“Fate, however, is to all appearances more unavoidable than unexpected.” – Plutarch, Caesar


Despite robust arguments for free will and the cogency of free agency, most of us will have at least episodic feelings that the course of our life is not under our control but rather subject to fate. In this introduction, we will begin our discussion by looking at (1) clarification of the terms: fate, fortune, destiny, and predestination, and (2) the distinction between determinism and fatalism.

Fate is the apparent inexorable march of events, particularly as experienced by an individual, and including the element of necessity. Fortune also applies to the individual, but depends on chance, not necessity; that is, fortune appears to be contingent. Fortune can be good or bad, but its nature as chance makes it more “congenial than fate.”1 We investigate fortune in more detail in a later section.

The words destiny and fate can be used interchangeably, though in philosophy destiny is often used less for the individual and more generally as “future necessity; the legal outcome of actuality” or as defined by Charles Peirce: “the embodiment of generals in existence.”2 The book title, Human Destiny by Lecomte du Nouy, exemplifies the flavor of this word as I will use it on this site. This also will be the subject of a future section.

Predestination applies both to individuals and reality in general, most often with implications of divine planning. Theologically it is most often applied to salvation and depends on the grace or good will of the divine towards the individual. It too is the subject of a later section.

We have already looked at determinism, “the doctrine that every fact in the universe is guided entirely by law.”3 It is based on the “thesis that all events in the world without exception are effects or events necessitated by earlier events…a casual chain with every link solid.”4  Fatalism is slightly different; it is the thesis that “the future will be the same no matter what we do.” For instance a fatalist says why call a physician when you are ill as you will get better or not get better whether you call him or not? 5 Determinism then is more objective or scientific and fatalism more subjective and personal.

For the next few posts, fate and fatalism will be used to describe the individual, personal, or subjective sense of the inevitability of the course of one’s life related to forces outside one’s control, but not identified as mere instances of chance. We will begin next time by looking at the subjective warrants for belief in fate and fatalistic attitudes to life.


1Adler, Mortimer J, et. al., The Great Ideas – A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, Volume II, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1952, page 515.

2Runes, Dagobert D., Dictionary of Philosophy. Philosophical Library, New York, 1960, p.77.

3Ibid, page 78.

4Honderich, Ted, The Oxford Guide to Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-534093-8 page 208.

5Ibid, page 291.

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