Destiny in Philosophy


By Helena Lind

For thousands of years, the concepts of Destiny, fate, and free will present an intriguing topic, especially when pictured through the sharp lens of philosophy, and even looking through the devoted viewer of religious thinking.

This article is just a taster of things to come. In my upcoming publication, The Destiny Book, we shall discover lots more about the fascinating topics of Destiny and philosophy, as well as history and many more aspects of the first force in the universe.

If you are interested in finding out more about The Destiny Book by Helena Lind, please read the story A Teaser to my Book on Destiny.

Let us examine a few aspects of the philosophies based on or embedded in the ancient and trailblazing principles of Destiny and fate. For a good part of humanity's existence, the eternal question of whether we sentient beings have a hand in the flow of life has been the subject of curiosity and examination. Several hypotheses and interpretations stem from many opinions and analysis. While there are fundamental differences, one special theme, seen from two different angles, timelessly stands out.

Let's talk about fatalism

Fatalism, or the belief and acceptance that events and occurrences are inevitable and come to pass regardless of any circumstance, is a prevalent idea across many cultural perspectives. The term is derived from the Fatae or the Fates, the three Roman Goddesses of Destiny modelled on the three Greek Moirai. Fatum is Latin for Destiny. It is derived from fas, fari, which mean to speak, to predict and to reveal a hidden truth.

Fatum and the Fatae, over time, developed to fate and the fates in English and other languages. Fate is used as an alternative word for Destiny, although fate is often seen as a darker and more unavoidable power. The three lovely fates determined each human's thread of life by designating its portion, spinning each human story and, finally, cutting the cord that resembles physical existence.

If the role Destiny and fate play in the realms of ancient myths is of interest to you, why not read my article Mythology and Destiny?

As we can see, depending on the point of view, definitions of the driving force and unrivalled power that propels the universe differ. In the religious setting of theological fatalism, the original force is channelled to add more power to the toolbox of an omnipotent God figure. To ancient philosophy, the irresistible energy would be based on the principles of Destiny and necessity, the universe, nature, or logical laws, even actioned through causal determinism.

And on the design of the fates or Moirai, of course, and then some.

What is fatalism?

Originally, fatalism was a philosophical mindset that accepted without any question that all events in our lives are predecreed and unavoidable.

But we want to talk about logical fatalism here. Logical fatalism is a notion that presupposes that all events in our lives occur as a necessity. This hypothesis posits that all events happen not because they were predestined to occur or because of free will, but for the fact that they had to occur – that they were mandatory.

To get closer to this concept we should consider these two original probability statements:

- Statement 1 – 'A will occur'

- Statement 2 – 'A will not occur'

These two statements reflect the fundamental tenet of our reality: an event is or isn't taking place; a person is either savvy or not; a woman is either rich or not; a boy will marry a girl or not; an object will move or not. In any case scenario, only one of the statements will manifest itself as a reality, i.e. just one statement will be true, rendering the other statement false.

From the two statements above, either could be true, but for the context of this discussion, let's assume the first statement is true.

- If statement 1 – 'A will occur' – is true, then A will occur.

- If A occurs, it means 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 definitive way to picture this scenario would be to consider a real-life example. If, for instance, a storm wreaks havoc on Friday, then the statement 'a storm will wreak havoc on Friday' was true even before the storm rolled in on Friday. Conversely, the statement 'a storm will not wreak havoc on Friday' was false.

Now, the statement that 'a storm will not trouble us on Friday' would mean that the storm destroying our roof on Friday therefore happens as a necessary event. Logical fatalism states that necessity is the driving force of fate. Someone is poor only because he cannot be rich, or rich because he cannot be poor. It's pure inevitability. As mentioned earlier, the implication of this is that we, as humans, have no control over our actions and inactions.

However, as we will discover, this rigid bond is not the only message of the Aristotelian take on fatalism, Destiny and fate, because not everything has to happen because of necessity.

So what else did Aristotle say on fatalism?

