“It is as though a dog is tied behind a cart. If he wants to follow, he is both dragged and follows, exercising his autonomy in conjunction with necessity. But if he does not wish to follow, he will nevertheless be forced to. The same thing happens in the case of man.” – Hippolytus Philosophoumenia

It seems inexplicable that even though we believe in free will, we still have at least transient feelings that our future in life is fixed or unavoidable. Today I will explore this subjective experience while future blogs will look at the objective arguments for fate.

There are three reasons we naturally embrace fatalism. The first is situational. We simply are born in a certain place at a certain time to specific parents, and with instinctive drives, variable talents, and  a largely preset psychological structure. Almost all events in the world, including those that affect us play out without our meaningful input, leaving us as if precariously balanced on a piece of wood floating on the ocean.

The second reason we consider life fateful is instances of helplessness. At many times in life we sense that what is happening is unavoidable or that we are powerless to prevent it. The habitual experience of powerlessness leads to what psychologists call learned helplessness, wherein the person no longer can imagine fixing his problems or seizing control of his life. The consequent depression and defeatism in these cases is in fact a pathological form of fatalism.

The third reason for a fatalistic view of life is unpredictability. Even well thought out actions freely chosen often lead to unexpected and undesired consequences, often the very consequences or outcome we struggled to avoid or overcome. In a world with so many moving parts, the calculus of human action is imperfect for most of us.

In conclusion we come to know that even if we are free, that “freedom is at best exercised within exceedingly narrow paths.”1 The human experience of situational constraints, episodic helplessness, and unpredictability of effects of action are subconsciously reconceived as fate. Extreme experiences of this nature can lead to a pathological conception of it.


1Taylor, Richard, Metaphysics, Prentice-Hall, Inc., New Jersey, 1974. ISBN 0-13-578468-9, page 58.

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