Determinism vs. Free Will: What Controls Your Life?


Shirley Zhao, Contributor

The choices you make contribute to the contrasting psychological ideas of Determinism or Free Will. However, which one of these actually control these events to occur? Is it determinism, where actions are fated to happen? Or is it free will, where your decisions are caused by your mind and beliefs?

Let’s connect this back to an old Greek myth of Oedipus and his prophecy. Before Oedipus was born, his father, Laius, the King of Thebes, consulted with the Oracle of Delphi, questioning if he and his wife would ever be able to conceive. Unfortunately, the priestesses mentioned they should never create a baby, as he would rise and kill the father and marry the mother. Laius attempted to prevent any chances of getting his wife pregnant, but his drunkenness prevented him from doing so. Thus, his wife Jocasta, ended up giving birth to a child soon after. Laius ordered his servants to pierce the baby’s ankles, so that he would never crawl, and throw him on a mountain- so that he would never live. Fortunately, the child found his way to another royal family who decided to take him in and name him Oedipus. Once Oedipus matured, he found a stranger and killed him in a fit of rage. Later on, he ended up marrying the stranger’s wife.

The sense of making a decision feels free and unchained. This is the psychological idea of free will. From the littlest choice like choosing to drink a sip of water, to the biggest choice like deciding which college you want to go to. We can eat a bowl of cheerios and feel like it was our decision to choose. However, we also do believe each action is caused by another action. This is a psychological idea of Determinism. There are two different types of determinism: soft and hard. Soft determinism follows the same concept, however, certain aspects that each decision you make is followed by a sense of free will. Hard determinism is the belief every decision is definitely caused by internal or external factors. Factors range infinitively. Everything and everyone is a factor. Hormones, mental illnesses, diseases and thoughts are considered to be internal factors. Poverty, education, culture, life, and family are considered to be external factors.

There’s a more specific idea of free will, called libertarian free will, the view that some human actions are freely capable by one’s mind and choice. If an agent, a person, can choose between options, it’s considered free will. However, if there are no options, it’s mostly contemplated as determinism.

What do you believe in?