To Aristotle, and a good number of other philosophers, we as humans have control (at least to an extent) over our personal spheres, hence our fate is not entirely reliant on a predetermined system based on the law of necessity. Instead, we can act on our own accord – the agency of free will.

Aristotle agreed that events, when they happen, are a necessity. But he added that not every necessary or unnecessary event eventually plays out in actuality – what happens or doesn't happen can be tied in part to our free will or self-determination.

Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives - choice, not chance, determines your destiny.
- Aristotle

Philosophical fatalism meets Marcus Tullius Cicero

Let us take a look at fate and necessity as per the ideas of the Greek philosophers such as Democritus, Heraclitus, Empedocles and Aristotle, proponents of 'classical' fate and necessity. Their definitions were summarized but morally rejected by, the Roman statesman, author and orator Cicero in his counter-argument, De Fato:

If all things happen by fate, all things happen with an antecedent cause, and if this is true of desire, it is true also of what follows desire, and therefore true of assent. But if the cause of desire is not within us, desire itself is not in our power, and if this is so, then those things which are brought about by desire are not within us. Therefore, neither assent nor action is in our power; and from this it follows that neither praise nor blame are just, nor honours nor punishment.

Despite the fact that Chrysippus' special take on natural and prior causes driving our fate was pretty hard to devalue and that even Plato saw both the cosmos and humans entwined with the rather moral Laws of Destiny, good Cicero remained steadfast and unwilling to agree to the above summary, in which he condensed the opinion of Greece's finest on fatalism. Instead, he insisted that an uninfluenced human freedom of will to be a necessity for an ethical life.

If Cicero's take on human liberty is true, it would render both philosophical and theological fatalism to be somehow irrelevant, including the decreeing agencies of fate and an omniscient God.

But is it?

Man never legislates, but destinies and accidents, happening in all sorts of ways, legislate in all sorts of ways.
- Plato

The search for divine omniscience

While Aristotle and many colleagues suggest that Destiny and fate rest on the broad shoulders of necessity while harmoniously acknowledging the possible impact of free will, another, later school of thought offers a different take. Christian thinkers like Luis de Molina, and the American philosopher Alvin Plantinga, believe an omniscient being conducts the reality show that is life while we, humanity, have free will that functions in tandem with God's foreknowledge, predestination and the concept of salvation.

These thinkers posit that God knows what is destined to happen in the future, even including the imponderables of us willing, choosing and acting upon our own free will. The set definitions of free will options are 'counterfactuals of freedom', and God's intrinsic pre-knowledge of what is to take place under any circumstances, also referred to as divine providence, is called 'middle knowledge'.

Faith is not to be contrasted with knowledge: faith (at least in paradigmatic instances) is knowledge, knowledge of a certain special kind.
- Alvin Plantinga

Although this school of thought salutes the concept of free will, its construct is still painted with a fatalistic palette, not just in Judaism, which is built on yirtse Hashem. Christians refer to God's will, and an almost identical notion of God's superior edict is also found in Islam, where everything is willed by Allah, hence all is insh'allah.

As we see, the Abrahamic God adapted to, and adopted, the powers, threads and ropes of Destiny happily and with great success.

Regardless of whatever decision we make in the supposed mode of free volition, we are, in fact, acting within an already set jurisdiction, not just foreknown but already predetermined by the predestining God.

This view represents an interesting angle on both fatalism and the concept of free will. Its implication, practically, is that we might have a role in the system of things. In other words, trying to achieve self-intended destinies, while still being subject to God's infallible, unbending edict.

Between the actual manifestations of the divine predecree, we, on the tender wings of our free will, are in control of our actions. And while that seems to be free will indeed, its future consequence is already long foreseen and decided by the all-knowing God.

The Molina school of thought even projects three types of precognizance – natural, middle and free knowledge – unto God's aegis. But which of these views have true authority? Is it the logical fatalist that believes necessities spin the world, or the theological devotee who assigns the power of Destiny to an infallible God?

For a more in-depth look at the topic here's a link to my story Destiny and Religion.

