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Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the philosophical doctrine and methodological position that reject either the objectivity of causal relations (ontological indeterminism) or the cognitive value of causal explanations in science (methodological indeterminism).

In the history of philosophy, from ancient Greek philosophy (Socrates) to the present day, indeterminism and determinism have been advanced as opposing conceptions relating to the problem of human will and freedom of choice, the problem of man’s responsibility for his actions. Indeterminism treats the will as an autonomous force and contends that the principles of causality are not applicable in explaining human choice and behavior. Indeterminists accuse determinists of fatalism. Marxism bases itself on the view that “far from assuming fatalism, determinism in fact provides a basis for reasonable action” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1, p. 440) and that determinism “in no way destroys man’s reason, or conscience, or appraisal … of his actions” (ibid., p. 159).

In contemporary bourgeois philosophy various forms of indeterminism have become quite widespread. Thus, the Baden school of neo-Kantianism limited the principle of determinism to the realm of the natural sciences and denied that it was applicable to “sciences of the spirit” (W. Windelband and H. Rickert). Neopositivism, pragmatism, and personalism tried to limit determinism to the realm of logic.

The problem of indeterminism versus determinism became particularly relevant with the growth of modern quantum physics. It was found that the principles of classical determinism were not suitable for describing the processes at work in the subatomic world. In this connection attempts were made to interpret the basic laws of quantum theory in an indeterminist or agnostic sense. In this effort, one of the historical forms of determinism, namely, mechanistic determinism, was equated with determinism in general. The difficulties involved in clarifying the problems of causality in modern physics resulted in the strengthening of tendencies toward indeterminism in modern bourgeois philosophy. Thus B. Russell, H. Reichenbach, and P. Frank contended that determinism in general had no scientific value and that the axiom of causality had no place even in classical physics: the assertion of causality could not be applied to the relation between observable facts, since the results of measurement were of the nature of the probability distribution. Such ideas as that of the “free will” of the electron and that individual microphenomena are guided by teleological forces were other expressions of indeterminism.

Dialectical materialism, while rejecting indeterminism, at the same time points out the insufficiency of earlier mechanistic concepts of determinism and presents a new generalized concept of determinism based on the achievements of modern natural and social science.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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