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Fate & Free Will Ancient Greek Beliefs and Oedipus Rex.

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Presentation on theme: "Fate & Free Will Ancient Greek Beliefs and Oedipus Rex."— Presentation transcript:

1 Fate & Free Will Ancient Greek Beliefs and Oedipus Rex

2 Concept of Fate  Fatalism is the system of belief that holds that the universe and everything in it is governed by destiny or fate (moira). A fatalist would hold that even the lives of human beings are determined by fate.  Fatalism is the system of belief that holds that the universe and everything in it is governed by destiny or fate (moira). A fatalist would hold that even the lives of human beings are determined by fate.  In the earliest strands of Greek thought, fate is often portrayed as an impersonal force to which even the gods are subject.

3 The Concept of Fate cont.  This force became personified in Greek religion in the form of the three goddesses of fate (the Moirai):  This force became personified in Greek religion in the form of the three goddesses of fate (the Moirai):  Clotho spins the thread of life.  Lachesis determines the length of a person's life and measures the thread of his glory (or its opposite).  Atropos determines when that life should end.

4 The Fates

5 The Concept of Fate & Gods  In general, the gods are portrayed in Greek literature as the agents of fate (they don’t actually control it – they just know it).  In general, the gods are portrayed in Greek literature as the agents of fate (they don’t actually control it – they just know it).  The Greek gods had supernatural powers (particularly over human life), but their power was severely limited by a concept of fate (Moira) as the relentless force of destiny.

6 The Fates and the Gods  The gods were not thought to be omnipresent, omniscient, or omnipotent. Shorn of the usual godly attributes, the Olympians often took on the property of being simply bigger than humans, but not different or alien.  The Olympians fought one another and often meddled in human affairs (this intervention was called the deus ex machina, or divine intervention).  The superhuman features of the Olympians were their immortality and their ability to reveal the future to humanity.

7 The Gods and Man  Action was crucial and exciting by the very fact of life's brevity, and people were expected to perform by their own particular heroic arete, or virtue.  The Greeks, however, did expect information about their future life on earth from the gods. Thus divination was a central aspect of religious life.

8 The Gods and Man cont.  The Olympians were, perhaps, most important in their role as civic deities, and each of the Greek city- states came to consider one or more of the gods as its particular guardian.  There were public cults that were devoted to insuring the city against plague, conquest, or want.

9 Questioning of the Gods and Man’s Power to Reason/Choose  The civil strife that followed the classical period (from c.500 B.C.) placed the old gods on trial. Often the gods did not answer with the visible and immediate rewards that were expected.  Greek philosophers began to seek a more rational and scientific approach in humanity's relation to nature, espousing a logical and important connection between humanity and nature, not a mysterious and secret one between humans and god.

10 The Rise of Man  Great human accomplishments during the Athenian Golden Age ( BC/5 th Century BC) in politics, the arts/architecture, literature, philosophy, etc. presented a picture of man as highly capable and able to use his intellect and reason to achieve great things  This created an obvious tension with the traditional concept of fate.

11 Fate and Free Will  How can the idea of fate be reconciled with human freedom? Not very well!  In ancient Greek thought it was often held that the life of an individual is so rigorously predetermined by fate that he or she has no power to affect the course of events that will inevitably be played out.  In ancient Greek thought it was often held that the life of an individual is so rigorously predetermined by fate that he or she has no power to affect the course of events that will inevitably be played out.  We are passive pawns in life, completely subject to the whims of fate, and nothing that we do, or try to do, can change the course that has already been mapped out for us.  We are passive pawns in life, completely subject to the whims of fate, and nothing that we do, or try to do, can change the course that has already been mapped out for us.  At best all we can do is try to act “kata moiran" (in accordance with fate), since any attempt to disrupt the natural course of things will usually spell disaster for ourselves and our loved ones.

12 Fate & Justice  For the Ancient Greeks, there is no relation between fate and justice. Fate deals with those things that cannot be controlled.  Justice deals with the choices that you make. The idea of justice is to punish when choices are bad, regardless of intent.  Unlike modern justice, the ancient Greek concept of justice holds that actions and outcomes matter, intent does not.

13 Fate & Responsibility  Problem with the fatalist position: if a person's entire life and actions are determined by fate, then how can that person be considered responsible for any actions, positive or negative, that he performs?  In Oedipus, it is important to remember that there is a relationship between fate and human choice (free will); man’s fate may be predetermined, but man’s actions make it happen!

14 Aristotle ( BC)  One of the greatest philosophers of the ancient world, Aristotle, believed that far from being a passive tool of fate, a human being possesses free will which makes him responsible for the actions that he performs.  This does not mean that he rejects fate altogether, but emphasizes man’s choices in dealing with what he encounters.  Remember that Aristotle consider Oedipus Rex to be the supreme example of Greek tragedy due to the fact that Oedipus recognizes his reversal of fortune at the moment that is comes about.

15 Implications  Aristotle's point is a significant one: if we are indeed responsible for our actions, then the implication is that fate holds no real power over us.  Aristotle's point is a significant one: if we are indeed responsible for our actions, then the implication is that fate holds no real power over us.  We are completely free to become whatever kind of person we choose to be---vicious or virtuous. We should, therefore not blame fate, genetics our environment or anything else for the kind of people that we have become. Our faults lie not in our stars, but in ourselves (to steal a line from Hamlet).

16 What do you think?  What do you think about Aristotle's argument? Do you think that his claim (that humans are responsible for their own destinies) is true, or is his view overly simplistic?  What do you think about Aristotle's argument? Do you think that his claim (that humans are responsible for their own destinies) is true, or is his view overly simplistic?  Do you believe that man ultimately controls his own destiny?  Is there a difference between fate and chance when it comes to human culpability?  If fate is cruel, is it possible to be virtuous/successful/heroic?


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