What do we actually know for sure?

The answer to this is that both – in fact all views – remain open to debate and subject to further examination. Wherever we stand, we should not disregard the argument brought on by proponents of theological fatalism supported by counterfactual freedom and middle knowledge. If anything, it is an explanation of a concept of Destiny that seems applicable to many millions of people worldwide.

A quick look into the life of the average person reveals a complex intermingling of events that occur via a straightforward process with those that happen through intricate mechanisms.

From that perspective, such intricacies could be interpreted as effects of the counterfactuals of freedom. Happily, philosophy gives us the ideas of compatibilism and semicompatibilism to kind of marry free will and determinism. Lots more on that in The Destiny Book.

The fact is, though, that many of us will always presume we are willingly and actively in charge of our Destinies. And that is fine, since the idea of free will is an important factor for the smooth upkeep of societies and legal systems. People can and should think and believe what they like.

But is free will even 'real' or just a figment of deliberated, conventional wisdom-inspired subjective perception?

However, the realisation that other people acting under similar or the same circumstances arrive at different results makes for a strong argument that the end may indeed be dependent on a predesigned route and, therefore, set in stone. Both arguments are worth their mettle in relevance and objectivity. In fact, a quick peruse of other opinions on this discussion will reveal they are still highly debated perceptions of the concept of Destiny.

Ultimately, which of them garners more traction has always been subjective, and dependent on the perspective of the observer. To date, there exists no proof whatsoever for the existence of the teleological and metaphysical concepts of Destiny, God(s) or any of the above theories, except determinism.

But is proof of a metaphysical concept necessary?

To a scientist, libertarian, a humanist or free thinker, an atheist and agnostic, for sure. These amiable sceptics would insist on it, of course, since they cannot find a root of truth in such theories, although quite a few atheists and agnostics seem to like the idea of fate.

Socrates once said:

I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.

Now, here we have a truth. Because no one knows anything, and especially not for sure. Again, we can believe what we want. But believing means not knowing. Believing means that we go along with an accepted or even disputed social construct.

And what are examples of social construction?

Time. Class systems. Rules. Money. Religion. For it may even be likely that determinism is rather true and free will a limited commodity. Neuroscientists and biologists know a thing or two about that.

A man can do as he wants, but not will as he wills.
- Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher

Some philosophers and theologians tend to anticipate free will as a (God) given human prerogative, despite the contrasting scientific findings and statements in their respective scriptures. But does that really matter?

Why Destiny is the ultimate historical power

It has to be said that the principle of Destiny was the seminal force of order in the universe, religion-independent and above any official pantheon or deity. The cosmic principle of Destiny brought order to chaos, with the added benefit of higher justice and the appreciation of excellence of character in a human, which, in the human world, would qualify it to be cherished as the first ethical power ever.

The creed of Destiny is arguably the bedrock and trailblazer for all systemic faiths that came later, and the reason organised religions were developed and are with us today. Our predecessors built great civilisations like ancient Greece, Rome and many more.

They embodied Destiny into predominantly feminine divine incarnations – such as Ananke, Moira, Aisa, the three Moirai, Necessitas, Providentia, the three Fates or the three Norns – to lend a relatable face to an otherwise invisible principle.

Since the notion of Destiny was so vital and successful, also as a symbol word for future and opportunity, it was 'borrowed' and vested into the God of the Abrahamic religions and rebranded to predestination and divine providence.

It is a deep human need to manifest supernatural beings and Gods to import rhyme and reason to our often challenging and very limited lives. Not everyone requires that kind of theoretical certainty, however, it is difficult to fathom a humanity without some adherence to concepts of faith.

Men create gods after their own image, not only with regard to their form, but with regard to their mode of life.
- Aristotle

Today, as the data clearly shows, Destiny remains a highly popular phenomenon, and not for no reason. The legend is indeed alive. And the thread continues to flow forward.

If the fates allow.

Last updated 15 April 2024

If you wish to find out more about The Destiny Book why not read the article A Teaser to my Book on Destiny.