DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A112-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

20. Fate

Socrates had been a firm believer in the powers of divination and in divine providence. Stoicism took over this outlook and developed it into a doctrine of ‘fate’ (heimarmenē), which by the time of Chrysippus had become a full-scale thesis of determinism.

That everything that happens is predetermined is a thesis which flows easily from all three branches of Stoic philosophy. Ethics locates human happiness in willing conformity to a pre-ordained plan (§17), and treats the use of divination as a legitimate means towards this goal. Physics provides the theory of the world’s divinely planned cyclical recurrence, unvarying in order to maintain its own perfection (§5).

Physics also supplies a fundamental principle, regarded as conceptually self-evident, that nothing happens without a cause. This quickly leads to the conclusion that the world’s entire history is an unbroken causal network. ‘Fate is a natural everlasting ordering of the whole: one set of things follows on and succeeds another, and the interconnection is inviolable’. ‘The passage of time is like the unwinding of a rope, bringing about nothing new and unrolling each stage in its turn.’ A modern analogy might be the continual rerunning of a film.

Finally, logic offers the principle of bivalence: every proposition, including those about the future, is either true or false. Therefore, Chrysippus argued, it is true now of any given future event either that it will happen or that it will not happen. What does that present truth consist in? It can only lie in the causes now present, sufficient either to bring the event about or to prevent its happening. Therefore all events are predetermined by antecedent causes sufficient to bring them about and to prevent all alternatives from occurring. (Compare Aristotle §20 and Epicureanism §12, for escape routes from this argument.)

Citing this article:
Sedley, David. Fate. Stoicism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A112-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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