Synopsis

HELENA EILSTEIN’S PREFACE

This is an essay on fatalism, It is also about the relationship between the way of thinking of the “theoretical man” and the “practical man” in us. These are the topics discussed in the main corpus of the essay. It starts with Chapter Two. The first chapter brings a semi- joking introduction to that main corpus. It also contains remarks on some “realistic” stories whose heroes face situations which seem to correspond to the Newcomb’s problem known in the decision theory.

What is fatalism? How is it logically related to such metaphysical doctrines as Aristotelian possibilism; Leibnizian possibilism; determinism and indeterminism; libertarianism; transientism and eternism; efficacy theory of causation and regularity theory of causation? Is nonfatalistic determinism internally consistent? Is indeterministic fatalism internally inconsistent? Is fatalism compatible with the assumption of the objectivity of the flow of time? And, to move to matters of cognition, what is the relationship of fatalism to the idea of radical previdism?

Can the thesis of fatalism be proved or disproved by a priori arguments? Can we rely on the human internal feeling of freedom of will in order to decide whether that thesis is acceptable? Can science help us to ultimately resolve the problem of fatalism?

I answer these questions starting with a criticism of some widespread characteristics of the gist of fatalism. As the basis of my considerations in the rest of this essay I accept the stipulation, known from ancient times and accepted by a number of contemporary thinkers, which says that fatalism is a doctrine according to which, for everything that occurs, there never was an instant at which it was possible that it would not occur (at the very time of its occurrence). The inadequacy of some other definitions of fatalism is illustrated in my essay by recounting some typical fatalist myths and tales. My answers to the other above mentioned questions are in a number of cases different than those which are most often found in the literature.

All the above named problems are discussed in the second, most comprehensive, chapter of my essay.

With the beginning of the third chapter I go over to some problems of profound concern to the “practical man” in us. I consider the question, what is the adequate theory of human freedom of will and moral responsibility? After completing my criticism of libertarianism, which started in the second chapter, I deal with the question of acceptability of the so-called soft determinism. In case neither libertarianism nor soft determinism is acceptable, what may be a more satisfactory approach to the Freewill problem? And is fatalism incompatible with any conceivable theory of freedom of will?

What does the acceptance of fatalism mean for the internal life of a human individual? Is the fatalist logically obliged to acknowledge that, since he has been bound to accept all the views he does, he cannot claim having accepted any of them for legitimate reasons? Is he actually unable to deliberate over courses of his future actions, make decisions, try to implement them in practice? Is he to be expected to spend the time of his life in a gloomy contemplation of the idea that all episodes of both his external and internal life, including his most insignificant fancies, are alike to what is seen on an unwinding pre-recorded tape? And is he thus to be expected to spend the time of his life in the contemplation of the gloomy idea that while he is, in the ultimate account, bound to be the way he is, he is also bound to suffer various kinds of reprisals for his imperfections? Is he able to pass positive and negative moral judgements on people for their voluntary acts? And also experience such feelings as regret or remorse, or pride for some of his own accomplished acts?

If the fatalist is not actually bound to suffer all the above predicaments, then the question arises, why does the acceptance of fatalism on the metaphysical level of thinking typically matter so little in the practical life of its supporters? Why more often than not does it not manifest itself in their mental attitudes in the everyday life situations? What do we learn from this remarkable fact about the differences between the theoretical mind in us and the practical mind in us?

Through the reflections on fatalism one is thus led to face a very general questions concerning human mind. What is the relationship between the “two kinds” of mind in Man? Are their goals, their ways of functioning, their criteria of achievement essentially different?

May the development of sophisticated cognition — that is, science and philosophical reflection on the content of its most advanced theories — lead to ineradicable discrepancies between the views that seem most plausible to the theoretical man in us and the mental attitudes typically manifested by the practical man in us? Would such discrepancies, in case they appear, constitute symptoms that our sophisticated cognition went astray from truth? Or does the resilience of the practical mind with respect to ideas, whose acceptance might interfere with its usual functions, give the theoretical mind in us reasons to feel completely free in pursuing its only values, that is, truth or plausibility of accepted theories?

These are the questions I deal with in the last section of this essay.