Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Indeterminism is the idealist notion that the natural course of events in reality are not subject to laws but to independent arbitrary chance.

explanatory context


analytical review

Various dictionary definitions:
The doctrine that there are some events, particularly some human actions or decisions, which have no cause. (American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)

The doctrine that, though the will is somewhat influenced by motives, it is not entirely governed by them, but has a certain freedom and spontaneity. (Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia)

The doctrine that all human actions are not so much determined by the preceding events, conditions, causes or karma as by deliberate choice or free will


Notes on Determinism and Indeterminism (anon, nd) states:

  • Indeterminism: Certain decisions and acts (namely, "free" ones) have nothing that causes them to occur; they are pure chance events; they simply happen, having nothing to do with the person doing the act.
  • Indeterminism as a philosophical theory: The scientific assumption that all events in nature are determined is unwarranted; indeed, chance events are perhaps even necessary to account for the diversity of things in the universe.  Besides, current theoretical physics recognizes that subatomic events occur in completely random and (in principle) unpredictable ways.  A completely caused (determined) event is one that is predictable.  But since not every event is completely predictable, not every event is caused.  Such indeterminacy opens up the possibility that we can really affect the future; and in this way we can be free and morally responsible. 

    • Objections:
      • Indeterminism reduces the whole scientific effort to explain nature and human beings to mere probability, and it makes such an effort a waste of time insofar as it does not guarantee that understanding human behavior will allow us to improve it.
      • If choices and actions are not determined even by one's personality or character, then a so-called "free" act would be one that occurs spontaneously and unpredictably (even to the person doing it); thus no one could justifiably be held responsible for doing an action which not even he/she could have predicted would occur.  Pure chance is thus not freedom in any sense that we would ordinarily recognize.


associated issues


related areas


Anonymous, nd, Notes on Determinism and Indeterminism available at, accessed 6 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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