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Title: Fatalism  
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Subject: Determinism, Destiny, Free will, Njáls saga, Friedrich Nietzsche and free will
Collection: Causality, Destiny, Determinism, Social Philosophy
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Fatalism is a philosophical doctrine stressing the subjugation of all events or actions to fate.

Fatalism generally refers to any of the following ideas:

  1. The view that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do.[1] Included in this is that man has no power to influence the future, or indeed, his own actions.[2] This belief is very similar to predeterminism.
  2. An attitude of resignation in the face of some future event or events which are thought to be inevitable. Friedrich Nietzsche named this idea with "Turkish fatalism"[3] in his book The Wanderer and His Shadow.[4]
  3. That actions are free, but nevertheless work toward an inevitable end.[5] This belief is very similar to compatibilist predestination.
  4. That acceptance is appropriate, rather than resistance against inevitability. This belief is very similar to defeatism.


  • Antiquity 1
  • Determinism and predeterminism 2
  • Idle Argument 3
  • Logical fatalism and the argument from bivalence 4
  • Criticisms 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Ājīvika (also written Ajivika or Ajivaka, literally means "living" in Sanskrit) was a system of ancient Indian philosophy and an ascetic movement of the Mahajanapada period in the Indian subcontinent. Ājīvika followers believed that a cycle of reincarnation of the soul was determined by a precise and non-personal cosmic principle called niyati (destiny or fate) that was completely independent of the person's actions. The same sources therefore make them out to be strict fatalists, who did not believe in karma. "If all future occurrences are rigidly determined ..., coming events may in some sense be said to exist already. The future exists in the present, and both exist in the past. Time is thus on ultimate analysis illusory". "Every phase of a process is always present. ... in a soul which has attained salvation its earthly births are still present. Nothing is destroyed and nothing is produced. ... Not only are all things determined, but their change and development is a cosmic illusion." Makkhali Gosala (Pāli; BHS: Maskarin Gośāla; Jain Prakrit sources: Gosala Mankhaliputta) was an ascetic teacher of ancient India. He is regarded to have been born in 484 BCE and was a contemporary of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, and of Mahavira, the last and 24th Tirthankara of Jainism.

Determinism and predeterminism

While the terms are often used interchangeably, fatalism, determinism, and predeterminism are discrete in stressing different aspects of the futility of human will or the foreordination of destiny. However, all these doctrines share common ground.

Determinists generally agree that human actions affect the future but that human action is itself determined by a causal chain of prior events. Their view does not accentuate a "submission" to fate or destiny, whereas fatalists stress an acceptance of future events as inevitable. Determinists believe the future is fixed specifically due to causality; fatalists and predeterminists believe that some or all aspects of the future are inescapable, but, for fatalists, not necessarily due to causality.

Fatalism is a looser term than determinism. The presence of historical "indeterminisms" or chances, i.e. events that could not be predicted by sole knowledge of other events, is an idea still compatible with fatalism. Necessity (such as a law of nature) will happen just as inevitably as a chance—both can be imagined as sovereign.

Likewise, determinism is a broader term than predeterminism. Predeterminists, as a specific type of determinists, believe that every single event or effect is caused by an uninterrupted chain of events that goes back to the origin of the universe. Determinists, holding a more generic view, meanwhile, believe that each event is at least caused by recent prior events, if not also by such far-extending and unbroken events as those going back in time to the universe's very origins.

Fatalism, by referring to the personal "fate" or to "predestined events" strongly imply the existence of a someone or something that has set the "predestination." This is usually interpreted to mean a conscious, omniscient being or force who has personally planned—and therefore knows at all times—the exact succession of every event in the past, present, and future, none of which can be altered. One of the most famous theological interpretations of this idea is the Calvinist Christian notion of predestination, in which all occurring events have been already willed at the beginning of the universe by God. Contrarily, determinism and predeterminism do not usually imply the existence of such a supernatural being; many determinist models fall under scientific rather than religious or mystical philosophies.

