Phenomenology, Freedom, Causality, and the Origin of Western Civilization

  • Fabio ScardigliEmail author
  • Gerard ’t Hooft
  • Emanuele Severino
  • Piero Coda


Every form of culture—scientific, philosophical, humanistic, religious, etc.—believes that “things” become, transform, that is, “things” occur one after the other according to the scheme of “first” and “then”. Besides, every form of culture believes that the succession of “things” appears, i.e., belongs to the manifestation of the world. But since the Greek philosophers, this succession has been understood in two opposite ways: (1) as a process where, instead of the things that actually happen, other, different things could have happened; (2) as a process where this possibility does not exist and it is necessary that things happen in the way they happen, so that the “first” totally determines the “then”. In relation to human decisions, the first of these two ways is the foundation of “free will”; the second way, called “determinism”, denies the existence of “free will”. Modern science has inherited this contrast. Our main thesis here is that neither one nor the other of these two ways of conceiving the succession of things in the world can be something observable, testable, or ascertainable. Determinism and free will are theses that therefore should (although I show in my writings that they cannot) be founded on conceptual structures different from experience. A second aim is to show the following two things: (1) The opposition between these two perspectives exists within their essential solidarity, i.e., the fact that they are two aspects of the same soul: the belief that things come out of their non-being and return to it. This is the dominant soul of Western civilization, and now world civilization, and therefore also of science. (2) These two conflicting perspectives cannot be investigated experimentally, and they cannot appear in experience; and their shared soul has the same characteristic. Experience does not show that things come out of non-being and return to it; the central thesis of my philosophical inquiry is that every state of the world, every part of every state, the content of every instant, every entity, every event, is eternal: it is impossible that they should be otherwise. Western civilization appears therefore to be the history of nihilism. As a third point, we intend to show that, within the history of nihilism, the philosophy of the last two centuries has provided a foundation for the idea that determinism is destined to succumb and free will is destined to prevail, thus making possible the scientific and technological domination of the world. This will lead to the theme of non-nihilism.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fabio Scardigli
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gerard ’t Hooft
    • 2
  • Emanuele Severino
    • 3
  • Piero Coda
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of MathematicsPolitecnico of MilanoMilanoItaly
  2. 2.Institute for Theoretical PhysicsUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.BresciaItaly
  4. 4.Istituto Universitario SophiaFirenzeItaly

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