Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Fate (Latin fari, to speak), etymologically a dictum or decree of the gods; but the term commonly means a force, determining the ultimate order of events, which man is powerless to resist. Very possibly this notion is originally a mythological embodiment of the "Uniformity of Nature" or Law of Universal Causation, considered as determining events and overriding the human will. As, however, the chaos of independent and conflicting deities becomes more organised in popular belief, and the conception emerges of one supreme over the rest, this law is identified with the decrees of the supreme Deity. In Greek mythology fate (Moira, Eimarmene, "that which is portioned out") is sometimes the decree of Zeus, more commonly a destiny overriding both the gods and human affairs in the main, though with some variations. Thus (in Homer) men sometimes by their own sins suffer more than was originally appointed for them, while (in Herodotus, i. 91) Croesus (we are told) was fated to suffer, but because he had made offerings to Apollo, that god postponed the date of his downfall for three years, but explained through his oracle at Delphi that "even a god cannot escape the destiny appointed." In AEschylus, the conception of a supreme overruling destiny predominates. Sophocles tends to identify destiny with the will of Zeus. Both notions are traceable in the Homeric poems. But the conception was naturally personified. Homer sometimes speaks of one Moira, sometimes several, calling them also Klothes ("the spinners") who begin to spin a man's fate at his birth. In the Theogony attributed to Hesiod, the fates (Moirai) are described as the daughters of Zeus and Themis, and sisters of the Hours, or as the daughters of Night and sisters of the Keres, the goddesses of death. They are three: Lachesis, presiding over the past; Clotho, over the present; Atropos, over the future. Clotho is depicted with a spindle, Lachesis with a scroll or globe, Atropos with scales or with shears (to cut the thread) or sometimes drawing a lot. These Moirai were eventually identified with the far less definitely personal Roman Parcae.

The conception of Fate was taken up on its philosophical side by Herodotus and identified with the reason or natural law of the universe. Democritus denied its existence; and these rival views appear in the Stoic and Epicurean school respectively. Christian thought has taken up the notion of fate as the will of God, in Predestination (q.v.), and the conception appears in the orthodox creed of Mohammedanism, that all things happen by God's will, and it is idle for man to try to evade his destiny. The Shiah sect of Mohammedans tend to a free-will theory. Modern scientific thought, by refusing to abstract natural laws from phenomena, and treating them not as real entities determining events, but as our formulae expressing the order in which events happen, has eliminated most of the fatalist element from philosophic theory. But it cannot be said to have as yet satisfactorily explained the conception of moral responsibility. [Free-will.] Kant regards both the belief in necessity (the scientific form of fatalism) and that in freewill as unavoidable by the human reason, but irreconcilable owing to its limitations.