Gambling and Philosophy – Examining Existentialism and Free Will

Philosophy can be described as an assortment of beliefs and attitudes that guide your daily life and decisions – this makes having a powerful philosophy one of the keys to making smarter gambling decisions.

Gambling is an integral component of Existentialist writings; Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Sartre all discuss it at length in their works as it can serve as a metaphor for the tension between authentic existence and mass political ideologies.


From its inception, free will and determinism have long been at the core of philosophy discussions. Determinists believe human behavior can be explained entirely through an array of causes; while advocates for free will believe humans must maintain control over their actions. The debate has profound ramifications for understanding morality, responsibility, and the nature of science.

Hard and soft determinism represent two primary approaches to this subject matter. Hard determinists believe that all events are causally inevitable, thus ruling out free will as an option. Conversely, soft determinists believe people do have some choice within a certain range of choices constrained by internal or external forces (for instance if someone is poor and desperate enough to resort to theft for food), yet their choices may still be restricted due to internal or external circumstances (for instance stealing may become necessary due to internal stressors such as lacking access).

No matter their position on this issue, most individuals agree that any decision made freely must have an explanation in the physical world; otherwise it violates the conservation of energy principle which is an important scientific law. Most philosophers who have explored this question have taken an opposing stance; libertarians tend to support free will while incompatibilists argue against it, while compatibilists believe choices are partly determined by environment but still involve some degree of free will.

Free Will

While free will is often discussed among philosophers, studies have demonstrated its correlation with cognitions and behaviors. More specifically, individuals who believe more in free will tend to experience greater life satisfaction (Crescioni et al. 2016), set more meaningful goals, exert greater autonomy over their behavior (Alquist et al. 2013) as well as less prosocial attitudes like cheating or aggression (Vohs and Schooler 2008; Baumeister et al. 2009).

Libertarian free will and hard determinism differ in that libertarians believe humans can choose their actions freely while hard determinists argue they cannot. Studies have demonstrated, however, that people may hold compatible beliefs regarding both libertarian incompatibilist free will and physical indeterminism simultaneously; many models of human action which appeal to libertarian incompatibilist free will include event-causal accounts of physical indeterminism which appeals to libertarians while simultaneously being libertarians themselves.

These studies indicate that beliefs in free will and determinism are associated with social cognitive constructs like attitude and perceived behavioral control, but aren’t directly tied to gambling behavior. One recent study (Citation2016) demonstrated this by showing how beliefs in free will predicted intention but beliefs in determinism did not; suggesting that increasing free will beliefs may influence key psychological determinants and decrease gambling behaviour.

Religious Approach

Christian religion (with over two billion followers worldwide) does not specifically prohibit gambling; however, it cautions against its pursuit for financial gain. Instead, Christians are advised to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness before trusting Him with daily needs such as their money needs. Furthermore, gambling embodies this sin as it offers false hope of instant gain for little effort spent – something found nowhere else!

Religious people who participate in gambling may develop disordered gambling due to their belief in supernatural intervention during games of chance. Faith in luck is likely one of the primary mechanisms explaining religiosity-disordered gambling links; believers seem willing to suspend traditional cause-effect logic and trust supernatural interventions in games of chance as an explanation for disordered betting behavior.

Religions rooted in biblical texts such as Jehovah’s Witnesses hold that gambling encourages greed while depriving poorer individuals the chance to work for their own incomes – something contrary to God’s mandate of stewardship that links honest work with rewards; laziness being something forbidden by Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:10) and gambling having disproportionate effects on vulnerable populations such as the poor. As such, such activities should never be encouraged and seen as morally wrong exploitation tactics against vulnerable people in such ways.


Sociobiology, as its name implies, is the scientific study of social behavior within an evolutionary framework. Originating in the 1970s from evolutionary biology, this discipline seeks to integrate biological, behavioral and social sciences with each other in an attempt at integration. One hallmark of sociobiology is accepting genetic and environmental influences in an animal’s behaviours.

Sociobiology is an extremely controversial discipline that has long been linked to social Darwinism and the early 20th-century eugenics movement. Critics contend that its teachings contain too much anthropomorphism and overstate their capacity to describe human nature; additionally, sociobiology has been used as justification for sexism, racism and class injustices.

As important as biological factors are for gambling, people’s relationships and interpretations with these factors should also be carefully considered. Gambling heavily exploits socio-cultural constructs of hedonism, mateship, winning/success/status/thrill and adventure and more which should all be explored under a practice theory framework for optimal analysis. Furthermore, studying gambling would benefit from an emphasis on body and how it shapes gambling practices.

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