Fate

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Fate

 

in mythology and in irrationalist philosophical systems, as well as in philistine consciousness, a reasonless and inscrutable preordainment of events and of human actions. This concept of fate, which makes the absolute of only one aspect of predetermination—namely, the absence of freedom—must be clearly distinguished not only from the scientific concept of causality, but also from the religious concept of teleological determination called providence or predestination.

The cause and effect principle can be apprehended by the human mind, and even the aims of providence are presumed at least to be intelligible to god himself. In contrast, fate is usually regarded not only as unknowable to the human intellect, but as being in itself blind and unknowing. In ancient Greek mythology, fate is personified in a triad of female figures, the Moirai (known to the Romans as the Parcae), who are on the borderline, as it were, between the personal or individual and the impersonal spirit of the clan; the goddesses of fate possess a personal arbitrariness, but they are not distinct individuals. Always, and not without reason, those who believed in fate could only attempt to divine fate in each separate situation, without trying to comprehend it; by definition, nothing in fate is comprehensible.

Fate as the antithesis of freedom is a social concept, and to that extent a historical one. Primitive society presupposes the identity of freedom and nonfreedom for its members, not having yet separated its personal essence from its clan essence; in principle, therefore, it does not distinguish fate either from natural causality or from what is willed by the spirits. It is only with the advent of the state and of civilization that these concepts become divorced. For the early Greeks, human existence was integrally determined by a person’s “allotment” within the context of the polis (moira having the meaning of fate as “allotment”). The various methods of guessing and predicting fate played an enormous part in the life of antiquity. The connection between such divination and the world outlook of the city-state was already noted by Hegel (Soch., vol. 3, Moscow, 1956, pp. 68–69).

The concept of moira is not devoid of ethical meaning: fate is understood as a blind, mysterious, impersonal justice, having no interest in any one particular being, hastening to dissolve individual into universal being and thus effecting a kind of retribution. This classical fate is merciless even toward the gods, which is ultimately comforting, for the subjects of Zeus know that even his arbitrary rule has a limit—as in Aeschylus’ tragedy Prometheus Bound. With the crisis of the polis system, moira gave way to tyche, namely, fate as good fortune or chance. During the Hellenic era, man expected to receive not what was his due by the rules of a traditional system but that which “fell out” to him by the rules of the game of chance: circumstances make soldiers into kings and make the life of nations dependent on chance events at court. With the ascendancy of the Roman Empire, fate (fatum, or the “spoken” decree of the gods) is interpreted as an all-encompassing and immutable determination, extrinsic to man’s actual being. It is as impossible to escape this fate as it is to escape the Roman administration; fate takes as little account as does Caesarean rule of the intrinsic life of a man or a nation.

Since the time of Posidonius, the concept of fate has been associated with the theory and practice of astrology: man’s nonfreedom now extends beyond the bounds of empire, as far as the celestial spheres. To the idea of fate, Christianity counterposed its belief in an intelligently acting providence. However, insofar as irrationality in human relations and mystification of the ruling powers continued to hold sway, the idea of fate persisted. Regardless of all the attacks of theologians, the authority of astrology endured through the Middle Ages; a strong revival of interest in it was effected by the Renaissance, with its bent toward naturalistic magic.

In modern times, the world view shaped by the natural sciences has relegated the idea of fate to the realm of notions held by the man in the street. The idea had a distinctive revival in the late 19th century in the school of thought called life philosophy. The word “fate,” or “destiny,” began to be associated with the claims of irrational activity that reached ultimate vulgarization in Nazism—an ideology that turned the idea of destiny into an instrument of propaganda for its own point of view.

S. S. AVERINTSEV

Fate

See also Chance.
Adrastea
goddess of inevitable fate. [Gk. Myth.: Jobes, 35]
Atropos, Clotho, and Lachesis
the three Fates; worked the thread of life. [Gk. and Rom. Myth.: Bulfinch]
Bridge of San Luis Rey, The
catastrophe as act of divine providence. [Am. Lit.: The Bridge of San Luis Rey]
dance of death, the
recurring motif in medieval art. [Eur. Culture: Bishop, 363–367]
Destiny
goddess of destiny of mankind. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 78]
Fates
three goddesses who spin, measure out, and cut the thread of each human’s life. Also called Lat. Parcae, Gk. Moirai. [Gk. Myth.: Benét, 757]
Jennie Gerhardt
novel of young girl trapped by life’s circumstances (1911). [Am. Lit.: Jennie Gerhardt, Magill III, 526–528]
karma
one’s every action brings inevitable results. [Buddhist and Hindu Trad.: EB (1963), 13: 283; Pop. Culture: Misc.]
kismet
alludes to the part of life assigned one by his destiny. [Moslem Trad.: EB (1963), 13: 418; Pop. Culture: Misc.]
Leonora
cursed by father; stabbed by brother. [Ital. Opera: Verdi, La Forza del Destino, Westerman, 316–317]
Meleager
death would come when firebrand burned up. [Gk. Myth.: Walsh Classical, 186]
Moirai
see Fates.
Necessitas
goddess of the destiny of mankind. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 78, 162]
Nemesis
goddess of vengeance and retribution; nemesis has come to mean that which one cannot achieve. [Gr. Myth.: WB, 14: 116; Pop. Culture: Misc.]
Norns
wove the fabric of human destiny. [Norse Myth.: Benét, 720]
Parcae
see Fates.
wool and narcissi, garland of
emblem of the three Fates. [Gk. Myth.: Jobes, 374]