Although often used interchangeably, the words "fate" and "destiny" have distinct connotations.
- Traditional usage defines fate as a power or agency that predetermines and orders the course of events. Fate defines events as ordered or "inevitable" and unavoidable. It is a concept based on the belief that there is a fixed natural order to the universe, and in some conceptions, the cosmos. Classical and European mythology feature personified "fate spinners," known as the Moirai in Greek mythology, the Parcae in Roman mythology, and the Norns in Norse mythology. They determine the events of the world through the mystic spinning of threads that represent individual human fates. Fate is often conceived as being divinely inspired.
- Destiny is used with regard to the finality of events as they have worked themselves out; and to that same sense of "destination", projected into the future to become the flow of events as they will work themselves out.
- Fatalism refers to the belief that events fixed by fate are unchangeable by any type of human agency. In other words, humans can have no effects upon their own fates or upon the fates of others.
Fortune differs terminologically from destiny and fate in that it has more to do with specific occurrences and outcomes, whereas destiny ultimately revolves around death rather than the events of one’s life. In Hellenistic civilization, the chaotic and unforeseeable turns of chance gave increasing prominence to a previously less notable goddess, Tyche (literally "Luck"), who embodied the good fortune of a city and all whose lives depended on its security and prosperity, two good qualities of life that appeared to be out of human reach. The Roman image of Fortuna, with the wheel she blindly turned, was retained by Christian writers, revived strongly in the Renaissance and survives in some forms today.
The Stoics believed that human decisions and actions ultimately went according to a divine plan devised by a god. They claimed that although humans theoretically have free will, their souls and the circumstances under which they live are all a part of the universal network of fate.
The Epicureans challenged the Stoic beliefs, denying the existence of this divine fate. They believed that men’s actions were voluntary so long as they were rational.
In daily language, "destiny" and "fate" are synonymous, but with regard to 19th century philosophy, the words gained inherently different meanings.
For Arthur Schopenhauer, destiny was just a manifestation of the Will to Live, which can be at the same time living fate and choice of overrunning the fate same, by means of the Art, of the Morality and of the Ascesis.
For Nietzsche, destiny keeps the form of Amor fati (Love of Fate) through the important element of Nietzsche's philosophy, the "will to power" (der Wille zur Macht), the basis of human behavior, influenced by the Will to Live of Schopenhauer. But this concept may have even other senses, although he, in various places, saw the will to power as a strong element for adaptation or survival in a better way. Nietzsche eventually transformed the idea of matter as centers of force into matter as centers of will to power as mankind’s destiny to face with amor fati. The expression Amor fati is used repeatedly by Nietzsche as acceptation-choice of the fate, but in such way it becomes even another thing, precisely a "choice" destiny.
Determinism is a philosophical concept often confused with fate, it can be defined as the notion that all intents/actions are causally determined by the culminations of an agent’s existing circumstances; simply put, everything that happens is determined by things that have already happened. Determinism differs from fate in that it is never conceived as being a spiritual, religious, nor astrological notion; fate is typically thought of as being "given" or "decreed" while determinism is "caused." Influential philosophers like, Robert Kane (philosopher), Thomas Nagel, Roderick Chisholm, and A.J. Ayer have written about this notion.
The idea of a god controlled destiny plays an important role in numerous religions.
- Followers of Ancient Greek religion regarded not only the Moirai but also the gods particularly Zeus as responsible for destiny.
- Those who followed Gnosticism believed in fate as something strict and unchangeable, resulting in salvation only for the “chosen ones.”
- Followers of Christianity consider God to be the only force with control over one’s fate, meaning that He is responsible for fortune and good as well as evil and misfortune. Many believe that humans all have free will, which is contrasted with predestination, although naturally inclined to act according to God’s desire.
- In Islam, fate or qadar is the decree of Allah.
Historically and globally, fate has played a large role in several literary works. In ancient Greece, many legends and tales teach the futility of trying to outmaneuver an inexorable fate that has been correctly predicted. This portrayal of fate is important is present in works such as Oedipus Rex(427 BCE), the Iliad, the Odyssey (800 BCE), and Theogony. Many ancient Chinese works have also portrayed the concept of fate, most notably the Liezi, Mengzi, and the Zhuangzi. Similarly, and in Italy, the Spanish Duque de Rivas' play that Verdi transformed into La Forza del Destino ("The Force of Destiny") includes notions of fate. In England, fate has played a notable literary role in Shakespeare's Macbeth (1606), Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), Samuel Beckett's Endgame (1957), and W.W Jacobs' popular short story "The Monkey's Paw" (1902). In America, Thornton Wilder's book The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927) portrays the conception of fate. In Germany, fate is a recurring theme in the literature of Hermann Hesse (1877–1962), including Siddharta (1922) and his magnum opus, Das Glasperlenspiel, also published as The Glass Bead Game (1943). The common theme of these works involves a protagonist who cannot escape a destiny if their fate has been sealed, however hard they try.
Solomon, Robert C. "On Fate and Fatalism." Philosophy East and West 53.4 (2003): 435-54. Print.
Bolle, Kees W. "Fate." Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. 2nd ed. Vol. 5. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 2998-3006. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
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- Lisa Raphals (4 October 2003). Philosophy East and West (Volume 53 ed.). University of Hawai'i Press. pp. 537–574.
- Compare determinism, the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition and behavior, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences.
- Dietrich, B.C. (1962). The Spinning of Fate in Homer. pp. 86–101.
- "The Wheel of Fortune" remains an emblem of the chance element in fate(destiny).
- Karamanolis, George E. (2000). Vol. 1 of Encyclopedia of Greece and the Hellenic Tradition. Chicago, Illinois: Fitzroy Dearborn. pp. 610–611.
- Beyond Good & Evil 13, Gay Science 349 & Genealogy of Morality II:12
- Nagel, Thomas (1987). "Chapter 6". What Does it all Mean?. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Sophocles (1978) [427 BC]. Stephen Berg; Diskin Clay, eds. Oedipus the King. New York: Oxford UP.
- Cornelius, Geoffrey, C. (1994). "The Moment of Astrology: Origins in Divination", Penguin Group, part of Arkana Contemporary Astrology series.