A Historical Review of Counseling Theory Development in Relation to Definitions of Free Will and Determinism. (Practice & Theory)

Article excerpt

Because a sound theoretical base is essential to the meaningful practice of professional counseling (Bauman & Waldo, 1998; Ginter, 1996, Schwarzer, 1999), efforts to readdress theoretical issues and systemize inferences drawn from the mounting and often-conflicting professional database continue. Prefaced by the assumption that each counseling theory's philosophical position on the age-old free will versus determinism debate constitutes a primary component of meaningful analyses of that theory's empirical evidence as well as that theory's primary explanation of causal factors of human behavior (Goodman, 1998), the free will issue continues to be an important area of investigation and an indispensable component in theory development. Despite numerous investigations into free will/determinism issues within counseling, the concept of individual freedom or lack of individual freedom in relation to the etiology of human behavior continues to be an unsolved element (Pereboom, 1997; Slife & Fisher, 2000).

Recently, a number of researchers have readdressed the past free will/determinism impasse in attempts to synthesize theoretical inferences (Iturrate, 1977/1990; Nelson, 1991; Vetter, 1991). One of the issues under review concerns the meaning of free will itself (Sappington, 1990; Tinsley, 1993; Vollmer, 1995; Werbik, 1991; Williams, 1992). Traditionally, determinism has been clearly defined as the view "that the will is not free but determined by psychical or physical conditions" (Runes, 1962, p. 78), and, conversely, indeterminism has been straightforwardly defined as the theory that "volitional decisions are in certain cases independent of antecedent physiological and psychological causation" (p. 143). Definitions of free will, however, have been more ambiguous, with free will being defined in opposition to determinism, in that free will

   ascribes to the human will freedom in one or more of the following

   (A) The freedom of indeterminacy ... the will's alleged independence
       of antecedent psychological and physiological conditions;

   (B) The freedom of alternative choice ... the ability of the agent
       to choose among alternative possibilities of action; and

   (C) The freedom of self-determinism ... decision independent of
       external constraint but in accordance with the inner motives and
       goals of the actor. (Runes, 1962, p. 112)

It is perhaps worth noting that Runes's (1962) definition of indeterminism is synonymous with the definition of Free Will-A (indeterminacy), and that it is indeterminism that he defined as being opposite to determinism. Runes's Dictionary of Philosophy further defined a sense of freedom as "the subjective feeling of an agent either at the moment of decision or in retrospect that the decision is free, and that one might have chosen to decide differently" (p. 112).

Using Runes's (1962) definitions as identifiers, a review of the literature tracing the general trend and direction of psychological and counseling theory development in relation to free will and determinism is presented. The review focuses on literature within the frameworks of psychoanalysis, behaviorism, humanism, existentialism, and phenomenology and includes a section on constructivism, cognitive-moral developmentalism, chaos theory, and self-attribution.


The context of this review is unique in its use of definitions drawn from Runes's (1962) dictionary to organize the material. It traces counseling theory development based on various definitions applied to the terms freedom and free will. The intent is not to tell the whole story of counseling or to list all theorists, but to show the general direction of theory development in terms of positions taken on free will issues and to identify possible inconsistencies and theoretical gaps. Specifically, the question addressed in the literature search was Which Runes definition of determinism or free will is represented by the major theories of counseling and psychology? …


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