Merriam Webster Definitions

Merriam Webster Definitions


philosophy : the belief that all events are caused by things that happened before them and that people have no real ability to make choices or control what happens

1 a : a theory or doctrine that acts of the will, occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are causally determined by preceding events or natural laws
b : a belief in predestination
2 : the quality or state of being determined



a :a theory that the will is free and that deliberate choice and actions are not determined by or predictable from antecedent causes
b :a theory that holds that not every event has a cause

2 :the quality or state of being indeterminate; especially :unpredictability


Free Will

: the ability to choose how to act
: the ability to make choices that are not controlled by fate or God

1 :voluntary choice or decision <I do this of my own free will>
2 :freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention


I am studying the slight differences in the definitions of these words.

Definition 1a of determinism is what I mean whenever speaking of determinism. Definition 1b is something that applies only to Calvinists or fatalist a who believe a god has predestined what happens.

The difference between those two must be made clear or discussion is useless.

Definition 1a of indeterminism sounds pretty close to some definitions of free will. Definition 1b is the short clear version which says that some events have no cause. Definition 2 is where it gets confusing because it is the same thing as being unpredictable.

However, something being unpredictable days nothing about the causes or lack thereof except our knowledge about the event.

Definition 2 of free will is the one that I quoted in my book because it is most descriptive of what is being talked about in the free will debate. Definition 1 is sort of vague and avoids getting into what a voluntary decision is.

My friend Trick Slattery has a great post detailing the meanings and confusion that arises from the use of the words determinism and indeterminism.

I agree with his suggestion: “But keep in mind that if you use these words, that some may have different ideas surrounding their meanings. When that happens, that’s when terms need to be defined and clarified. Or better yet, drop the term and just talk about causal and acausal events.”

So what it gets down to is that we are talking about whether every event has a cause. So the question for anyone reading this is: “Does every event have a cause?”. This can be answered either yes or no.


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