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Necessitarianism is a metaphysical principle that denies all mere possibility; there is exactly one way for the world to be. It is the strongest member of a family of principles, including hard determinism, each of which deny free will, reasoning that human actions are predetermined by external or internal antecedents. Necessitarianism is stronger than hard determinism, because even the hard determinist would grant that the causal chain constituting the world might have been different as a whole, even though each member of that series could not have been different, given its antecedent causes.[citation needed]

The Century Dictionary defined it differently in 1889–91, essentially as belief that the will is not free but instead subject to external antecedent causes or natural laws of cause and effect. The definitions of necessarian, necessarianism, and necessitarian[1] (and possibly all the related words) were written by the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce[2], who argued against necessitarianism with Paul Carus.[3] (Only pronunciation, etymology, and the like are omitted below).

necessarian [...] I. a. Relating to necessarianism; necessitarian.
  II. n. One who accepts the doctrine of necessarianism; a necessitarian.
  The only question in dispute between the advocates of philosophical liberty and the necessarians is this: "whether volition can take place independently of motive." W. Belsham, Philos. of the Mind, ix. § 1.
  Necessarians will say that even this [voluntary effort for a good end] is ultimately the effect of causes extraneous to the man's self. H. Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics, p. 258.
necessarianism [...] The doctrine that the action of the will is the necessary effect of the antecedent causes; the theory that the will is subject to the general mechanical law of cause and effect. Also necessitarianism, and rarely necessism.
  Let us suppose, further, that we do not know more of cause and effect than a certain definite order of succession among facts, and that we have a knowledge of the necessity of that succession — and hence of necessary laws — and I, for my part, do not see what escape there is from utter materialism and necessarianism. Huxley.
necessism [...] Same as necessarianism. Contemporary Rev. [Rare.]
necessitarian [...] I. a. Of or pertaining to necessity or necessitarianism: opposed to libertarian.
  II. n. One who maintains the doctrine of philosophical necessity, in opposition to that of freedom of the will: opposed to libertarian.
  The Arminian has entangled the Calvinist, the Calvinist has entangled the Arminian, in a labyrinth of contradictions. The advocate of free-will appeals to conscience and instinct — to an a priori sense of what ought in equity to be. The necessitarian falls back upon the experienced reality of facts. Froude, Calvinism.
necessitarianism [...] Same as necessarianism.

See alsoEdit


  1. Century Dictionary, Vol. V, Page 3951, Necess to Necessity. [DjVu file] and JPEG file.
  2. See "Peirce's Century Dictionary Definitions" (Eprint) at the Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism (Kenneth Laine Ketner, main editor of the Comprehensive Bibliography mentioned there), and page 68 in the word list PDF file (PDF's page 25).
    • Peirce, C. S. (1892) "The Doctrine of Necessity Examined", The Monist, v. II, n. 3, pp. 321-337, The Open Court Publishing Co., Chicago, IL, April 1892, for the Hegeler Institute. Google Books Eprint. Internet Archive Eprint. Reprinted Collected Papers v. 6, paragraphs 35-65, The Essential Peirce v. 1, pp. 298-311.
    • Carus, Paul (1892), "Mr. Charles S. Peirce's Onslaught on the Doctrine of Necessity" in The Monist, v. 2, n. 4, July, Paul Carus, ed., 560–582, The Open Court Publishing Co., Chicago, IL, for the Hegeler Institute. Google Books Eprint. Internet Archive Eprint.
    • Peirce, C. S. (1893), "Reply to the Necessitarians", The Monist, v. III, n. 4, pp. 526-570, The Open Court Publishing Co., Chicago, IL, July 1893, for the Hegeler Institute. Google Books Eprint. Internet Archive Eprint. Reprinted Collected Papers v. 6, paragraphs 588-618.
    • Carus, Paul (1893), "The Founder of Tychism, His Methods, Philosophy, and Criticisms: In Reply to Mr. Charles S. Peirce" in The Monist, v. 3, n. 4, July, Paul Carus, ed., 571–622, The Open Court Publishing Co., Chicago, IL, for the Hegeler Institute. Google Books Eprint. Internet Archive Eprint. Carus's reply to Peirce's "Reply to the Necessitarians" in the same issue.

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