Determinist Existentialism

Modern day Sisyphus
“Good thing I have existentialism to help me out with this.”

Compatibilism vs. incompatibilism

If existentialism means anything, it means believing in freedom. Jean-Paul Sartre, probably the most well-known existentialist, argued that, in all situations, we are free to choose between options. In fact, though existentialism is a diverse and complex school of thought, it boils down to the following two claims:

  • Radical freedom: we are always free to choose how to act.
  • Radical responsibility: we are personally responsible for our entire experience of life.

This should sound utterly incompatible with determinism: the view that causality is an exclusively physical phenomenon. If all causality reduces to the interactions of physical matter and forces, what room is left for personal choice? This isn’t even a question about whether physical states of affairs fully determine how everything will turn out (“hard determinism”). Even if some level of probability or even randomness enters the picture, so long as it all happens in the realm of the physical, then, whichever way it happens to work, it’s still not up to us.

Or, to put it more precisely: even though some of it is up to us, how we choose to influence what is up to us is not up to us. We obviously do choose. But how we choose is only the manifestation of physical causation doing its thing. As Schopenhauer put it: “Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.”

Most philosophers are “compatibilists”: they think we can square “metaphysical libertarianism” (the view that metaphysical free will exists) with determinism.…

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My First Philosophical Theory


When I was a kid, I had a dog. I’d take him out for a walk at night. He usually took care of his business within a few minutes, but I’d walk him for 2 hours, sometimes more, circling the same few blocks over and over. I’d just think. My thoughts tended to go to the nature of reality. I’d look at streetlights and wonder what the hell light was anyway.

I must have been around ten or eleven when I put the name “philosophy” to my growing interest. I remember telling my mom and aunt about it. They laughed, and my aunt made a snide remark about how much money that was going to make me. But a few weeks later, she bought me a book. It was a collection of one-page summaries of the views of important philosophers throughout history. I’d read through it and only partially understand. The philosophers got harder to make sense of with time. Once the book got to twentieth-century philosophers, I hadn’t a clue what they were talking about. But I knew it was exciting. The prospect of eventually understanding them was thrilling to me. I felt as if learning reasons why the world might not be as it seems would give me some special kind of power.

I was about thirteen when I started thinking rigorously about what the purpose of my life was. It seemed obvious that it should be – broadly – happiness. I developed the following way of thinking about it: at any given moment of experience, I am always happy or unhappy to some extent.…

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Thank You, Smashblart

Smashblart is a dude who recently had sex with my wife.

To answer your first question, no, that is not his real name. Apparently, giving real names is bad form when talking about people’s sex lives. So I had to come up with a fake one. And, hey, if you’re gonna have sex with my wife, I’m sorry, but you’re getting a silly name. His real name is one of the following: Tom, Bob, John, Kenny, Ryan, Peter, James, Max, Ted, Dan, Ray, Nathan, Mike, Fred, or Wolfgang.

It’s not Wolfgang. His real name is boring.

(Aside: I’m using my wife’s real name: Natasha. I asked her if I should create a fake one to use in this post, and she said no. Kinda disappointing, I was really looking forward to coming up with one.)

As to your second question: Natasha and I are in a polyamorous marriage. We are each other’s primaries – meaning that we are committed to each other, and are each other’s “main” lover – but we’re okay with sleeping with other people. If you somehow didn’t get this memo, this is a thing. People do it.

For a long time, Natasha and I were polyamorous in name only. Really, we were polyamorous because I have a weird obsession with freedom and she was willing to play along to keep the peace. I didn’t seem to have any real interest in actually pursuing other people anyway, so why not?

Fast forward to about 3:00am the night of the 2016 presidential election.…

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