What is Determinism?

What is Determinism?


Determinism is a philosophical idea that Freewill is an illusion.
Everything is pre determined – it is part of our DNA, Biology and environment.
Modern Philosophy brings in other strands such as biology, sociology, criminology and psychology.


Biological Approach

BF Skinner has started making discoveries that animals were conditioned and certain behaviours could not be helped – the were part of operant conditioning.
BF Skinner put forward the theory of Behaviourism, basing it on Pavlov’s Dogs.


Skinner believed that humans behaviours were due to reinforcers and punishments. We are not aware of the environmental causes of our own behaviour and so believe we have a choice but actually we would have always completed the same action.

Skinner believes that criminals have no choice but to commit a crime. There is environmental factors and personal history that will lead them to break the law as it is natural to them.
Similarly someone who doesn’t break the law as previously been rewarded for not breaking the law so often that they follow the rules as to them that is the right choice. Skinner argues that allow you may think you have a choice to make but the choice you make has already been determined. When you are thinking about what action to take you will know what is ‘right and wrong’ but your action will be what you biologically are ‘trained’ to do.



It is not just our biological make- up that affects our actions. It can be argued it is our environment too. Studies have been conducted on twins and families who have the same biological make up and have concluded it is more than that.
People who are brought up in violent homes are more likely to be violent, people who are brought up in a smoking household are more likely to smoke etc.


Recent research into Adverse Childhood Experience shows that children who are brought up in an ACE environment are more likely to suffer in later years.


The family has a massive influence on your behaviour and choices. Other environmental factors can have an impact on our future such as areas where there is high unemployment often have poorer school attainment results even with pupils with similar IQ levels.




Psychologists have determined that people can often have compulsions to act in certain ways. They may hear voices that tell them to act in a certain way. There are many explanations for this such as exposure to traumatic experiences as a child.


There is said to be a common link between criminals – the majority of criminals struggle with education and have a low reading age. In UK Prisons, the average reading age is that of an 8 year old. Studies also found the majority of criminals take instructions literally and don’t understand wit, sarcasm and cannot read body language. When watching violent movies or games, criminals in the study would react in a violent way and would need to calm down after. It could therefore be argued that certain people who fit these traits are destined to be criminals.

Hard Determinism

This is the theory that a person has no Freewill. Everything is already decided in their lives and they have no choices as to what will happen – even things like who they fall in love with, how many children they will have, what job they will have etc.

Soft Determinism

Soft Determinism argues that whilst the odds are stacked as to what people will do and how they will behave. We can still break free and make our own choices. For example – someone who has been brought up in a poverty stricken home with illiterate parents can still break out of this cycle and achieve well at school, get a good job and no longer live in poverty. It will just be much harder for them.

Loeb and Leopold

The Leopold and Loeb case was a very famous case that has been dubbed the crime of the century. It is the tale of two young men from Chicago who were incredibly wealthy and intelligent. They believed they were so smart they could execute the perfect crime and not get caught.
They kidnapped a young man, Bobby Franks who was a cousin of one of Loeb. They then wrote a ransom note asking for $10,000. However, in the meanwhile Bobby Franks’ body was found and recovered. Near the scene, Leopold’s glasses were found and identified. The boys were traced down and arrested. They had no real motive for the crime. Leopold was quoted as saying –

“The thing that prompted Dick (Loeb) to want to do this thing and prompted me to want to do this thing was a sort of pure love of excitement… the imaginary love of thrills, doing something different… the satisfaction and ego of putting something over”

These two men were privileged young men who had everything they could ask for. They felt that they wanted to murder someone just because they wanted to see if they could get away with it. They confessed to the murders and were co-operative with the police. They did not see that they had done anything wrong.

Clarence Darrow was their lawyer, he had Leopold and Loeb plead guilty so the case would be heard before a judge. Darrow then used the sentencing hearing to argue that the men could not have acted in any other way as they were destined to act this way. Darrow was successful in reducing the sentencing from death penalty to a reduced prison term.

Read more about this case




Are people Born Evil?


There have been many cases and documentaries made over the years of evil criminals who perhaps were determined to complete the actions they did. There are many documentaries that focus on the biological, psychological and environmental factors in criminals or suspects in various crimes.

Recommended Watching


Netflix – Evil Genius https://www.netflix.com/title/80158319

Amanda Knox – https://www.netflix.com/watch/80081155?trackId=13752289&tctx=0%2C0%2C1801c8ffc739fc247abee1f5e9c24f42d62ffd6f%3A719020448f71045d4d1ccf67bc98789060484cb3%2C%2C

Karen Matthews

Mick Philpott


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