Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Fatalism in Mozi

This is my first post here so I will begin by thanking the Steve and Manyul for first inviting me (and gently reminding me to post), and begging everyone’s indulgence since I wanted to post something less weighty.

So I was reading Ian Johnston’s new complete translation of the Mozi to write a review (out next year in PEW) when I came across this passage in the introduction:

Mo Zi’s argument against Fatalism is very simple. To a significant extent, the simplicity is a result of Mo Zi’s failure to provide, in any of the [“Feiming”] essays, a clear exposition of what Fate actually is or might be. The discussion is really only in terms of what a belief in Fate is presumed to entail. There is no semblance of any argument about determinism and free-will more generally, although the existence of the latter is certainly implied in Mo Zi’s social prescription. (lxv)

It’s a small point in a compact overview of Mohism so I didn’t think it’s necessary to make too much of it (no, what follows is not in my review). But I can’t help but think that Johnston had committed the common error of conflating fatalism with determinism. But that’s not really my point in this post (having just concluded a semester’s teaching on free will and determinism, I think I’ll take a rest from that mess.) Rather, it’s the point that the Mozi text lacks a clear exposition of what Fate is that bugged me. What follows are some relatively unpolished thoughts I had when thinking about Mozi, “Feiming” and Johnston’s complaint.

First of all, while it is true that the “Feiming” chapters do not lay out a systematic “exposition of what Fate is”, version A does contain this very suggestive passage:

The doctrine of those who hold to the notion that There is Fate (you ming) says: If wealth is fated then [there will be] wealth, if poverty is fated then [there will be] poverty, if a large population is fated then [there will be] a large population, if a meager population is fated then [there will be] a meager population, if order is fated then [there will be] order, if disorder is fated then [there will be] disorder, if longevity is fated then [there will be] longevity, if an early death is fated then [there will be] an early death. If there is Fate then even if one is strong and unyielding, of what use could that be? (35.2 in Johnston; my trans. [Subsequently edited for clearness in the English.])

I would like to submit that the above presents a fairly clear (if not particularly elaborated) statement of fatalism (and not determinism; but that’s another story). The series of conditionals together with the final rhetorical question in the passage suggests the following definition of what it means for something to be fated:

X is fated just in case X is or will be the case however hard one works against X (strong and unyielding as one might be, so to speak).

Or perhaps a more general formulation:

X is fated just in case X is or will be the case whatever anyone does about it.

[Addendum: Thanks to comments from Bill Haines (See details in comments), a better statement of the above should probably go:

(FF) X is fated just in case X would be the case whatever anyone were to try to do about it.

The argument below can also be updated accordingly. I wonder if the RHS should be: X will be the case, and X would be the case whatever anyone were to try to do about it, but that’s probably a bit redundant. /end addendum]

That is, if one is fated to live long (or die young), then those things will be the case whatever anyone does about it. And the general doctrine of Fatalism (i.e., “There is Fate”) will be the thesis that many things—whether one is going to be wealthy or poor, live a long life or die young, or whether a state is going to be orderly or disorderly, have a large or meagre population—fall under the “X” in the above.

Note that the idea described above is a descriptive thesis about the way the universe works. In ordinary usage, “fatalism” also denotes the psychological states associated with a belief in such a thesis, viz., the feeling of powerlessness with regards to one’s future, and attitude of acceptance or submission in face of the thought that since such and such is fated, there is really nothing that I can do to make it otherwise—my actions do not matter. It can also refer to a sort of practical counsel: since the world works in such a way, there really isn’t much point in trying hard to bring about some favored outcome. So relax!

And these associations seem to be implied by the “Feiming” quote as well. The ending rhetorical question does not merely implicate that the world works in a certain way, but also urges a sort of surrender: what can strength and unyieldingness do in face of fate? In this regard, we can even construe the entire passage as implying an argument to the following effect:

(1) Whether or not A will die young or live a long life is a matter of fate (Instance in Thesis of Descriptive Fatalism).

(2) If A is fated to die young, then he will die young whatever he (or anyone else) does about it; but if A is fated to live a long life, then he will live a long life whatever he (or anyone else) does about it (From Definition of what it means for something to be Fated)

(3) If A will die young whatever he (or anyone else) does about it, then any effort taken to live a long life (eat healthy, exercise, avoid danger, etc.) will be futile, while any effort taken to avoid a long life (extreme sports, embedded reporting in a war zone, etc.) will be redundant.

(4) Ditto if A will live a long life whatever he (or anyone else) does about it.

(5) Whether A is fated to die young or live a long life, whatever he does about is either futile or redundant ((1)-(4))

(6) A has no reason to apply effort to bring about a preferred outcome or to avoid an undesired outcome (From (5))

We can think of (6)–and the force of the rhetorical question “What can strength and unyieldingness do in face of fate?”–as either a sort of practical counsel to people that they really should relax, or as a sort of justification for one’s already doing so.

