determinism, this would collapse from nil to zero. In either case, it is criminal to presume to be able to assign moral responsibility to any person.


Determinists charge free will advocates of being fooled.

Illusionism is the position that free will does not exist and is merely an illusion.

Many ancient and modern thinkers have made this claim. They have usually been strong determinists, from Hobbes to Einstein.

Classical compatibilists, from Hobbes and Hume on, have held that free will exists but that it is compatible with determinism (actually many determinisms).

Since the discovery of irreducible quantum mechanical indeterminism, most scientists and some philosophers have come to understand that determinism is a dogmatic belief unsustainable from the evidence.

It is determinism that is the illusion.

Nevertheless, most philosophers remain compatibilists, even as the evidence of indeterminism has caused them to declare themselves agnostic on the truth of determinism or indeterminism.

Illusionism <>

The Illusion of Determinism

Adequate determinism is an emergent property in a universe that was initially chaotic and which remains chaotic at atomic and molecular levels. Consequently all physical processes are statistical and all knowledge is only probabilistic. Strict determinism is an illusion, a consequence of idealization.

Statistical knowledge always contains errors that are normally distributed according to a universal law that ultimately derives from the discrete quantum nature of matter.

The existence of this universal distribution law of errors convinced many scientists and philosophers that the randomness of errors was not real, that strict deterministic laws would be found to explain all phenomena, including human beings.

To the extent that randomness is needed to break the causal chain of strict physical determinism, many philosophers continue to think that free will is the illusion.

The Illusion of Determinism <>

Peter F Strawson

Peter Strawson said he could make no sense of ideas like free will and determinism. In this regard he was one with those English-speaking philosophers who, following Ludwig Wittgenstein, thought such questions were pseudo-problems to be dissolved by careful attention to actual language use.

Strawson made a contribution to the free will versus determinism discussions by pointing out that whatever the deep metaphysical truth on these issues, people would not give up talking about and feeling moral responsibility, praise and blame, guilt and pride, crime and punishment, gratitude, resentment, and forgiveness.

Peter F Strawson

To be fair, I feel that Peter Strawson and I agree on the insufficiency of language to settle the matter of whether the universe offers free will or is deterministic, that questions such as this are pseudo-problems.