Necessity and Chance

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Necessity and Chance


correlative philosophical categories expressing types of relationship that are determined by primary and attendant factors.

Necessity (N) is a thing or a phenomenon in its universal, lawlike relationship. It is the reflection of predominantly internal, stable, recurrent, and universal relationships in reality; it also reflects the basic directions of the development of reality. N expresses the penetration of knowledge into the depth of an object as a result of which the object’s essence and law are revealed. It is a means of transforming possibility into reality, whereby only one possibility of a given object under given conditions transforms it into reality.

Chance (C) basically reflects external, nonessential, unstable, and singular relationships of reality. C expresses the starting point in the knowledge of an object. It is a result of the overlapping of independent causal processes or events. C is a form of expression of N and a supplement to it.

When they express specific connections and relationships of objective reality, N and C are ontological categories. As stages of knowledge, they are epistemological categories. As forms of knowledge that reflect the objective world, N and C act as logical categories. Characterizing the way in which thought moves from less profound to more profound knowledge, N and C fulfill a methodological function. TV is frequently formed from a mass of C’s, through which N makes its way. N is grounded in the material relationships of objects and is the natural result of a preceding course of development. Given the appropriate conditions, necessary phenomena develop in a specific order; they occur precisely this way and in no other way. C is generally caused by conditions external to a given phenomenon, as a result of which C may occur in different ways.

Depending on the causes that give rise to N, the forms in which it manifests itself, the structure and nature of its action, and also its role in science, N may be subdivided into the following seven basic types:

(1) internal N, produced by the nature of the phenomena and processes of the objective world;

(2) external N, brought about by attendant factors;

(3) N of a more general, fundamental order, the action of which extends to a comparatively broad range of phenomena in reality;

(4) N of a less general order, the action of which involves a comparatively narrow range of phenomena;

(5) complex N, which determines the behavior of an aggregate of objects and is expressed by statistical laws;

(6) simple N, which determines the behavior of individual objects and is expressed by dynamic laws;

(7) N that governs by phenomena in reality and that may at the same time be expressed by both statistical and dynamic laws.

C may also be subdivided into five types:

(1) internal C, intrinsically linked with a given N;

(2) external C, appearing as something extraneous in relation to a given N and produced for the most part by subordinate factors;

(3) objective C, which results from the influence of various objective conditions;

(4) subjective C, produced by subjectivism and voluntarism, a violation of objectively operating laws;

(5) favorable or unfavorable C, respectively accelerating or retarding development of various aspects of reality.

Philosophy has studied the problem of N and C since ancient times. The categories of N and C have been interpreted in different ways. Negation of C (Democritus, B. Spinoza, P. Holbach) inevitably led to fatalism. Certain idealist philosophers asserted that N is produced and introduced by consciousness (D. Hume, neopositivism); others, while acknowledging that N exists in nature, rejected N in social life (neo-Kantians and others). Metaphysical materialists and certain naturalists (C. Wolff, Lamarck) did not see the link between N and C and regarded them as absolute opposites. G. Hegel demonstrated the unsoundness of separating N and C, and he developed a dialectical conception of their interrelationship.

F. Engels criticized the metaphysical position, according to which science studies only necessary relationships; he also rejected the opposite point of view, that of mechanistic determinism, which negated C altogether and declared that absolutely all phenomena are necessary. As a result of this, necessity was reduced to the level of chance (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20, pp. 532–36). The classical writings of Marxist philosophy have shown that in objective reality N and C do not exist in pure form (see K. Marx in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 171; V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 26, pp. 241–42); that “chance is only one pole of interrelation, the other pole of which is called necessity” (F. Engels in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21, p. 174); that under certain conditions these categories are identical, that is, the accidental is necessary and the necessary is in exactly the same way accidental (F. Engels; see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20, pp. 532–33); and that in nature and society, where the game of chance takes place on the surface, such chance is always subject to internal, hidden laws (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21, pp. 174—75; vol. 20, p. 361).

In reality every phenomenon at one and the same time, but in different ways, is both random and necessary and “contains” aspects of C and N in their interpenetration. Thus, the appearance of an outstanding individual in a given country at a given time is C. But if this individual becomes the leader of a movement and in this capacity begins to express the movement’s interests, this individual represents N. The occurrence of a particular mutation is N, the result of a specific physiochemical process; at the same time, with respect to the organism and population, the mutation appears as a chance phenomenon.

The dialectical interrelation between N and C is manifested in different ways at various structural levels of matter in both nature and society. In nature, there are only blind, unconscious forces, the interaction of which reveals nature’s laws and necessity. In nonliving nature, N has an essentially unequivocal function. In the transition from nonliving to living nature, C is manifested to a somewhat greater degree. In objects of living nature, there are a greater number of interacting laws that influence the correlation of N and C. Here, N becomes interwoven with C to a greater degree than in nonliving nature. At the same time, the perfecting of organisms during the course of development of organic systems testifies to the ever-increasing triumph of necessity over chance.

In society there function individuals endowed with consciousness. They act deliberately or out of passion in their striving to attain specific goals. But in a society in which class antagonism exists, the results of people’s activities are frequently opposite to their desires and goals; this is a result of the existence of private ownership of the means of production, antagonistic interests, and anarchic social development. N operates here mainly as an elemental force that reveals itself only as the end result of the historical actions of people and that asserts itself in an infinite number of C.

Under socialism, where public ownership of the means of production prevails and power is in the hands of the working class—the working people led by the Communist Party—N appears in an almost “pure” form. It is realized through planned activity and is expressed in the posing and resolving of social problems. Here, the sphere of C action is limited.

N and C are of considerable importance for scientific knowledge. The progression of knowledge from phenomenon to essence corresponds to the analogous progression from the observation and study of the random to the knowledge of the necessary, which is concealed behind the random occurrence just as the essence lies hidden behind the phenomenon (see F. Engels in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20, pp. 534, 544; V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 29, p. 193). One of science’s most important tasks is the prediction of the course of various events, which is founded on the knowledge of both necessary and chance processes. The correlation of C, and particularly N, with the category of freedom constitutes an important philosophical problem.


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