Lazy argument

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The Lazy Argument or Idle Argument (ἀργὸς λόγος) is either an argument for fatalism or an attempt at undermining the philosophical doctrine of fatalism. Its basic form is that of a complex constructive dilemma.[1][2]

History[edit]

The general idea behind the Lazy Argument can already be found in Aristotle's De Interpretatione, chapter 9. The earliest surviving text that provides the argument in full is Cicero's On Fate 28-9. It is also presented in Origen, Against Celsus (Cels II 20) and mentioned in Pseudo-Plutarch, On Fate 574e. Seneca Natural Questions II 38.3 provides evidence for a similar argument.[3]

Argument[edit]

Here is the argument, as found in Origen:

If it is fated that you will recover from this illness, then, regardless of whether you consult a doctor or you do not consult [a doctor] you will recover. But also: if it is fated that you won't recover from this illness, then, regardless of whether you consult a doctor or you do not consult [a doctor] you won't recover. But either it is fated that you will recover from this illness or it is fated that you won't recover. Therefore it is futile to consult a doctor.[4]

The argument has force only for those who accept that what happens to people is determined by fate.

Refutation[edit]

The Stoic philosopher Chrysippus' refutation of the lazy argument is given in Cicero's On Fate (De fato) and in Eusebius' Preparation for the Gospel (Praeparatio evangelica). The argument, as presented by Cicero, calls upon the idea that an event is 'co-fated' with other events. As in the example above, if it is fated for someone to recover from an illness, then the necessary steps towards recovery are also fated, and can be said to be co-fated along with this final event; so whilst recovery will occur, the steps towards recovery must also occur and evidently will occur if one is truly fated to recover.

The lazy argument only seems plausible if one fails to consider the necessity of the occurrence of intermediate events related to a final, fated event. Yet this is unsound and thus the lazy argument must be rejected. Consider this hypothetical argument; if at a given time it is fated that I will pass an exam, the lazy argument would suggest that it is as justifiable for me to not study as it would be to study, because I will pass the exam regardless of any action I may take. This is due to the fact that, after all, it is fated for me to pass the exam. However, whilst my passing of the exam is in fact fated, it is also dependent on my completion of a series of events beforehand (which are also fated) and thus, if I did not complete these intermediate events, then I would not pass my test. The following passage in Eusebius, reporting Chrysippus, illustrates this:

The non-destruction of one's coat, he says, is not fated simply, but co-fated with its being taken care of, and someone's being saved from his enemies is co-fated with his fleeing those enemies; and having children is co-fated with being willing to lie with a woman. ... For many things cannot occur without our being willing and indeed contributing a most strenuous eagerness and zeal for these things, since, he says, it was fated for these things to occur in conjunction with this personal effort. ... But it will be in our power, he says, with what is in our power being included in fate.[5]

Notes[edit]

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