Brant Williams and Dr. Brent D. Slife, Psychology
In psychology, there has been a great deal of debate about the issue of determinism. Many psychologists argue that we are determined by our genetics and our environment. However, there are many psychologists who strongly disagree with this idea. This debate has continued for many years without resolution and in the process has generated much confusion. This confusion is in large part due to a lack of a standard definition of determinism. Currently, there is no accepted standard definition of determinism and each researcher defines determinism differently. The result of this is that often researchers are arguing about two different ideas as they reply to their critics’ arguments.
The main goal of this project was to research the current literature and past ideas of determinism to create a taxonomy of accepted terms that could be used. The taxonomy could be used by psychology in general, but is aimed at radical behaviorism in particular. The reason for this is that one of the main tenets of radical behaviorism is that behavior is determined by genetics and the environment. This statement has caused quite a bit of controversy in psychology, particularly as radical behaviorism has become more dominant.
To create this paper I researched the literature in the library relevant to the issue of determinism. The sheer amount of material that I needed to read and include was a bit overwhelming, but once I was able to sort through the material and narrow it down to five basic definitions of determinism the process was much easier. The initial draft was a little over twelve pages and after many revisions a nearly final draft of twenty-seven pages resulted. We intend to have a final draft ready and submitted to a scholarly journal by mid-September.
The taxonomy consists of five distinct categories: 1. metaphysical determinism, 2. scientific determinism, 3. metaphysical probability, 4. scientific probability and 5. functional relations. In the paper we explained each of these categories in depth and then examined the assumptions that are attached to each.
The first category, metaphysical determinism, is the idea that events are the necessary outcome of antecedent conditions. That is, events of the present are sufficiently determined or caused by events from the past. These present events could not have happened otherwise than they did; they must have happened as past events dictated. It is called metaphysical determinism because it is not necessarily measurable. Within it is the possibility that we may never know the determining factors. They are there and they determine events, but they are not necessarily knowable.
The second category, scientific determinism, is concerned with measurement and prediction. Scientific determinism requires a complete knowledge of the current state of a system as well as the laws governing it. When these two factors are know, then future states of the system could be predicted. The main goal of scientific determinism is prediction and control. One of the main assumptions of scientific determinism is that the laws governing the system and the present state of the system can be known. Presumably, as measuring devices and techniques improve scientists will be able to more accurately describe the present state of a system. Experimentation, through the use of the scientific method, will reveal the laws that govern the system. For example, once scientists have learned the present state of persons and the laws that govern their behavior, complete prediction of future behavior will be possible. Once scientists have learned to predict behavior with high accuracy, circumstances can be arranged so that a desired behavior can be obtained, thus achieving the scientific goals of prediction and control.
A third view of determinism is metaphysical probability. This label connotes that events are unpredictable in principle, rather than a limitation of measurement. Metaphysical probability denies that behavior is classically determined in a metaphysical fashion. From this perspective, behavior can be predictable in large populations or over a long period of time because the environment does exert “influence”, but individuals are unpredictable because they are not metaphysically determined in any given instance. Each individual is unpredictable, but when averaged across individuals or when averaged across time, behavior can be predictable. This view holds that organisms do not have to be metaphysically determined for behavior to be predictable. In this sense, behavior is not exactly chaotic or random, but it is not exactly orderly either and certainly not metaphysically determined.
The fourth kind of determinism, scientific probability, depends on current measuring techniques. It recognizes that, with current measuring techniques, it is difficult if not impossible to predict a single instance of behavior, and the best that can be done is to use probabilistic statements. Behavior is unpredictable because of limitations in measuring and quantifying the causal factors. Although environmental variables do, in fact, determine behaviors, we cannot know, given our crude measuring devices, what all these variables are. According to scientific probability, all organisms have had experiences in the past that have changed them. As of now, we cannot measure these experiences, so we cannot be sure how current reinforcement or stimuli will affect behavior. In this view, accurate knowledge of the past is vital to explanation, prediction and control. However, as of now we do not have accurate knowledge, so that necessitates the use of probability statements. This is not because the behavior is unpredictable in principle, or that the determining factors are unknowable, but it is because of the current limitation in our knowledge of determining factors.
The last determinism is functional relations. Those who hold this view claim that there is no cause or effect, only functional relations. We cannot claim cause and effect, but we can describe the relations that we observe. The job of a scientist, then, is not to find causation but to describe functional relations. In this view, nothing is said to cause something else; no event has a privileged status, even those events that are from the past. This view concerns itself with correlations and predictions rather than causes and effects. Scientists should look for relations and observe what events and behaviors co-vary.
We hope that this taxonomy will eliminate some of the confusion that exists by providing an organized and well-defined breakdown of different types of determinism. We sincerely hope that researchers find it useful and clearly explained so that those discussing determinism can more easily understand the others’ positions and arguments.