Idle Argument

One famous ancient argument regarding fatalism was the so-called Idle Argument. It argues that if something is fated, then it would be pointless or futile to make any effort to bring it about. The Idle Argument was described by Origen and Cicero and it went like this:

  • If it is fated for you to recover from this illness, then you will recover whether you call a doctor or not.
  • Likewise, if you are fated not to recover, you will not do so whether you call a doctor or not.
  • But either it is fated that you will recover from this illness, or it is fated that you will not recover.
  • Therefore, it is futile to consult a doctor.[6][7]

The Idle Argument was anticipated by Aristotle in his De Interpretatione chapter 9. The Stoics considered it to be a sophism and the Stoic Chrysippus attempted to refute it by pointing out that consulting the doctor would be as much fated as recovering. He seems to have introduced the idea that in cases like that at issue two events can be co-fated, so that one cannot occur without the other.[8] It is, however, a false argument because it fails to consider that those fated to recover may be those fated to consult a doctor.

Logical fatalism and the argument from bivalence

Another famous argument for fatalism that goes back to antiquity is one that depends not on causation or physical circumstances but rather is based on presumed logical truths. There are numerous versions of this argument, including those by Aristotle[9] and Richard Taylor.[2] These have been objected to and elaborated on[1] but do not enjoy mainstream support.

The key idea of logical fatalism is that there is a body of true propositions (statements) about what is going to happen, and these are true regardless of when they are made. So, for example, if it is true today that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, then there cannot fail to be a sea battle tomorrow, since otherwise it would not be true today that such a battle will take place tomorrow.

The argument relies heavily on the principle of bivalence: the idea that any proposition is either true or false. As a result of this principle, if it is not false that there will be a sea battle, then it is true; there is no in-between. However, rejecting the principle of bivalence—perhaps by saying that the truth of a proposition regarding the future is indeterminate—is a controversial view since the principle is an accepted part of classical logic.

Another criticism of logical fatalism is that it assumes a timeless set of all propositions which exist without being proposed by anyone in particular. Constructivists (a school of thought in logic and mathematics) argue that this is not the case and that propositions only exist when they are constructed or expressed.


In addition to the criticism levelled at the arguments put forward for fatalism, another criticism of fatalism in general is its assumption that truths do not conflict with each other. Twentieth century developments in theoretical and experimental quantum physics, specifically the concept of complementarity, seem to show that there exist pairs of statements, only one of which can be true at any given time. For example, Heisenberg's Principle of Uncertainty theorises that if it is true that a subatomic particle will be measured to have a well-defined position, then it is not true that the particle will be measured to have a well-defined momentum and vice versa. In other words, a maximum of one of the two statements 'has a well-defined position' and 'has a well-defined momentum' can be true of a given subatomic particle at a given time (this would appear to be experimentally/empirically true, though Hidden variables theory could discount this argument's assertion that a particle cannot have 'a well-defined position' AND 'a well-defined momentum' at the same time, thus circumventing the indeterministic argument made here).

Another noteworthy criticism comes from the novelist David Foster Wallace, who in a 1985 paper "Richard Taylor's Fatalism and the Semantics of Physical Modality" suggests that Taylor reached his conclusion of fatalism only because his argument involved two different and inconsistent notions of impossibility.[10] Wallace did not reject fatalism per se, as he wrote in his closing passage, "if Taylor and the fatalists want to force upon us a metaphysical conclusion, they must do metaphysics, not semantics. And this seems entirely appropriate."[10] Willem deVries and Jay Garfield, both of whom were advisers on Wallace’s thesis, expressed regret that Wallace never published his argument.[10] In 2010, the thesis was, however, published posthumously as Time, Fate, and Language: An Essay on Free Will.

See also


  1. ^ a b Hugh Rice (October 11, 2010). "Fatalism". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]. Retrieved December 2, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Richard Taylor (January 1962). "Fatalism". The Philosophical Review (Duke University Press) 71 (1): 56–66.  
  3. ^ Metheus
  4. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche, The Wanderer and His Shadow, 1880, Türkenfatalismus
  5. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Fatalism". 
  6. ^ Origen Contra Celsum II 20
  7. ^ Cicero De Fato 28-9
  8. ^ Susanne Bobzien, Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy, Oxford 1998, chapter 5
  9. ^ Aristotle, De Interpretatione, 9
  10. ^ a b c Ryerson, James (December 12, 2008). "Consider the Philosopher". The New York Times. 

External links

  • Fatalism vs. Free Will from Project Worldview
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