by Mariami Shanshashvili
It is no secret that ancient teachings of
Stoicism have seen a massive revival in modern times.
From academia to the
general public, people have been closely rethinking Stoic
One of the primary
reasons behind this surging popularity of Stoicism, I would say, is
the appeal of exercising a complete control over your mind. It is
true that Stoic practices allow us the greater freedom over our
psyche and emotions.
One area, however, where
Stoicism does not spoil us with as much freedom, is the
freedom of will.
When it comes to fate and free will in
Stoicism, a key debate exists between,
By examining this debate
we can gain a better insight into the truth of the Stoic
understanding of fate and freedom.
Ancient Stoics believed in a causal or 'soft' determinism:
a view that maintains
that everything that happens has a cause that leads to an
Each and every event
is a part of the unbreakable chain of cause and effect, which is
dictated and steered by the gods' providential plan of fate.
however, also assert that even in a deterministic world, our actions
are ultimately 'up to us'.
The Lazy Argument attacks this claim by attempting to show
the futility of any action in the face of fate.
The argument is
formulated in the following way:
If it is fated
that you will survive a snakebite, then you will survive
whether you go to a hospital or not.
Likewise, if you
are fated to not survive a snakebite, then you will not
survive whether you go to a hospital or not.
One of them is
alternative, it does not matter what you do because the
fated outcome will happen anyway.
The essence of the
Lazy Argument is to demonstrate how no action matters if
every event is fated.
And since your life is
set to unwaveringly follow a determined track, there is no point to
exert any effort or even think about the right course of action.
Simply put, the
Lazy Argument makes just being lazy an appealing choice...
The Stoic response,
attributed to Chryssipus by Cicero in his
De Fatō, is designed to show
that the Lazy Argument is unsound, and our actions indeed do
have a bearing on the outcome of events.
According to Chryssipus,
not all premises of the Lazy Argument is true.
Ancient Stoics accept
that everything is fated, but dismiss the rest the argument.
To say something is
fated to happen does not mean that it will happen regardless of
what you do.
Rather, to the Stoics
it means that this event is a part of the unbreakable
cause-effect chain in which some causal elements are crucial for
bringing about the effect.
that the outcome is fated does not give you any insight into
what actions lead up to it.
Some events, claims
Chryssipus, are co-fated, meaning that they are interconnected and
conjoined to the others.
The prophecy of
Laius, the father of Oedipus,
is a telling example of this concept:
Laius was warned by
the oracle that he would be killed by his own son.
But this would not
happen if he did not beget a child.
Laius' end is
co-fated with begetting Oedipus, which is in turn co-fated with
having intercourse with a woman.
It is not true that
Laius will still meet the same end whether or not he has a
The course of fate, therefore, does not necessarily dispose of
the causal relationship between the events.
Quite the opposite, the
Stoic fate is remarkably logical:
it is operating under
the sound logic of 'cause and effect'.
Therefore, according to
the Stoics, the claim of the Lazy Argument that a certain
event will occur no matter what we do grossly overlooks the
necessary connections between events.
So, to put it another
way, if we want to survive the snakebite, we really better go to a
The Death of Laius,
hands of his son Oedipus
Some might argue that the objection of whether or not our actions
are 'up to us' is a completely different objection.
The Stoic response is
taking the Lazy Argument as a question of mechanical
correspondence between cause-effect, while what the argument is
actually drawing on is how the absence of agency or choice over our
actions renders any choice meaningless.
One way or another, Stoics have much more to say about the choice
Let us consider the Stoic
argument through the lens of objection raised by Stoic scholar
"Though seeing [two
events being co-fated] doesn't to any degree undermine the
fatalist's position, for just as your recovering was fated (if
only you had known it), so was your calling the doctor!
This might be how it
happened, all right, but if the event of your calling the doctor
was caused by prior circumstances (as all events are, according
to the theory of causal determinism) then, in what sense could
you be considered to exercise your free will?"
(2004, "Do the Stoics Succeed?").
Stoics would say that the
matter is more complicated, as the same phenomena can have different
effects on different agents.
this with the following metaphor:
"if you push a
cylinder and a cone, the former will roll in a straight line,
and the latter in a circle (LS 62C). 
men will assent differently to the same push.
And assent, just as
we said in the case of the cylinder, although prompted from
outside, will thereafter move through its own force and nature."
nature shapes the way we respond to the external stimuli...
character is fate,
with the further inference being that our character itself is
I think the most
successful Stoic response to the Lazy Argument is their dog
"When a dog is tied
to a cart, if it wants to follow it is pulled and follows,
making its spontaneous act coincide with necessity, but if it
does not want to follow it will be compelled in any case.
So, it is with men
too: even if they do not want to, they will be compelled in any
case to follow what is destined."
Refutation of all heresies 1.21, L&S 62A).
In other words, nothing
is up to you, except,
the way you react
A very Stoic thought...!
Tim O'Keefe - The
Stoics of Fate and Freedom, the Routledge Companion to Free
Will - eds. Meghan Griffith, Neil Levy, and Kevin Timpe,
A. A. Long and D.
N. Sedley - "The Hellenistic Philosophers" - (Cambridge,
Cicero, On Fate
(2005-06-23) - The Lazy Argument in The Stoic Life:
Emotions, Duties, and Fate - Oxford University Press.
A. A. Long and D.
N. Sedley - The Hellenistic Philosophers - (Cambridge,
On Fate 42-3 (SVF
2.974; LS 62C(5)–(9)).