AskDefine | Define fatalism

Dictionary Definition

fatalism n : a philosophical doctrine holding that all events are predetermined in advance for all time and human beings are powerless to change them

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. fate, fatality, the doctrine that all events are subject to fate or inevitable necessity, or determined in advance in such a way that human beings cannot change them.

Related terms


  • Croatian: fatalizam
  • German: Fatalismus

See also

Are fate and choice compatible?

Extensive Definition

expert-subject philosophy Fatalism is a philosophical doctrine emphasizing the subjugation of all events or actions to fate or inevitable predetermination.
Fatalism generally refers to several of the following ideas:
  1. That free will does not exist, meaning therefore that history has progressed in the only manner possible. This belief is very similar to determinism.
  2. That actions are free, but nevertheless work toward an inevitable end. This belief is very similar to compatibilist predestination.
  3. That acceptance is appropriate, rather than resistance against inevitability. This belief is very similar to defeatism.

Determinism, fatalism and predestination

While the terms are often used interchangeably, fatalism, determinism, and predestination are discrete in emphasizing different aspects of the futility of human will or the foreordination of destiny. However, all these doctrines share common ground.
Determinists generally agree that human actions affect the future, although that future is predetermined. Little to none of their dogma accentuates a "submission" to fate, whereas fatalists stress an acceptance of all events as inevitable. In other words, determinists believe the future is fixed because of action and causality, whereas fatalists and many predestinarians think the future is ineluctable despite causality.
Therefore, in determinism, if the past were different, the present and future would differ also. For fatalists, such a question is negligible, since no other present/future/past could exist except what exists now.

The idle argument

One ancient argument for fatalism, called the idle argument, went like this:
  • If it is fated for you to recover from your illness, then you will recover whether you call a doctor or not.
  • Likewise, if you are fated not to recover, you will not do so even if you call a doctor.
  • It is either fated that you will recover from your illness, or that you will not recover from your illness.
While the idle argument, applies fatalism on the effect side (i.e, the recovery from illness), it does not apply fatalism to the cause side. Strictly speaking fatalists apply it to both sides of the cause and effect. While the fact that you will recover or not is left to fate, fatalists believe it is also pre-determined whether or not you will call the doctor.

The logical argument

The logical argument for fatalism is one that depends not on causation or physical circumstances but rather argues based on logical necessity. There are numerous versions of this argument, but the most famous are by Aristotle and Richard Taylor. These have been objected to and elaborated on but very few people accept them.
The key idea of logical fatalism is that there is a body of true propositions (statements) about what is going to happen, and these are true regardless of when they are made. So, for example, if it is true today that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, then there cannot fail to be a sea battle tomorrow, since otherwise it would be not be true today that such a battle will take place.
The argument relies heavily on the principle of bivalence, the idea that any proposition is either true or false. As a result of this principle, if it is not false that there will be a sea battle, then it is true; there is no in-between. However, rejecting the principle of bivalance—perhaps by saying that the truth of a proposition about the future is indeterminate—is a controversial view, since the principle is an accepted part of classical logic.
Another problem with logical fatalism is that first you must accept there is a timeless set of all propositions which exist without being proposed by anyone in particular. Constructivists (a school of thought in logic and maths) would argue that this is not the case, and that propositions only exist when they are constructed, or expressed.

Fatalism in popular culture

  • Kurt Vonnegut satirized fatalism in several novels including Slaughterhouse-Five.
  • The character of John Locke on ABC's television show "Lost" is portrayed as a fatalist, with many of his decision-making being done based on what he feels is his "destiny".
  • The Robbers on High Street have a song called The Fatalist.
  • The story of Markandeya.
  • Dead End, a Decepticon Stunticon in the Transformers franchise, is a fatalist, portrayed as being unwilling to fight, under the belief that everyone will evantually be dead, preferring to polish himself and look good when he dies.
  • The final chapter of Mikhail Lermontov's novel A Hero of Our Time is titled "The Fatalist" and involves concepts of predestination and free will.
  • The character Neji Hyuga of the Naruto series is a fatalist in his debut. He is shown to change his philosophy however.


External links

fatalism in Czech: Fatalismus
fatalism in Danish: Fatalisme
fatalism in German: Fatalismus
fatalism in Estonian: Fatalism
fatalism in Spanish: Fatalismo
fatalism in French: Fatalisme
fatalism in Italian: Fatalismo
fatalism in Hebrew: פאטאליזם
fatalism in Georgian: ფატალიზმი
fatalism in Latvian: Fatālisms
fatalism in Dutch: Fatalisme
fatalism in Japanese: 宿命論
fatalism in Norwegian: Fatalisme
fatalism in Polish: Fatalizm
fatalism in Portuguese: Fatalismo
fatalism in Russian: Фатализм
fatalism in Serbian: Фатализам
fatalism in Finnish: Fatalismi
fatalism in Swedish: Fatalism
fatalism in Turkish: Fatalizm
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