From the outset, can I state for the record that I am not an expert in any aspect of philosophy, and nothing in what follows is intended to suggest otherwise. I am sure that anyone with even a reasonable knowledge of the various “-isms” that will be mentioned could pick plenty of holes in my reasoning, but how many of them have clean bowled a test cricketer, hit numerous 180s on a dart board and run five half marathons..?
During my recent (and long overdue) meeting with Sarah, a primary school classmate I hadn’t seen since the 1970s, she asked if I was a “fatalist”. To be honest, I thought it was more important to ask if I wanted any cake with my tea, but no matter...
The doctrinal answer is probably “yes... to a point” (cake is always “yes please, how much can I have?”).
Strictly speaking I would presume that belief in Fate implies that we have no ability to influence the future, and by definition our own actions. We do what we do because we were always “fated” to do so. My understanding is that is that if every event is causally determined (by “God” in whatever form), this is strictly speaking “determinism”. Fate does not require a “cause” as such, just an inevitable outcome.
But if our actions and consequent outcomes are all pre-determined, I find it hard to reconcile things that I would class as morally wrong. For example, could a murderer reasonably claim that they could not be at fault or responsible for actions that were theoretically unavoidable?
For me, there just has to be an element of free will in the decisions or choices that we make. Even if free will simply relates to a person’s ability to have some control over their own conduct, to choose between what is considered morally (or ultimately legally) right and wrong; then that seems to be a more logical notion. At least then, there can be no issue with accountability for the actions we take.
From a religious perspective, I class myself as agnostic. I absolutely accept there could be some divine power that controls us, our world, and beyond, but I do not know it to be true. It is perhaps that lack of knowledge or understanding that allows me to believe that we do have some freedom in the actions and decisions were take – even if they simply guide us towards our ultimate destiny. If there is no free will, then what is the actual point?
The determinist would consider that the actions of the past, coupled with the laws of nature, absolutely decide the future; the fatalist might shrug his or her shoulders and accept the inevitable, but include the concept of free will and you have the compatibilist. The end might still be inevitable, but at least you have the freedom to choose the path(s) you take.
I accept that this standpoint is the equivalent of straddling the philosophical fence, but it’s where I prefer to sit. Compatibilism seems a contrary concept, but it offers justification, and even some element of comfort to this particular deep thinker...
And it has also made me realise that I knew the answer to the question all along...