In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Foreknowledge

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Ancient/Medieval Treatments of Foreknowledge
  • Logical Fatalism
  • The Necessity of the Past
  • The Non-Causability of the Past
  • Foreknowledge and Bivalence
  • The Reality of the Future
  • Foreknowledge and Intention
  • Dependency Loops
  • Time Travel and Backward Causation

Philosophy Foreknowledge
Stephanie Rennick
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0332


Foreknowledge transcends traditional discipline boundaries: discussion of it appears in philosophy of religion, time, action, free will, decision theory, logic, and epistemology. Nonetheless, the literature can be divided roughly into three overlapping categories. The first concerns divine foreknowledge, and the problems thought to arise from it: theological fatalism (that is, the incompatibility of God’s foreknowledge and human free will) and divine providence. The second covers the diverse texts exploring the potential prerequisites of foreknowledge—such as future contingents having truth values, or the reality of the future—and their consequences: logical fatalism, determinism, necessity, predictability. The final category, loosely conceived, contains the literature connecting foreknowledge and causation, explaining the former in terms of backward causation or time travel, or postulating the generation of causal loops as a side effect. The sections in this article cover each of these and more, beginning with general overviews and historical classics and then undertaking a hitherto unattempted journey through the complex and varied landscape that is the philosophical treatment of foreknowledge.

General Overviews

There is not a wealth of general overviews on foreknowledge, due in part, no doubt, to the disparate range of issues and arguments that spawn from its consideration. Those that exist tend to focus on fatalism, and particularly on theological fatalism. The texts listed here are thus most useful as a starting point for inquiry into foreknowledge and fatalism; that is, the compatibility of foreknowledge and free will (although, as noted, they do occasionally touch on other areas). Rice 2023 and Hunt and Zagzebski 2021 provide succinct summaries of the problems of fatalism, literature, and main responses and are an accessible way into the literature for students and the uninitiated. Hasker 1989 and Craig 1991 each present a useful survey of the literature on theological fatalism up until their publication, with the latter additionally exploring a range of foreknowledge-related issues beyond fatalism, including time and causation. Zagzebski 1996 goes into more depth regarding common responses to fatalism than in Hunt and Zagzebski 2021, while presenting a new and oft-cited argument for the compatibility of foreknowledge and free will. Fischer and Todd 2015 is a newer anthology that collects sixteen previously published works on theological fatalism and related notions, including more-recent work; if one is to pick one work to gain an in-depth understanding of the current dialectic, this would be a good choice. Timpe, et al. 2017 is a comprehensive collection on the philosophy of free will; accordingly, it contains multiple chapters related to different aspects of foreknowledge.

  • Craig, William Lane. Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom: The Coherence of Theism; Omniscience. Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History 19. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1991.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004246683

    Explores a vast array of issues related to foreknowledge, concentrating on theological fatalism, but also logical fatalism, time travel and backward causation, temporal necessity, and logic. An accessible survey of the historical literature on theological fatalism, with a series of thought-provoking, if brief, introductions to related ideas.

  • Fischer, John Martin, and Patrick Todd, eds. Freedom, Fatalism, and Foreknowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    A collection of sixteen previously published essays, including Taylor 1963, van Inwagen 2002, and Mackie 2003 (all cited under Logical Fatalism). Contains a helpful introduction and comprehensive bibliography.

  • Hasker, William. God, Time, and Knowledge. Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989.

    Another useful survey of the literature on theological fatalism, from an incompatibilist about foreknowledge and free will. Focuses particularly on omniscience and divine providence.

  • Hunt, David P., and Linda T. Zagzebski. “Foreknowledge and Free Will.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2021.

    The most accessible, general overview of the problem of theological fatalism and key historical and modern responses. Suitable for undergraduates and a general audience, with a useful bibliography.

  • Rice, Hugh. “Fatalism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2023.

    An accessible overview of both logical and theological fatalism, with summaries of the main responses to each. A good starting point for investigating related issues.

  • Timpe, Kevin, Meghan Griffith, and Neil Levy, eds. The Routledge Companion to Free Will. New York and Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2017.

    This edited collection contains multiple chapters relating to foreknowledge by experts in the field, including on topics such as logical fatalism (Finch 2017, cited under Logical Fatalism), theological fatalism, providence, and various historical figures.

  • Zagzebski, Linda T. The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195107630.001.0001

    An influential monograph in which Zagzebski discusses and ultimately rejects the Boethian, Ockhamist, and Molinist responses to the problem of theological fatalism, instead proposing her own argument for the compatibility of foreknowledge and free will. The book also touches on time, temporal asymmetry, causation, and counterfactuals, in relation to foreknowledge. This is the more widely available paperback edition; the original hardback was published in 1991.

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