Digest of terms

fate

though used simply to refer to the outcome of an examination or trial, when I learn my fate, it has also the weightier connotation of long term prospects, as in destiny. In this latter sense, some act of judgement may be involved weighing the life lived in this world as predeterminative of what will happen from hereon, including the timing of death and what follows after it. The nature and perceived extent of any such predetermining has implications for the meaningfulness or otherwise of any notion of moral responsibility.

Cross-cultural historians and anthropologists remark on the frequency of such practices as palmistry, reading the patterns in tea leaves, shells or the shape of the skull; interpreting the flights of birds, earthquakes and star constellations; wearing of amulets and the performance of rituals. Each and any can be the basis for explaining what has already happened in a person's life - especially misfortune; for projecting what will happen, eg health, wealth and marital prospects; and maybe for influencing that and them.

The nature of the link between a particular event or action and eventual outcome makes a causal correlation far more or far less credible. In the context of moral education special attention is called for regarding the extent to which fully personal agency is involved.

A notion of fate is evident in the linguistic frame of different civilisations: in classical Graeco-Roman it is there ineluctably as moira or fatum; in Chinese as ti'en or ming; in Indian as daiwa; in Arabic as maniyah. The influence of a super-natural determinant is deferred to. Its workings carry over into contemporary religious world views. Although the notion of the determining will of God is elaborated in different ways in different religions, there is a common tendency to see the future of individuals, whole nations and the world at large as subject to a greater power than themselves ('it was meant', 'it's God's will'). Whilst acknowledging that the fate of an individual is not entirely of his or her own making, their critics reject any supernatural accompaniment as simply human imagining, to be put down as 'nothing more than superstition', and encouraging an ethically questionable fatalism.

Fate also features in notions of 'moral luck'. This is a theme extensively explored in research on the persistence of belief in a just or unjust world. One claim arising from this research is that an inclination to 'blame the victim' is widespread and the more popular because it makes it easier to continue to believe that there is justice in life when patently there is not.

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