#PhilosophySunday - Fate VS Free Will


My favourite lyricist Lupe Fiasco used to run weekly Twitter segments talking with fans on philosophy topics, and I’ve been thinking about this particular question all weekend, so I thought I’d see if I can get some perspective from y’all on it.

So, the question - do you believe in free will, or fate? Do we make our own choices, or is everything already predetermined? Are we in the exact place we always were going to be, or could the world actually be in a different way than it is now?

I’m a strong believer in that everyone makes their own choices, but on the flip side, I think those choices are already pre-determined. Everything is ultimately logical, and given all the information on any choice or event, you can trace a path back to how that decision or action occurred.

My base thought in coming to this conclusion was that ultimately, every single thing that happens in this world could be predicted with 100% accuracy, but our brains simply can not fathom every single factor that goes into that prediction. Everything is logical, and illogical things only appear that way because we don’t understand them.



The easy answer is that ‘men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please’, but crude Marx quotes probably aren’t what you’re looking for.

I am not a philosopher, but my personal view on this sort of thing does roughly follow the logic of that quote. There are things beyond our control (i.e. social forces, economic systems) that do, to some extent, predetermine who tends to succeed or fail, where investment is placed, and whose perspectives are listened to and valued. However, society and economics were built by human hands and are still malleable, although we may not have the influence we’d like to.

The history of the world was made by people that emerged out of the material conditions of their time. That doesn’t mean that one thing inexorably links to the next (for good or for ill), but I do think each historical moment has to contain the seeds of its own dissolution. The same is true of us! We make our own choices, bound by the options materially available to us and mentally acceptable. Nothing is inevitable or everlasting; stasis is only ever temporary.


Fate doesn’t exist (and we honestly shouldn’t want it to), but there has been research indicating that free will isn’t quite what most have thought it was; at least one study had researchers able to predict, with surprisingly high accuracy, what decisions participants would make seconds before the decisions were actually made.
Which isn’t really that surprising. All of us are products of whatever society we’re born into, influenced greatly not just by those most immediately around us (mainly family in our formative years), but by any aspect of society we regularly come into contact with. It’s easy to say that we have the freedom to make any choice we want, but that becomes meaningless when you consider that we won’t actually choose in a lot of contexts.
For example, if you tell someone they have a choice between killing someone or letting them live, with neither having negative consequences for the one choosing, it’s not unreasonable to say that most will choose not to kill, not because they gave it heavy thought, but rather because a core ethic in almost every society is that murder is bad.
And then, of course, there’s what robowitch says about forces beyond one’s control.


I’m a staunch romantic who believes in free will and love. Unfortunately, my parents both have Ph.d.'s in neurobiology, and there are pretty iron-clad (if you believe in science) demonstrations that everything we “choose” is just the result of an infinitely-complex system of neurons firing in reaction to external stimuli. So that while the complexity of the network that is our brain is too complex to be able to predict now, that we’re kinda just fleshy robots. So, in this regard, I agree with OP, that everything could be predicted, but the system of inputs and neurons reacting is too complex to understand (at this point…)

That said, I’m happy to keep rebelling against that reality, to believe that I craft my own meaning and narrative by exercising my own freed will. That, in the words of a smart guy, that existence precedes essence.

Within that, I’d never argue that freedom isn’t shaped and constrained by historical context, social forces, the look of the other, but even still I think we’re existentially free within that. Ignoring these social norms and constraints may lead to absurd results (further, I think that’s when you see a person at their most “real,” when they face an absurd situation what do they do?), but that doesn’t mean we’re not free to break them.

So, I’d agree with robowitch that our ability to choose and to craft ourselves is materially limited by physical reality, but I think saying we’re “bound” by what’s mentally acceptable is too strong a word, and that if you think and live as if you’re bound by what’s mentally acceptable, what’s “normal,” then you’re living in bad faith, ignoring your real existential freedom.

(OP, awesome question though! I love thinking about all this so thank’s for prompting this!)

P.S. If anyone has texts that have been particularly influential on their thoughts here, please list them because I’d love to dig deeper. For me, three formative ones would be Existentialism is a Humanism and Nausea (both Sartre), and Sickness unto Death (Kierkegaard) (with The Stranger by Camus a honorary mention because of how differently it portrays the absurd in contract to Nausea)



P.S. fuck richard dawkins


If there is only fate, this conversation has no meaning and we are fated to do this as automatons going through the motions, unable to do anything of meaning as there is only one path we can walk down.