More, however, can be said regarding the how the purely descriptive thesis of fatalism connects up with its more psychological and practical dimensions. I won’t claim that what follows are even suggested by the text even if they are at least consistent with the passage. But if they are not in the background, I suspect that analogous thoughts would be involved.

Note that the domain of things that are fated—especially if the descriptive thesis is meant to be associated with its attitudinal counterpart—has to be within the domain of things that are supposed to be at least partly up to human decision and action. So even though, for instance, 2+2=4 whatever anyone wishes or does, it seems strange to think of the arithmetic fact as “fated”. The fact that no one can do anything about the fact that 2+2=4 doesn’t have quite the same psychological bite as thinking that wealth or poverty, order or disorder is fated: it is supposed to be the case that what people do have an impact on whether they end up wealthy or poor. Similar things can be said about, say, the constancies of heaven (especially if you are inclined to Xunzi’s views as expressed in Ch. 17 of his text).

Conversely (and ironically), the above also suggests that descriptive fatalism has the psychological bite and practical import it has only when it doesn’t overreach. That is, even though whether one ends up wealthy or poor might be a matter of fate, what one does in the lead up to that outcome is in some sense “up to us”, so that what one does can be either redundant or futile, and hence there is a point in urging surrender rather than resistance in face of one’s fate. The upshot is that in a world in which there is nothing that is even supposed to be “up to us”—either among the outcomes, or among the things we can do leading up to them—fatalism cannot arise as an issue. That is, the psychological bite of descriptive fatalism seems to trade on the perceived discrepancy between the supposition that something is supposed to be up to me and the thought that it really isn’t.

A lot more can be said regarding the logical structure of fatalism and how it relates to the arguments used by the Mozi text to denounce it. (For instance, I believe that arguments attacking the descriptive aspect of fatalism, and others that focus more specifically on the practical dimension, can both be found.) But this post is already longer than it should be, and there are many things that I am still unsure of, so I shall stop now. If you have stayed with me, thank you for your patience.

April 15th, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, First Entry, Mohism | 16 comments

16 Responses to Fatalism in Mozi

  1. Bill Haines says:

    Hi Hui-chieh, it’s great to see a post from you – and this is a very interesting one to see.

    Compare these two, the first of which is approximately your account of fatalism:

    A) X is fated just in case X will occur no matter what one does.

    B) X is fated just in case X would occur no matter what one were to do.

    It’s hard to see how someone could think Oedipus was fated to marry his mother in sense (B): for if he had killed himself beforehand, etc. But once we distinguish (A) from (B), it becomes obscure what the difference is between “X is fated (in sense A)” and “X will happen.” That is, (A) would seem in fact to be true of all future events; (A) doesn’t seem to counsel any sort of despair.

    We can revise (B) to make its flaws less obvious:

    C) X is fated just in case X would occur no matter what one were to try to do.

    Maybe you have a move like that in mind, in speaking of working hard against X.

    The flaws are less obvious if one tends to have in mind, as fated events, destructions like death (rather than constructions like marriage): that is, the sort of event or outcome that cannot, prima facie, be conclusively blocked by an easy action or omission.

    (We might also want an account of fate or fatalism not to be agent-relative: what about “no matter what anyone were to do”?)

    But it seems to me offhand that if I were a fatalist, I’d think that part of how fate can work is by its just not being the case that I turn out to do or try this or that. In that case, fate wouldn’t have to be prepared to accommodate any whole range of counterfactual prior acts or tries.

    So I suspect this whole kind of approach to fatalism – accounts like the ones offered above – might be barking up the wrong tree. Fatalism might be more about ming 命: about the idea that the way the cosmos works is that there is somehow a plan, a narrative. The picture might be that what is going to happen is in some sense already known to (e.g. fixed by) a mind or something like a mind; it is already written. Consider Writtenism: the idea that what is going to happen is already written. (It might be empirically justifed by looking in some books in boxes that come unsealed after the events pass.) Writtenism seems to give some sense to the idea that X is fated to happen “no matter what,” even if we haven’t sorted out its implications in terms of some definite account like (A),(B),or (C)?

    Reply
    • Hui-chieh Loy says:

      Bill: Thanks for your kind words and insightful comments. More unpolished thoughts follow…

      My proposed definition of “X is fated” was:

      (F1) X is fated just in case X is or will be the case whatever anyone does about it.

      My “will be the case” was not meant to be definite (i.e., I didn’t mean to rule out “would be the case”)—it merely follows the indefiniteness of the text (命富則富, etc…) with respect to mood. But you are right that something more like (B)/(C) is needed to make it work. Note that (A) is not completely wrong—“X is fated” entails “X will be the case”, and there are some who thought that the existence of true future contingents statements entails Fatalism (Logical Fatalism; e.g., Aristotle, De Interpretatione 9).

      Note that my generalized definition is not agent relative (“…anyone…”).

