What Is Determinism in Existentialism?


Vincent White

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that originated in the 19th century and gained popularity in the 20th century. It emphasizes individual freedom, choice, and responsibility in a world that is seemingly meaningless and absurd. One of the major themes of existentialism is determinism, which refers to the belief that human beings are determined by external factors and have no free will.

What Is Determinism?

Determinism is the idea that every event or action is caused by preceding events or conditions, and therefore, everything is predetermined. In other words, everything that happens in the world is a result of prior causes and conditions, and there is no room for chance or free will. This means that even our thoughts and actions are predetermined by external factors beyond our control.

Determinism has been a topic of debate among philosophers for centuries. Some argue that determinism undermines human freedom and responsibility while others believe it provides an explanation for why things happen as they do.

Determinism in Existentialism

In existentialism, determinism takes on a different meaning than it does in other philosophical traditions. While determinism traditionally refers to external factors determining human behavior, existentialist determinism recognizes that humans have internal factors that also determine their actions.

Existentialist determinism suggests that humans are determined by their past experiences, memories, emotions, beliefs, values, and desires. These internal factors shape how individuals view the world around them and how they respond to it.

According to Jean-Paul Sartre, one of the most influential existentialist philosophers, humans are condemned to be free. This means that although individuals are determined by internal and external factors, they still have the ability to choose their own path in life. However, with this freedom comes responsibility for one’s choices.

The Paradox of Determinism

The paradox of determinism arises when we consider whether or not individuals can truly be held responsible for their actions when everything is predetermined. If everything is predetermined, how can we hold someone accountable for their actions?

Existentialists argue that while external and internal factors may determine our actions, we still have the ability to make choices. These choices are not completely free from influence but are influenced by our past experiences and beliefs.

In conclusion, determinism in existentialism is a complex topic that challenges traditional notions of free will and responsibility. While existentialist determinism recognizes that humans are determined by internal and external factors, it also emphasizes the importance of individual choice and responsibility in a world that can seem meaningless and absurd.