There is no argument towards an absence of free will because that argument says that there is no way to convince someone of something. What happens will happen and it’s all been set in motion before there was even such a thing as a consciousness to ponder it. There is already a precise number of people who are right and wrong and the way that is distributed is knowable for all time. At which point why would we argue, except that some people are already forced to by fate. Those people are being played by strings, as are we all.

If there is free will then this conversation has no point because… there is free will so the answer is known. So I choose to believe (with absolute certainty about an unknowable) that there is free will because that’s the only meaningful point at which to think about this topic. I choose to consider that there are constrained choices but that they are still choices and that I am deciding what to do. There is a meaningful concept of a me which, as a system, is making complex evaluations and then deciding on an action based on that complex decision making process which feeds back into the system and means the next time that input is provided, a different outcome is possible because the machine has changed by making a decision. I call this complexity free will and the decision making process an act of a consciousness (which creates a responsibility of chosen action).

Edit: as to a scientific backing for why we have not yet found that we live in a purely predictable world, I simply ask that you provide me with precise information about various pairs of information regarding a selection of quantum objects. I believe the philosophy of physics crowd have quite energetic debates about this.


I definitely lean more towards the Marxist school of thought when it comes to this topic.

I also think it’s interesting that for some people this conversation has to be limited to a binary choice.

I believe in fate and when it comes to free will… we are limited to the choices we can make within the confines of our lives as dictated by the material history that predates us. There can be more nuance here.

And maybe this next thing isn’t anyone’s thing, but I’ve been a proponent of Buddhist analysis for years and I’ve only recently been re-examining that school of thought through Marx. Specifically: I think material history puts weight on the causal web with catastrophic results. i.e. the development of industrial capitalism leading us to eventual apocalyptic ruin.

So it’s not a matter of predetermined fate, nor is it one of absolute free will. Rather, I think it’s the karmic (re: causal) repercussions of our material history.


I’d put it this way: free will is the existence of any choice (however constrained) while fate is the pure absence of it. So, while there may be a discussion about the limits of choice, any choice is a rejection of a proposed fatalistic mechanical universe.


Right. I often see people discussing free will as though their choices aren’t being influenced by exterior factors–defining free will slightly differently than the way you just did. I think that “however constrained” is an important element of this topic.

Apologies if my above post was incoherent or rambly. I’m on graveyard hours and about to go to bed.


I believe we do have free will because of the way that I resolved my feelings over Quantum Mechanics. Sorry if it seems cliché to bring up, but as a Physics student who was forced to tackle my thoughts on it in the last few years, it definitely colours my perspective (though I’m still learning and growing in this respect). Quantum Mechanics tells us that at the minuscule, events cannot be predicted for certainty and were you to try you must forfeit some other detail (see the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). I can’t honestly believe that there is a prior destiny to all actions when fundamentally the universe seems to disagree with the idea of finding such truth. While events can be predicted in the macroscopic (i.e. the scale in which we live), they are still intrinsically linked with the rules of Quantum Mechanics (we simply have not discerned how).

While I agree with the argument that the actions I make are significantly limited by outside stimuli guiding my path, I live my life under the assertion that there is no true destiny (as there is no certainty). A thought I’m not so decided on is: since almost all barriers in physics can be overcome via chance*, could free will be just another form of spinning the wheel?
*Apart from the speed of light, though that can seem to be exceeded by being in a different frame of reference.


I’ve always landed on the… well… fate side of this?

But… I think free will is always going to be experienced, barring some really awful situations.

I think, generally speaking, people experience free will. I choose to do this. i choose to do that. I’m making decisions. Fine.


I think your decision making, your upbringing, which was decision making of those around you, etc. etc. could be, with enough information and foresight be predicted?

Like… I think generally, people who imagine fate as a controlling factor in their lives has a weirdly closed off view of those around them. This cop did X. This dude in my class did Y. They fail to, often, but not always, empathize completely with others in their lives. It’s a simplified version of reality, in which they have a destiny, or some ultimate force operated upon them. It separates out the actions of others on them in a way that feels… for lack of a better term, self-centered?

But I think, again, that, with enough information, there’s a solid argument for hard determinism. You won’t feel it, you’ll experience free will, but it’s a free will informed by who you are, how you were raised, what you’ve encountered, what your goals are. Whatever your free will dictates, with enough information, could be predicted.

Which… Often lands me in “hard determinism” camps? I guess? But you’ll feel free. You won’t feel like fate is, or has determined your actions. (Barring some weird circumstance, where you feel your hand has been forced, and/or a coping mechanism for reflection on horrible deeds you wish to explain away somehow, etc.)