The concepts of Destiny, fate and free will always present an intriguing idea, especially when pictured through the eagle-eyed perspective of Philosophy. For the most part of man’s existence, the question of whether we, as sentient beings, have an actual hand in our roles on earth or not, has long been the subject of examination for philosophers. A number of hypothesis and interpretations have stemmed forth from this inquisition, and while these have fundamental differences, one central theme that resonates, is that of fatalism.
Fatalism, or the belief that events and occurrences happen regardless of any prevailing circumstance is a widely accepted bedrock of Destiny across all perspectives. However, in the context of philosophy, fatalism connotes just how handicapped man is at doing anything but that which he was scheduled to do; in contrast to the religious view of fatalism being an inevitable end that comes to pass regardless of the means. Depending on the perspective, the driving force (and unrivalled power) that propels fatalism, differs. In the religious setting (theological Fatalism), this force is an omnipotent being or God, however, to the average philosopher, this power could be; (i) reliant on logical laws and the concept of mandatory necessities and (ii) driven by causal determinism. And then some.
Logical Fatalism – Aristotle’s foundation
Logical fatalism rests on the belief that all events in a man’s life occur as a necessity. The hypothesis posits that all happenings happen not because they were predestined to occur or because of free will, but for the fact that they had to occur – they were mandatory. To better understand this concept consider this two statements;
- Statement 1 – ‘A will occur’
- Statement 2 – ‘A will not occur’
These two statements depict the fundamental tenet of our reality, an event or happening is or isn’t – a man is either poor or not; a woman is either rich or not; a boy will marry a girl or not; a car will move or not. In any case scenario, only one of the statements will manifest as a reality, i.e., just one statement will be true, the other statement is then false.
From the above two statements, any of them could be true but for the context of this discussion, let’s assume statement one is true. If statement 1 ‘A will occur’ is true, then A will occur and if A occurs it then means that statement 2 ‘A will not occur’ can never occur. If A can never occur then statement 1, ‘A will occur’ must always occur as a necessity. A more explicit way to picture this would be to consider a real-life scenario. If for instance, rain falls on a Sunday then the statement ‘Rain will fall on Sunday’ was true even before Rain fell that Sunday, conversely the statement ‘rain will not fall on Sunday’ was false. Now because rain will not not fall on Sunday, then Rain falling on Sunday must happen as a necessary event.
‘If it was always true to say that it was or would be, it could not not be, or not be going to be. But if something cannot not happen, it is impossible for it not to happen; and what cannot not happen necessarily happens. Everything, then, that will be will be necessarily.’ – Aristotle (De Interpretatione)
Logical fatalism puts it forward that Destiny is a result of the driving force of necessity. A man is poor only because he cannot be rich, or rich because he cannot be poor. Like was reiterated earlier the implication of this is, that we as humans have no control over our actions and inactions. However, as we will now see this was not the crux of the Aristotelian take on destiny.
For Aristotle and a majority of philosophers, we as humans have control (at least to an extent) on our fortunes – our fate is not entirely reliant on a predetermined system of things based on the law of necessity. Instead, we exert on our own accord, a force of free will. Aristotle agrees that events that happen, when they do happen are a necessity but goes further to add that not every ‘necessary’ or unnecessary event eventually plays out in actuality – what happens or doesn’t happen is in fact tied to a conditional qualification, which is for the most part free will or self-determination.
Divine Omniscience from the perspective of Philosophers
While Aristotle and his cohorts posit that destiny rests on the shoulders of necessity, with the former acknowledging the impact of free will, another school of thought most notably comprised of philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and Luis de Morina hold the belief that there is, in fact, an omniscient being who conducts the opera that is life. This group puts it forward that God is not just well acclimatized with what is destined to happen in the future, but also with what will happen if a man is allowed to act on his own free will. These set definitions of free will are together called the ‘counterfactuals of freedom,’ and God’s knowledge thereof is referred to as the ‘middle knowledge.’
Although this school of thought acknowledges the concept of free will, it is in this setting painted with a fatalistic palette. Regardless of whatever decision a man makes in the supposed mode of free will, he is, in fact, acting within a set jurisdiction predetermined by God. This view represents a more refined depiction of both fatalism and the concept of free will. Its implication in practicality is that man might have a role in the system of things, in other words, his destiny, but is still subject to the destiny’s unbending will. To better grasp this, consider Aristotle’s Idle Argument.
If it is fated that you will recover from this illness, then, regardless of whether you consult a doctor or not, you will recover. But also, if it is fated that you will not recover from this illness, then, regardless of whether you consult a doctor or not, you will not recover. 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.
The destined end is either recovery or not recovering. Between the actual manifestations of the predestination that holds true, a man can out of his own free will, decide to see a doctor or otherwise. And while this is indeed free will its future consequence is well known to the omniscient being God. That said, Aristotle’s final argument that actively engaging the counterfactual of freedom is an exercise in futility might not necessarily be valid, at least in the context of Morina-Plantinga school of thought. This is because a counterfactual of freedom might be a mandatory condition that is to be met before a predetermined event occurs. Drawing from the illness recovery scenario above, an individual might have been destined to recover from an illness, but only after seeing a doctor. In this case, the counterfactual freedom; seeing a doctor which as Aristotle put it is futile, in fact, the rate-limiting factor to the fulfillment of the destined recovery.
Which of these views is an authority? Is it the logical Fatalist that believes necessities spin the world or the theological adherent who assign the power of destiny to an omniscient being? The answer to this as it has been since time immemorial is still a subject of debate. One cannot, however, ignore the solid argument brought on by proponents of theological fatalism backed up counterfactual freedom and middle knowledge. If anything, it is one of the explanations of the concept of destiny that seems most applicable to the reality of things today. A quick introspect into the life of the average person reveals a complex intermingling of events that occurred via a straightforward process with those that happened through intricate mechanisms. The intricacies in the latter scenario are representative of the counterfactuals of freedom; they are the processes that must be undertaken for a destined end to manifest. And while in that context, the said individual might presume that he/she is actively altering their correspondent destinies (for instance, in the case of recovery, an individual might assume that by going to the hospital he or she is averting the fate of death), the realization that other persons suffering from the same illnesses under same circumstances and receiving similar treatments have in their own cases failed to recover makes for a strong argument that the end though dependent on the route is always set in stone.
This is not to, however, undermine the competence of the necessities and determinism based fatalist hypothesis. Both are in their own right, solid arguments worth their mettle in relevance and objectivity. In fact, a quick peruse of other opinions on this discussion will most likely reveal that they are the more popular perceptions of the concept of destiny. Ultimately, which is more candid as has always been the case is subjective, and dependent on the perspective of the observer.