Clarence Darrow’s Argument & Determinism

Passionate  and bright speech by Clarence Darrow, given in order to defend Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, became one of the most famous defense speeches. Darrow was talking for 12 hours in the attempts to prove that the murder, committed by two young men, was not their fault. The main argument, constructed by Darrow was constructed against the death penalty, which was supposed punishment for the crime, committed by Leopold and Loeb.

In his arguments, Darrow turns to the ideas of determinism. According to Darrow’s argument, all human actions are determined by mere luck. The part of human actions are determined by their hereditary. Another part is determined by the environment. The combination of these two factors forms human character. The character, in its turn, determines human actions. Ideas, expressed by Darrow, fall in the concept of determinism.  He uses these arguments to prove that two young men, who have committed a murder, cannot be responsible for it, since their actions are determined by different external and internal factors, they cannot be responsible for. As he notes, “terrible crime, then, should be viewed like the effects of a hurricane or an earthquake.  There is no one to blame but nature (and nurture) itself” (Darrow 1924).     In one of the claims of his famous speech he claims, “Your Honor, I am almost ashamed to talk about it. I can hardly imagine that we are in the twentieth century. And yet there are men who seriously say that for what Nature has done, for what life has done, for what training has done, you should hang these boys…” (Darrow 1924). This and other claims, provided by the defense counsel, illustrate the ideas of determinism. According to determinism, people possess no control over their lives. All their thoughts, actions and behavioral patterns are predetermined by hereditary and environment.  Darrow uses this argument, to prove the innocent of two murders, “They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped, and those unfortunate lads sit here hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting for their blood” (Darrow 1924). 

Darrow rejects the concept of free will and puts all responsibility on outside factors.  At this point, punishing people for their actions and moral choices becomes pointless, because these actions and choices are predetermined.  According to Darrow’s arguments, two students were predetermined to commit this crime. These young people had no control over their morality and thus cannot be pleaded guilty and condemned to death penalty.

Indeterminants and self-forming actions make the opposite to determinism. These ideas state that all people are responsible for their actions, moral choices and even intentions.  Arguments, presented by determinists can be refuted by different proofs, which illustrate that   free will exists. The existence of free will can be proved in the cases, when twins, who grow up in same surrounding make different moral choices. Despite the fact that all factors, which determine their behavior are similar, there is  additional factor, which determines it. This factor can be described as free will.  In addition, there are a lot of examples when people with certain hereditary factors and environments made choices, opposing to these factors. For example, there are children,    grown up in struggling families and in bad surrounding, took conscious decisions to change their lives and made moral choice to choose another way of life.   Opponents of determinism also note that determinism finally refutes any kind of free will, including judgements. In the case the question of determination can also be refuted.  

Taking into account all information about determinism and free will, mentioned above, I believe that human actions are influenced they the combination of determined factors and free will. People definitely possess free will, which can be used to make life choices.   

Summing up all the arguments, discussed above, I believe that Leopold and Leob should be pleaded guilty for the crime they have committed. The arguments of determinism make impossible any responsibility for any actions, since any actions are determined. At the same time, the history contains a lot of examples, when people made moral choices and proved the existence of free will. If free will exists, the human choice and human behavior cannot be totally determined. In this case, both students had the chance to choose another way of actions. There are multiple cases from the history of mankind, where people demonstrated their ability to take free decisions. In addition, human culture contains moral norms and regulations, which are repeated in the most religious and philosophical schools. These moral standards and moral guidelines can be used by people to determine, if their behaviors follow moral norms and standards. Leopold and Loeb possessed information about moral norms and standards. They also could make a moral choice and give an idea of murdering an innocent person, but they did not do it. In addition, confessing them not guilty creates a dangerous criminal precedent. Until there is a chance that the actions of people are determined by free will, they should know about the punishment for committing a crime. In the case if Loeb and Leopold are confessed not guilty, other potential criminals may take decisions to commit crimes.

Those, who would oppose these arguments will state that  it is hard to prove that actions of different people can be determined as free choice, but not as predetermined ones. In reality, nobody can state for sure if the behavior is conditioned by genetics, hereditary or environment.

The counter argument should count on examples, when identical twins, grown in identical environment, took different decisions. Such cases prove that people possess free will.

Works Cited

Balaguer,  Mark,  Why There Are No Good Arguments for or against Determinism (or Any Other Thesis That Would Establish or Refute Libertarianism), Digital Original Edition, Mit Press,

Balaguer, Mark,  Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem, The Mit Press, 2012.

Darrow, Clarance, Plea for Leopold and Loeb” (22, 23, AND 25 AUGUST 1924), Voices of Democracy, 22 August 1924.

Sommers,  Tamler  Darrow and Determinism: Giving Up Ultimate Responsibility, Naturalism,  9/2004.

Higdon H. Leopold and Loeb: The Crime of the Century. University of Illinois Press, 1999.

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: June 30, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016.

[Accessed: June 30, 2022] (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
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[Accessed: June 30, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 30, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 30, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 30, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 30, 2022]
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