5 classical theories about fate

The idea of fate is linked to free will. When we act - e.g. when we eat, fall in love, buy something from the shops, or follow someone’s advice- do we act freely and voluntarily, or by some twist of fate? Can our choices ever change the direction our life takes?

  1. Socrates
    1. According to ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (470/469 – 399 BC), our actions are entirely determined by what we believe to be true and good (our virtues). Our beliefs are, in turn, dependent on our knowledge (what we have learnt). What he means is that once we know how to behave, we tend to want to act in that way. For him, it’s impossible to act in a way that you believe is wrong. But fellow philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC), disagreed with this. Instead he thought that people can act against their knowledge of, and belief in, what is good. More often than not, vice (bad) actions are voluntary. What do you think? Are bad acts a result of someone not knowing what’s right and wrong, or is it a decision to simply ignore this knowledge? 
  2. Aristotle
    1. Ancient Greek thinker, Aristotle (384–322 BC) presents a puzzle about fate. In his work, De Interpretatione he adopts the view that everything happens for a reason and nothing happens by chance. For example, suppose that Person A predicts that there will be World War III in 2100, and Person B says there won’t. Both think their beliefs are true but it’s understood that whatever happens, happens because it’s meant to be. Some question this move from truth to necessity (what’s needed). But Aristotle suggested another way to look at this puzzle. He argued that both Person A and Person B’s claims can’t be seen as true or false as –until the event actually takes place- there’s not anything to base this conclusion on. This debate continues to this day- what do you think? 
  3. Confucius 
    1. According to ancient Chinese philosophy (Confucianism), fate is a result of Heaven’s will and the choices us humans make. So what does this mean?   (like a God) shared by all (a knowledge of what’s right and wrong)But it’s thought that, Heaven (Tian) passes its knowledge on to us when we’re born. This is often called the ‘human nature’. To be guided by our ‘nature’ is called following the Way (Dao). In this line of thinking, a successful person (a junzi) is someone who knows how to develop their mind and act in an honest and ‘moral’ way. This meets the demands of a higher system of order called ‘the Mandate of Heaven’.  But getting this ‘right’ can take time. That is why philosopher Confucius (the father of this way of thinking) said that: ‘at fifty [years of age] I knew the Mandate of Heaven… at sixty I was at ease with whatever I heard … at seventy I could follow my heart’s desire without transgressing [moving too far away from] moral principles’. In Chinese folklore, many still believe that Heaven will reward good deeds and punish evil acts even though you're free to do anything. 
  4. Stoics
    1. Stoicism was a philosophical way of thinking popular in ancient Greece and Roman. For stoics event in history is shaped by previous events that caused it. This view is called ‘determinism’. It’s argued that there has never been, and will never be, a single event that is not caused by something else. This also means that if we put the same conditions together, the same event will happen again. But this doesn’t mean that people are powerless in the face of events happening to them. Chrisyppus, a well-known Stoic philosopher (279 – c. 206 BC) provides an interesting description of determinism. He explains it by offering an example of a tube rolling down a hill. While the rolling down of the cylinder is caused by things out of its control (e.g. a gust of wind, someone might have pushed it etc.), it rolls down in a particular way because of its shape. This is a bit similar to a person’s personality. If someone upsets you and you punch them in the face, your action is partly within your own control as it was up to you to show your anger in that way. In this sense, you’re responsible for your action. But your personality and reaction are shaped by things outside your control—your genes and education etc. But since everything comes about from fate, your punch comes about by fate through you, and consequently, you’re responsible for your action. 
  5. St Augustine
    1. One of the complex things in Christianity, and in religion in general, is how to understand the relationship between God’s higher intelligence and our free will to do as we wish. This is because, if God knows and orders everything beforehand, then how can we ever really do as we please? As technically our actions were already decided…or were they? Plus, would having ultimate freedom, rule out and reduce the magic power of God? For the ancient philosopher St Augustine (354 – 28 August 430), believing that people have free will also means believing that our actions are our own and we are responsible for them. For example, say a person killed someone and then claimed that it was because fate and God planned for them to do so. It would seem odd not to blame the killer just on the basis of this claim alone. Free will, in this sense, is an important part of moral responsibility. In a deeper sense, free will itself is among the events already known by God. But this higher knowledge doesn’t affect our moral judgement and punishment. St Augustine goes on further to suggest that we are born with so many sins that we need God’s support to help us overcome them.