Philosophy Fatalism
by
Patrick Todd
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0116

Introduction

In contemporary philosophy, arguments for “fatalism” are arguments for the conclusion that no human actions are free. Such arguments typically come in two varieties: logical and theological. Arguments for logical fatalism proceed, roughly, from truths about future actions to the conclusion that those actions are unavoidable, and hence unfree. Arguments for theological fatalism, on the other hand, proceed, roughly, from divine beliefs about future actions to the conclusion that those actions are unavoidable, and hence unfree. What is characteristic of any argument for fatalism is that, first, it purports to show by appeal to quite general logical or metaphysical assumptions that no human action is free, and, second, it does so without explicitly invoking the thesis that those actions are causally determined. There is, of course, a venerable argument for the conclusion that causal determinism is incompatible with free will (understood as the ability to do otherwise), but philosophers advancing such arguments are not now generally understood to be advancing the cause of “fatalism.” To endorse fatalism is thus not simply to endorse the view that no human action is free, but also to endorse the further claim that this can be shown by appeal to the general logical or metaphysical assumptions at issue. Fatalistic arguments of both sorts are and have been intimately bound up with philosophical questions about the logical status of future contingent propositions—propositions saying of causally undetermined events that they will happen. This entry will thus cover the main positions in the debates concerning logical fatalism, the logic of future contingents, and theological fatalism.

General Overviews

Readers looking for general overviews of the topics of this entry would do well to start with the online articles Rice 2010, Øhrstrøm and Hasle 2011, and Zagzebski 2011, which deal with logical fatalism, future contingents, and theological fatalism, respectively. Torre 2011 is a good introduction to the topics surrounding the intuitive asymmetry between past and future, and Bernstein 2002 is a good introduction to the issues on both logical and theological fatalism. Readers interested in the (extensive) historical discussion of these topics (especially during the medieval period) should consult Knuuttila 2011.

  • Bernstein, Mark. “Fatalism.” In The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. Edited by Robert Kane, 65–81. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    A thorough introduction to the main arguments for fatalism, including theological fatalism.

  • Knuuttila, Simo. “Medieval Theories of Future Contingents.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2011.

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    A good presentation of the historical development of theories of future contingents from Aristotle to the medievals, with particularly helpful (and extensive) references.

  • Øhrstrøm, Peter, and Per Hasle. “Future Contingents.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2011.

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    An excellent (though technically demanding) introduction to the logic of future contingents.

  • Rice, Hugh. “Fatalism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2010.

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    An excellent discussion of the problem of fatalism, with a particularly helpful treatment of the “necessity of the past” and how it relates to the solutions of Aristotle and Ockham.

  • Torre, Stephen. “The Open Future.” Philosophy Compass 6 (2011): 360–373.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2011.00395.xE-mail Citation »

    A good introduction to the doctrine of the open future, focusing on the intuitive asymmetry between the “fixed” past and the “open” future.

  • Zagzebski, Linda. “Foreknowledge and Free Will.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2011.

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    Sets out the argument for theological fatalism, and gives helpful overviews of all the main replies to the argument.

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