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Issues and Debates – Historical Debates

1. Free Will Versus Determinism: A Historical Review

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In this lecture, we think about the history of the free will versus determinism debate, focusing in particular on: (i) views from the birth of modern science in the 17th century, wherein it was believed that all things obeyed natural laws, which provided a deterministic view of the world; (ii) the beliefs from before that time, that objects had natural states that they wanted to be in the world, pursued via hidden forces; (iii) Newton’s introduction of mathematical laws which could explain the motion of objects; (iv) the application of these laws of attraction and repulsion to living things, starting with animals; (v) the controversial nature of introducing this deterministic view to human behaviour; (vi) René Descartes’ distinction between the body and the mind, creating the concept of dualism; (vii) distinguishing the rational mind from instincts, a theory that doesn’t hold up in modern psychological research.


In this course, Dr Metodi Siromahov (University College London) explores some historic debates in psychology. In the first lecture, we think about the history of the free will versus determinism debate and the origins of psychological theory. In the second lecture, we think about some modern viewpoints on this debate, including drawing similarities between behaviourism with cognitive psychology. In the third lecture, we think about social constructivism and the impact of culture and environment on our thought processes. Next, we think about reductionism versus holism, including a contrast between Freudian theory and humanistic psychology. In the fifth lecture, we think about religion as an example for which holistic and reductionist theories can be applied. In the sixth lecture, we think about the definitions and impacts of nomothetic and idiographic approaches to research. In the seventh lecture, we think further about these research approaches, including some key criticisms and examples. In the eighth and final lecture, we review two studies which approach the topic of nationalism from a nomothetic and idiographic view respectively.


Dr Metodi Siromahov is a lecturer in the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at University College London. Dr Siromahov’s research interests are in historical controversies and debates within social psychology, and the application of these to understanding political ideologies. Dr Siromahov’s recent publications include 'Beliefs in national continuity are related to essentialist thinking and to perceptions of the nation as a family' (2020) and 'Mapping visual spatial prototypes: Multiple reference frames shape visual memory' (2020).

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APA style

Siromahov, M. (2022, June 09). Issues and Debates – Historical Debates - Free Will Versus Determinism: A Historical Review [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Siromahov, M. "Issues and Debates – Historical Debates – Free Will Versus Determinism: A Historical Review." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 09 Jun 2022,

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