Philosophy: Why aren't Existentialism and Determinism held up more as opposites?

Forgive me if I am missing something. I am reading a book about the existentialist philosophers.

Near as I can tell:

  • Existentialism = (from Wiki = Existentialism is a term applied to the work of certain late 19th- and 20th-century European philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual. While the supreme value of existentialist thought is commonly acknowledged to be freedom, its primary virtue is authenticity.

(bolding mine)

  • Determinism - (from Wiki = Determinism is the philosophical position that for every event, including human interactions, there exist conditions that could cause no other event.

So: There is nothing but Free Will (and boy is that scary!) vs. there is no such thing as Free Will.

In philosophical terms (not including the whole religious aspect of this - i.e., does God allow free will), it feels like these are opposites, and yet I don’t recall hearing people discuss them as an obvious set of opposing beliefs.

Am I thinking about this correctly? Are the terms defined correctly and represent opposite schools of thought?

I’ve never seen them as opposites, though I can see how they conflict. In my mind, existentialists believe that there is no life purpose other than what an individual fashions for him/herself. But I don’t think an existentialist would deny the possibility that an individual’s desire to be, say, a circus clown, can stem from an external factor (like being raised in a family full of clowns). They would just argue that the individual shouldn’t believe that being a clown is his life’s purpose simply because that’s what his ancestors have always been. He has the freedom to define his own purpose. He may decide his purpose is to serve God every second of the day while wearing that clown suit. He may decide his purpose is to seek physical pleasure every second of the day. He may decide he doesn’t have a purpose at all. He has the freedom to rationalize his life however he wants, since there is no universal or absolute purpose to our existence anyway.

The purpose he assigns his life is probably going to be quite predictable (a person raised in a Christian family has a high likelihood of believing he has a Christ-centered purpose). But it’s still a purpose that’s totally self-imposed. The person who rejects the Christian faith hasn’t rejected his life purpose. He’s just found something else, perhaps.

I’d say it’s only contradictory in the same way anything that posits free-will tends to contradict determinism. And my solution is that free-will is pre-determined. That there is only one possible outcome, but that said outcome is not completely predictable ahead of time. That we humans are quantum beings (see the transporter thread), and thus you’ll run into probabilities rather than absolutes.

In other words, the best you can do is determine that there is a certain probability that a person will choose X. Only after it happens–after it is measured, will it work.

Now, I am not in any way saying this is proven. I just suspect it, in the same way our minds work using electricity, which has a quantum aspect. This is not the same thing as some quantum woo.

I’ve never been able to figure out why anyone would believe in philosophical determinism.

(Physical determinism can make sense from a scientific point of view. Newton was no dummy for believing in it.)

The big problem is that we are blind to both the mechanism and the outcome. Maybe it was fated from the beginning of the earth that I would be born and come to type in this post. But there is no way to show this. We can’t see the strings. We can’t make any productive use of the idea.

The pitcher throws the ball, and I take a swing at it. I miss. The Determinist Philosopher says, “That was meant to happen, and was determined long before the pitch was thrown.” What does this actually tell me? How does it increase my knowledge of the world?

It seems both unknowable (and therefore foolish to proclaim) and utterly worthless (since I was fated not to believe in it since time began.)

At least Existentialism offers me some advice on how to live, and its principles can be tested objectively against various standards. Are Existentialists happier in life than non-Existentialists? If so…well, why not give it a whirl?

Yes, being one’s authentic self seems to be a different inquiry vs. Physical Determinism, and yet they seem to be commenting on the same situation happening in our lives.

So should the two systems co-exist and if so, how? Or does one supplant the other?

A fine question to noodle on a Monday morning…

It’s properly not "There is nothing but Free Will ", it’s “There is nothing but the illusion of Free Will”, and there’s then no incompatability between Existentialism and Determinism. All that matters is what a person perceives, not how the world really is.

I see what you are saying. That phrase is hard to Google - are you stating the Existentialism is defined that way, i.e., including the concept of “the illusion of Free Will”?

Does Existentialism seek to speak what is happening physically? Is it looking to “refute” Determinism? Or it is speaking only on the Philosophical plane and is “indifferent” to the physical aspects of what may be going on? We perceive Free Will and must face this authentically.

No. And good luck getting one definition of existentialism all existentialists agree on.

I’m saying that existentialism is always and only from the human perspective ( L’existentialisme est un humanisme as Sartre put it.). As such, it’s always going to be bound by human perception, and that includes the illusion of free will.

If by “physically” you mean, does it speak to physical science, then no.

No. The idea that the Universe is cold, unfeeling and sets people on fixed courses is not counter to existentialism. In fact, a lot of existentialists would just go “Aha! I knew it!”

Something like that. We must act as though we have free will even if we do not truly have it.

Cool - thanks!

A sufficiently convincing illusion is indistinguishable from truth.

i.e., how do you know it’s an illusion?

How do you know you “know” anything?

The scientific method seems to be a damn fine compromise.

But I’m serious: why say “it’s an illusion” if there isn’t any way to determine if that’s true? That was my gripe with philosophical determinism: how do we test such an hypothesis?

Here, I’ll claim that “time is running backward.” Effects precede causes. Always. But since our minds are also running backward, we perceive the illusion of time running forward.

Bullshit, right? Yes: absolutely pure bullshit. But…ah…prove me wrong.

Macro-scale non-determinism has absolutely nothing to do with quantum physics except in a relatively few cases. More of it is caused by chaos, which works just the same in a completely classical universe.

How is this a useful or interesting question to ask?

And yet doesn’t preclude standard brain-in-a-vat/evil-Cartesian-demon/last-Thursdayism theories. Yet we choose empiricism as a valid methodology. Same-same with choosing to act as though free will is real.

As for how can we know it’s an illusion - well, there’s the scientific method and the experiments on the timing of pre-conscious muscle responses…

…or otherwise by chain of logic - if you accept pure physicalism as a premise, and believe in causality (which, I don’t, any more than I believe in free will) then determinism arises out of physical laws - even the coarse Newtonian ones.

How is this?