Destiny, Fate, Necessity And Freedom

The Ladies of Fate

My students are all teenagers, so they’re naturally exceptional at being preoccupied with romance and love.  Most of them buy into the idea of soul mates, destiny, and fate.  If anyone asks them, “Do you believe that you are destined to be with a certain person?” I can probably guarantee that their answers are almost always “Yes!”

But I don’t think that these ideas of fate and destiny are exclusive to the teenage belief.  I think a lot of us would like to say that we are destined to this or that, or that our fate is this or that.  Yet, if we just think through the natures of fate and destiny, we would realize that we can’t really say that we are destined or fated, at least not in the strict sense of what those terms mean.  For if we say that we are fated or destined to a certain end, we can’t possibly make a case for our freedom in acting this way or that way.  There is a wonderfully written dialogue between Cyniscus and Zues by Lucian of Samosata that illustrates this point.  In the conversation, Cyniscus poses several questions that point to the internal conflict between the notion of fate and freedom, even the freedom of the gods.

If, Cyniscus suggests, every human being and god is subject to the threads weaved by the Fates, then why ought human persons offer sacrifices to the gods at all since they seem to also be “slaves” of the Fates?  In fact, Cyniscus tells Zues that it seems to be better to be a human since our slavery to the Fates end at death, while the slavery of the gods, who are immortal, is everlasting.  Cyniscus then observes that it is more sensible for us to offer the sacrifices to the Fates instead of the gods since the Fates seem to be the ones in charge.  Accordingly, if all our actions are weaved by the strings of the Fates, then what justfies Minos in rewarding the good and punishing the bad?  

These questions cannot be ignored by those who believe in fate and destiny since, by their very definitions, the two notions suggest that our actions are among the particular events that inevitably come about because of the necessity of fate.  Thus, we are no more justified in punishing the criminal than rewarding the philanthropist.

Perhaps we mean something different when we say that we are destined or fated for this or that, but then what is it that we mean?  Can we speak of destiny and fate while preserving our freedom to act in such a way that we can say that there is genuine freedom in our choices? Some things to think about to begin the week =)

Have a blessed Monday, friends.


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