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Fatalism is a family of related philosophical doctrines that stress the subjugation of all events or actions to fate or destiny, and is commonly associated with the consequent attitude of resignation in the face of future events which are thought to be inevitable.


The term "fatalism" can refer to any of the following ideas:


The idea that the entire universe is a deterministic system has been articulated in both Eastern and non-Eastern religions, philosophy, and literature.

The ancient Arabs that inhabited the Arabian Peninsula before the advent of Islam used to profess a widespread belief in fatalism (ḳadar) alongside a fearful consideration for the sky and the stars as divine beings, which they held to be ultimately responsible for every phenomena that occurs on Earth and for the destiny of humankind. Accordingly, they shaped their entire lives in accordance with their interpretations of astral configurations and phenomena.

In the I Ching and philosophical Taoism, the ebb and flow of favorable and unfavorable conditions suggests the path of least resistance is effortless (see: Wu wei). In the philosophical schools of the Indian Subcontinent, the concept of karma deals with similar philosophical issues to the Western concept of determinism. Karma is understood as a spiritual mechanism which causes the eternal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (saṃsāra). Karma, either positive or negative, accumulates according to an individual's actions throughout their life, and at their death determines the nature of their next life in the cycle of Saṃsāra. Most major religions originating in India hold this belief to some degree, most notably Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism.

The views on the interaction of karma and free will are numerous, and diverge from each other greatly. For example, in Sikhism, god's grace, gained through worship, can erase one's karmic debts, a belief which reconciles the principle of karma with a monotheistic god one must freely choose to worship. Jainists believe in a sort of compatibilism, in which the cycle of Saṃsara is a completely mechanistic process, occurring without any divine intervention. The Jains hold an atomic view of reality, in which particles of karma form the fundamental microscopic building material of the universe.


In ancient India, the Ājīvika school of philosophy founded by Makkhali Gosāla (around 500 BCE), otherwise referred to as "Ājīvikism" in Western scholarship, upheld the Niyati ("Fate") doctrine of absolute fatalism or determinism, which negates the existence of free will and karma, and is therefore considered one of the nāstika or "heterodox" schools of Indian philosophy. The oldest descriptions of the Ājīvika fatalists and their founder Gosāla can be found both in the Buddhist and Jaina scriptures of ancient India. The predetermined fate of living beings and the impossibility to achieve liberation (moksha) from the eternal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth was the major distinctive philosophical and metaphysical doctrine of this heterodox school of Indian philosophy, annoverated among the other Śramaṇa movements that emerged in India during the Second urbanization (600–200 BCE).


Buddhist philosophy contains several concepts which some scholars describe as deterministic to various levels. However, the direct analysis of Buddhist metaphysics through the lens of determinism is difficult, due to the differences between European and Buddhist traditions of thought.

One concept which is argued to support a hard determinism is the idea of dependent origination, which claims that all phenomena (dharma) are necessarily caused by some other phenomenon, which it can be said to be dependent on, like links in a massive chain. In traditional Buddhist philosophy, this concept is used to explain the functioning of the cycle of saṃsāra; all actions exert a karmic force, which will manifest results in future lives. In other words, righteous or unrighteous actions in one life will necessarily cause good or bad responses in another.

Another Buddhist concept which many scholars perceive to be deterministic is the idea of non-self, or anatta. In Buddhism, attaining enlightenment involves one realizing that in humans there is no fundamental core of being which can be called the "soul", and that humans are instead made of several constantly changing factors which bind them to the cycle of Saṃsāra.

Some scholars argue that the concept of non-self necessarily disproves the ideas of free will and moral culpability. If there is no autonomous self, in this view, and all events are necessarily and unchangeably caused by others, then no type of autonomy can be said to exist, moral or otherwise. However, other scholars disagree, claiming that the Buddhist conception of the universe allows for a form of compatibilism. Buddhism perceives reality occurring on two different levels, the ultimate reality which can only be truly understood by the enlightened, and the illusory and false material reality. Therefore, Buddhism perceives free will as a notion belonging to material reality, while concepts like non-self and dependent origination belong to the ultimate reality; the transition between the two can be truly understood, Buddhists claim, by one who has attained enlightenment.

Determinism and predeterminism

While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, fatalism, determinism, and predeterminism are distinct, as each emphasizes a different aspect 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. This idea has roots in Aristotle's work, "De interpretatione".

Theological fatalism is the thesis that infallible foreknowledge of a human act makes the act necessary and hence unfree. If there is a being who knows the entire future infallibly, then no human act is free. The early Islamic philosopher, Al Farabi, makes the case that if God does in fact know all human actions and choices, then Aristotle's original solution to this dilemma stands.

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:

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.

Logical fatalism and the argument from bivalence

The main argument for logical fatalism goes back to antiquity. This is an argument 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 and Richard Taylor. These arguments have been objected to and elaborated on with some effect.

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 on applying principle of bivalence to future contingents, regarding that a statement about the future is either true or false. However, this does not apply if the future is considered to be undetermined meaning that the truth value of a statement can only be determined once the event occurs.


Semantic equivocation

One 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. 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." Willem deVries and Jay Garfield, both of whom were advisers on Wallace's thesis, expressed regret that Wallace never published his argument. In 2010, the thesis was, however, published posthumously as Time, Fate, and Language: An Essay on Free Will.

See also


  1. ^ Also, see the article on predeterminism.
  2. ^ For instance, Friedrich Nietzsche discusses what he calls "Turkish fatalism" in his book The Wanderer and His Shadow.


