I am having a hard time finding any good arguments for and against fatalism. I would like to believe
that we all have free will, but I have not been able to find much information on these topics. I am also
finding it hard to research if agency exists. Any help on these issues would be helpful.
I understand fatalism as the theory that whatever anyone, including you, does, what is fated to
happen will happen. In other words, human beings are impotent to change the future and so that the
future is just like the past in that respect. As Doris Day sang in the film Don't Eat the Daisies,"Che
Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be...."
What that implies is that if your instructor or teacher tells you that you must hand in a term paper, and
that unless you do so, you will fail the course, then, if you are a Fatalist you will argue as follows:
"Whether or not I pass or fail the course is already fated. Che Sera, Sera. So, what is the point of
bothering to write and hand in the term paper? None at all.
If you think that this argument is correct then you think Fatalism is correct. But if you disagree with
this argument, you disagree with Fatalism.
It is because of this that the Stoics called a version of Fatalism in their time, "The Lazy Man's
Sophism" (A Sophism is a plausible, but ultimately fallacious, reasoning.)
It seems that there are two possible views you can take about the future. We'll stick with the example
of the term paper. On the first view, the statement 'I will pass the course' has a truth value, just like
any other statement, e.g. 'I spent three nights in a row writing my term paper', 'I am now printing out
my term paper'. A statement just is the kind of thing that is true or false.
One philosopher who was worried about this view was Aristotle. He proposed an alternative theory
(Aristotle De InterpretationeE.M. Edghill trans. in The Philosophy of TimeGale, R. ed. Macmillan
1968 pp. 179—182) which has come to be know as the 'open future'. At this moment in time, the
future result pass or fail is not a fact. It is not decided. You can think of the universe branching out
into two possible futures, the future where you pass and the future where you fail, which are equally
real. What you do now will make all the difference.
It is possible to hold the first view — we can call this the 'closed future' — without accepting the
validity of the lazy sophism. From the point of this more reflective fatalism, the fallacy in the lazy
sophism consists in taking one view of what I am able to decide now, and another view of the future.
The future is already fixed. We know that. But so is the present. That's what the lazy sophism misses.
The correct conclusion to draw is that if the future is closed, then what we think of as 'making a
decision' isn't what we take it to be.In other words, you can't say to yourself, 'I will write the
paper...but what's the point? whether I pass or fail is already decided', because it is also'already
decided' whether or not you will write the paper. Deciding is something that happens, and like
anything else that happens it has a causal effect on future outcomes.
I have no interest in defending fatalism. But nor am I convinced that Aristotle's 'open future' is the only
alternative. A third, more subtle possibilty is that we say, about something that might happen in the
future, 'If X will happen then it is true now thatX will happen', the words "it is true now that" add
nothing to the content of the statement. I might as well say, "If X will happen then ba ba ba ba ba X
will happen". If we remove the 'babble', then "If X will happen then X will happen" is just an tautology,
an instance of "If P then P". And nothing of consequence can follow from a tautology.