Determinism is the philosophy that every event has been predertemined, either mathematically or theologically.

Determinism vs. Free Will

The Determinism Debate:

Determinism has been under bitter debate since the beginnings of philosophy and modern thinking. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all grappled with the ideas of a pre-determined universe. However, the greatest minds kept tripping up on the same problem you can't prove a theory, only disprove it. So, for centuries people have devoted themselves to falsify the theories of determinism and free will. Yet, despite many great arguments, both theories still stand.


The idea of determinism is an open debate. One of the more easily acceptable by means of blame. This includes the belief in a higher power or force, whom on which we can blame our failures, disasters, and our victories. This often comes intoaccordance with religious beliefs. God-fearing people are taught to believe that their god is a supreme being, and that we must follow a certain guideline of rules in order to achieve eternal peace. These are also those who may agree with the idea that we already have a life of activities and goals planned out for us; that we are completely in their hands.

Whether your belief is one of stoicism, that God is the power that controls all things or that we are comprised of pre-programmed DNA, our fate is not in our own hands. It is also a common belief that our actions are predestined by "programmed DNA." Similarly to how we acquire our pyhsical characteristics from our parents, we are also given a set diagram of actions we are to perform during our lives. In this case, we are not capable of knowing our actions beforehand and thus don't need to take full responsibility for them. The DNA idea accepts the belief that our lives are an "unexposed negative waiting to be slipped into developer fluid; the photograph has already been taken" (Doppelganger).

The predestined course of our lives are already determined, and the "freedom to choose actions is governed by reason" (Thomas Aquinas). It may seem as though we have the power to make our own happenings, but in truth, their outcome is out of our control. We are merely puppets in some greater power's marionette display. The script is pre-written, the higher force gives the directions, we perform, and only the director knows the ending.

Free Will

The most difficult issue surrounding free will is the mind not always acting in accordance with better judgment. Aristotle saw man's desires conflicting with reason as being perfectly rational, thus rejecting determinism. Descartes was another defender of free will. He believed that the mind held no limitations, but human nature is what narrows one's ability to see clearly. Furthermore, the errors that occur in human thinking are directly related to perceiving a situation incorrectly or simply the unrestrained use of free will.

Another problem plaguing free will is how God fits into the picture. If God is in ultimate control, can He be blamed for man's errors? Or is it that God gave man the ability to understand truth and thus be able to discard what is ambiguous or false. Also, if our actions are predetermined, who is the one determining? Is it God? Is it Allah? Is it Buddha? Or are our lives simply a chemical formula? Determinist are having problems not only with disproving the existence of free will, but they can't even prove who is the one doing the determining.

Lastly comes the obstacle of accountability. If we are not in control of our actions, our legal system is not only unjust but pure blasphemy. The system that governs the most powerful nations in the world is based upon the people's ability to choose their actions. If a person does not have that power of choice, they are being punished for something they have no control over. Is that really fair? It has been said that the true test to one's level of "control" is if their behavior alters after praise or punishment. However, how is one to know if it was predetermined that you would change your behavior or not. We live in a world where free will is assumed to exist and the idea of determinism existing would induce great changes in the culture we live in today.


As you can see, for every argument for indeterminsim, there is an equally strong argument against it. What it comes down to is that people want free will to exist. They want to believe that they have a choice in their actions and emotions. Whether or not free will exists is still in the air. Whether or not a conclusion will ever be reached, two thousand years of great thinkers have yet to reach one, I guess we'll just have to wait for the future.

Determinism and Arcadia:

Determinism is alluded to frequently throughout Stoppard's play Arcadia. There are two scenes in which determinism is specifically discussed: Act I, scene 1, pages 5-6 between Septimus and Thomasina and Act II, scene 7, pages 73-74 between Valentine and Chloe. Septimus and Thomasina begin the determinism debate in scene one when Thomasina asks if, providing one was smart enough and could momentarily freeze time, one could write a formula to predict the future. Thomasina and Septimus go on to ponder the truthfulness of one of Newton's theorems and how they combat the theory of determinism. The debate over determinism is pushed into the future by Chloe. Chloe builds on the determinisic theory and how sex is ultimately what messes everything up. The discussion between Chloe and Valentine about Newton's theory plainly refers the universe as being deterministic because "the only thing going wrong is people fancying people who aren't supposed to be part of the plan." This idea was brought about by the fault of Newton who left these 'attraction' factors out of his calculations. The two sets of couples are discussing the same principle topic, in very different ways.

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Lisa Rischmiller and Jennifer Miller (1999)