  1. ^ a b c d Rice, Hugh (Winter 2018). "Fatalism". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University: Center for the Study of Language and Information. Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  2. ^ a b Solomon, Robert C. (October 2003). "On Fate and Fatalism". Philosophy East and West. 53 (4). University of Hawaii Press: 435–454. doi:10.1353/pew.2003.0047. JSTOR 1399977. S2CID 170753493.
  3. ^ a b Taylor, Richard (January 1962). "Fatalism". The Philosophical Review. 71 (1). Duke University Press: 56–66. doi:10.2307/2183681. JSTOR 2183681.
  4. ^ Zagzebski, Linda. "Foreknowledge and Free Will". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  5. ^ Stambaugh, Joan (1994). Other Nietzsche, The. SUNY Press. p. 81. ISBN 9781438420929.
  6. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche, The Wanderer and His Shadow, 1880, Türkenfatalismus
  7. ^ a b al-Abbasi, Abeer Abdullah (August 2020). "The Arabsʾ Visions of the Upper Realm". Marburg Journal of Religion. 22 (2). University of Marburg: 1–28. doi:10.17192/mjr.2020.22.8301. ISSN 1612-2941. Retrieved 23 May 2022.
  8. ^ a b c Bodewitz, Henk (2019). "Chapter 1 – The Hindu Doctrine of Transmigration: Its Origin and Background". In Heilijgers, Dory H.; Houben, Jan E. M.; van Kooij, Karel (eds.). Vedic Cosmology and Ethics: Selected Studies. Gonda Indological Studies. Vol. 19. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. pp. 3–19. doi:10.1163/9789004400139_002. ISBN 978-90-04-40013-9. ISSN 1382-3442.
  9. ^ House, H. Wayne. 1991. "Resurrection, Reincarnation, and Humanness." Bibliotheca Sacra 148(590). Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Balcerowicz, Piotr (2016). "Determinism, Ājīvikas, and Jainism". Early Asceticism in India: Ājīvikism and Jainism. Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies (1st ed.). London and New York: Routledge. pp. 136–174. ISBN 9781317538530. The Ājīvikas' doctrinal signature was indubitably the idea of determinism and fate, which traditionally incorporated four elements: the doctrine of destiny (niyati-vāda), the doctrine of predetermined concurrence of factors (saṅgati-vāda), the doctrine of intrinsic nature (svabhāva-vāda), occasionally also linked to materialists, and the doctrine of fate (daiva-vāda), or simply fatalism. The Ājīvikas' emphasis on fate and determinism was so profound that later sources would consistently refer to them as niyati-vādins, or 'the propounders of the doctrine of destiny'.
  11. ^ a b c Leaman, Oliver, ed. (1999). "Fatalism". Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy. Routledge Key Guides (1st ed.). London and New York: Routledge. pp. 80–81. ISBN 9780415173636. Fatalism. Some of the teachings of Indian philosophy are fatalistic. For example, the Ajivika school argued that fate (nyati) governs both the cycle of birth and rebirth, and also individual lives. Suffering is not attributed to past actions, but just takes place without any cause or rationale, as does relief from suffering. There is nothing we can do to achieve moksha, we just have to hope that all will go well with us. But the Ajivikas were committed to asceticism, and they justified this in terms of its practice being just as determined by fate as anything else.
  12. ^ a b c d Basham, Arthur L. (1981) . "Chapter XII: Niyati". History and Doctrines of the Ājīvikas, a Vanished Indian Religion. Lala L. S. Jain Series (1st ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 224–238. ISBN 9788120812048. OCLC 633493794. The fundamental principle of Ājīvika philosophy was Fate, usually called Niyati. Buddhist and Jaina sources agree that Gosāla was a rigid determinist, who exalted Niyati to the status of the motive factor of the universe and the sole agent of all phenomenal change. This is quite clear in our locus classicus, the Samaññaphala Sutta. Sin and suffering, attributed by other sects to the laws of karma, the result of evil committed in the previous lives or in the present one, were declared by Gosāla to be without cause or basis, other, presumably, than the force of destiny. Similarly, the escape from evil, the working off of accumulated evil karma, was likewise without cause or basis.
  13. ^ Goldstein, Joseph. "Dependent Origination: The Twelve Links Explained". Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  14. ^ a b "Anatta | Buddhism". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  15. ^ Repetti, Ricardo (2012). "Buddhist Hard Determinism: No Self, No Free Will, No Responsibility" (PDF). Journal of Buddhist Ethics. 19: 136–137, 143–145.
  16. ^ Hoefer, Carl, "Causal Determinism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  17. ^ Barnes, E. J. (1984). The complete works of Aristotle, de interpretatione IX. princeton: Princeton University press.
  18. ^ Zagzebski, Linda, "Foreknowledge and Free Will", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/free-will-foreknowledge/>.
  19. ^ Al-Farabi. (1981). Commentary on Aristotle's De Interpretatione. Translated by F.W.Zimmerman,. Oxford: Oxford university press.
  20. ^ Origen Contra Celsum II 20
  21. ^ Cicero De Fato 28-9
  22. ^ Susanne Bobzien, Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy, Oxford 1998, chapter 5
  23. ^ "Aristotle, De Interpretatione, 9". Archived from the original on 31 March 2007. Retrieved 17 February 2007.
  24. ^ Mackie, Penelope. “Fatalism, Incompatibilism, and the Power To Do Otherwise” Noûs, vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 672-689, December 2003
  25. ^ Øhrstrøm, Peter; Hasle, Per (2 June 2020). "Future Contingents". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  26. ^ a b c Ryerson, James (12 December 2008). "Consider the Philosopher". The New York Times.

External links

Wikiquote has quotations related to Fate. Look up fatalism in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.