Does chance hide necessity ? A reevaluation of the debate ‘determinism - indeterminism’ in the light of quantum mechanics and probability theory

Dissertation, University of Montreal (2013)
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In this text the ancient philosophical question of determinism (“Does every event have a cause ?”) will be re-examined. In the philosophy of science and physics communities the orthodox position states that the physical world is indeterministic: quantum events would have no causes but happen by irreducible chance. Arguably the clearest theorem that leads to this conclusion is Bell’s theorem. The commonly accepted ‘solution’ to the theorem is ‘indeterminism’, in agreement with the Copenhagen interpretation. Here it is recalled that indeterminism is not really a physical but rather a philosophical hypothesis, and that it has counterintuitive and far-reaching implications. At the same time another solution to Bell’s theorem exists, often termed ‘superdeterminism’ or ‘total determinism’. Superdeterminism appears to be a philosophical position that is centuries and probably millennia old: it is for instance Spinoza’s determinism. If Bell’s theorem has both indeterministic and deterministic solutions, choosing between determinism and indeterminism is a philosophical question, not a matter of physical experimentation, as is widely believed. If it is impossible to use physics for deciding between both positions, it is legitimate to ask which philosophical theories are of help. Here it is argued that probability theory – more precisely the interpretation of probability – is instrumental for advancing the debate. It appears that the hypothesis of determinism allows to answer a series of precise questions from probability theory, while indeterminism remains silent for these questions. From this point of view determinism appears to be the more reasonable assumption, after all.

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Louis Vervoort
Université du Québec à Montreal


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