The concept of fate is something that we form an opinion on at a very young age. Many of the mythologies and fairy stories we hear when we’re young have a fateful element to them and, rather than appearing as a philosophical theory, we come to accept its existence as fact. However, as we grow older, it’s something that we give very little consideration to, unless we hear very good or very bad news.
The debate as to whether our lives are fated or whether we have free will in any given situation is one that has had philosophers and scientists hot under their respective collars for hundreds, if not thousands of years. However, there is a new school of thought that suggests that the two are not mutually exclusive.
The Logic of Fate
According to this new approach, both fate and free will are very real and play major parts in our lives. For example, we know that we are all fated to die, yet we have free will to choose how we behave while we are living. In these statements, there is no real argument. The interrelation between fate and free will can be explored on three different levels: logically, materially and spiritually.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines fate as something that is “destined to happen, turn out or act in a particular way.” It also goes on to give an example, as in “the guards led her to her fate.” Through this example, we can see that fate is the result of a series of conscious actions; the concept of fate remains a variable possibility until someone decides that it is the only one left and that possibility is decided through the act of free will.
It seems on a first viewing that there is a relationship between the two opposing concepts; one can be instrumental in making the other inevitable. Logically, it is fair to draw the conclusion that one cannot exist without the other. With the absence of free will, there can be no such thing as fate and, without the concept of fate, free will has little point. Taking this argument a step further, proponents of a logical approach could convincingly argue that we all choose our own individual fate through our own free will. As a result, in the world of logic, it could be argued that both fate and free will are enduring realities.
Fate in the Material World
Materially, the reasoning appears to be solid. Scholars from this school of thought argue that if everything is pre-destined then there can be no such thing as crime. For if we are all fated to behave in a particular way, our actions are beyond our control and part of a ‘Grand Plan’ in which we have no say.
Many people cite ‘luck’ as an influence in their fates but, if everything is pre-ordained then there can be no such thing. All the coincidences, opportunities and spontaneous events that we all experience in our lives are also part of that Grand Plan, in which we have no say. Similarly, if all choice is free will and we have ultimate power over what we say and do, then being put in prison would be pointless, as we would be able to simply make the choice to leave. In other words, this approach seems to support the idea that free will and fate act as limiters to each other; our fates are decided by our free will and our freewill, without fate, would render all of our actions meaningless.
The Religious Views
Spiritually the lines appear to be blurred, but through their very fundaments, practically all religions support the notions of both free will and fate. Many faiths talk of a Grand Design; a cosmic plan in which we are little more than puppets. Others suggest that we are all fated to join our chosen god in our chosen heaven, where we will become at one with him, her or it. In some ways, the idea of Fate seems to be a huge and all-encompassing concept that is tied into our very existence. The Grand Design is part of our spiritual evolution.
However, the majority of religions also support some notion of a Heaven and Hell - places you go to according to your behaviour on Earth. Similarly, religious texts are littered with references in which deities exact their punishments on mankind for their offensive behaviour. But why, if everything is pre-ordained, are we punished by these beings? Surely our behaviour can only be part of the Order of Things? In addition, if we are all part of a predetermined plan, there should be no need for the ultimate rewards or punishment; Heaven and Hell cannot exist unless there is free will and, unless there is fate, free will has no meaning.
Tools of Mischief?
This reasoning, originally purported by the Professor of Development and Cultural Psychology, EP Hughes, in 2003, has steadily gathered momentum over the last decade and has added another debate to the table. Professor Hughes’ stance is that free will and fate are part of a cultural, philosophical and spirituality that “have been sheared, stressed, distorted and reshaped into tools of mischief.” In Hughes’ eyes, fate is nothing more than an excuse for bad behaviour: “my choices were fated; what could I do?” Conversely, he sees the concept of total free will as “…a crutch used by those who advocate anarchy in every path of life.” It is for those who believe that the world revolves around them and them alone.
Fate is something that defines consequence and, in turn, outlines our responsibilities to ourselves and those around us; our fates are only predestined by the choices we make through our own free will. Fate helps to draw a distinction between what is good and what is bad, which is intrinsic to the way we live our lives. Without fate, we would have no punishment or reward and, without that, our free will would become as meaningless as the chaos from which many religions believe we have sprung.