      The “it” in the “…does about it” refers back to the X, and what I have in mind is that “A does something about X” just in case “A does things aimed at bringing it about that X, or to bringing it about that not X, or neither”. But your “…try to do” makes the implied conative explicit, which is better for my purposes.

      So, taking on board your comments, I am quite happy to emend my definition to:

      (F2) X is fated just in case X would be the case whatever anyone were to try to do about it.

      You said: “if I were a fatalist, I’d think that part of how fate can work is by its just not being the case that I turn out to do or try this or that. In that case, fate wouldn’t have to be prepared to accommodate any whole range of counterfactual prior acts or tries.” Maybe, but then I wonder just how much of a fatalist you would be then. My contention is precisely that if one is serious in claiming that X is fated (and not just, say, really sure that it will happen, or even bound to happen), then one is claiming that it will happen no matter what people were to do about it, or try to do. This goes hand in hand with thinking that any “easy action or omission” that is supposed to “conclusively” block the occurrence of X will simply not succeed (one can try).

      Hence the sense that the occurrence (or non-occurrence) of X is something literally beyond human power. (Which seems to be a well-established sense of ming.) I am certainly not saying that there is anything remotely like a good reason to believe that many things fall under X in (F2).

      Writtenism is interesting. It reminds me of the theological versions of fatalism stated in terms of God’s foreknowledge. But to the degree that it generates the same sense of powerlessness, I suspect that it does so by (putatively) implying something in the region of (F2) above. (Susan Haack has argued that the Divine Foreknowledge Fatalism is just Logical Fatalism redressed in more complicated terms.) But perhaps you have something more specific in mind to explain how belief in the pre-existence of a plan or narrative gives agents a reason to feel the sort of powerlessness associated with fatalism?

      Note: I should be clear that I was attempting to provide an interpretation of the Mohists’ formulation of their opponent’s thesis in “Feiming” A. The interpretation justifies my labeling the thesis a species of “Fatalism” (roughly on G. E. Moore’s definition as “the view that whatever we will, the result will always be the same; that it is, therefore, never any use to make one choice rather than another” in Ethics, Ch. 6; see also B. Williams, Shame and Necessity, 141.). I am certainly not saying that there is any reason to believe that Fatalism (regarding wealth/poverty, population size, order/disorder, longevity/early death) as a general thesis is true, though there might be situations in which it is true for some specific X. For instance, suppose it is discovered that some large comet completely impervious to anything we can throw at it will strike the earth at some point in the future–there must be a sense in which it would happen no matter what we do/try to do about it and is, in that sense, a matter of ming.

      (On the other hand, there might be some reason to believe that the general thesis of Determinism is true; but that’s a completely different story.)

      Reply
    • Bill Haines says:

      Thanks for the many corrections, and I apologize for my carelessness.
      (I have never been able to take very seriously the idea that future contingents don’t have truth-values.)

      It seems to me that the passage quoted from the Mozi needn’t be read as trying to state fatalism, but can and maybe should instead be read as trying to state some implications of fatalism, or at least inferences that the fatalists draw.

      You said: “if I were a fatalist, I’d think that part of how fate can work is by its just not being the case that I turn out to do or try this or that. […]” Maybe, but then I wonder just how much of a fatalist you would be then.

      You are right. But I misstated my inchoate thought. Consider a case like this: ‘Fate’ means “the inexorable will of the gods,” and indeed the will of the gods is inexorable, and the gods implement their wills partly by the occasional direct intervention, such as stirring up the sea or sending a desire into someone, as the Greek gods sent ate to Achilles. The point I want to make with this example is just this: (a) If, presented with such a hypothetical case, an early Chinese thinker were asked “In that hypothetical world, 有命无命? I imagine they would say 有命 (unless the gods change their minds or are otherwise so much like humans that one wants one’s doctrines such as fatalism to be true of their society as well); while (b) what constitutes X’s being fated, in such a case, is not (A) or (B) or (C), and probably nothing like (A) or (B) or (C). (A) is as empty as it ever was, and (B) and (C) may be false of all fated Xes. Accounts like (A) and (B) and (C), giving very abstract kinds of non-contingency, not seeming to mention anything like a command or intention or overarching will, may therefore in general miss the idea of X’s being fated.

      Here’s another hypothetical world. The course of the cosmos is organized by a coherent narrative (coherent in terms of justice, if you like, or else a rhythmic tide in the affairs of men). Certain big things, broad things, are supposed to happen. Their necessity somehow draws us on, somehow influences our choices in ways we do not quite see. Perhaps what is supposed to happen gives off a kind of warm glow, so to speak, influencing us in a general way; while if we go too far in the wrong direction we will be drawn more strongly to a particular course of action that will bring us back on track. In that kind of world, (A) is as empty as ever, and X’s being fated does not amount to anything like (B) or (C).

      Consider (D): X’s being fated is that X will happen no matter what (consistently with the inexorable laws of the cosmos) anyone were to do.

      On a determinist view, everything comes out as fated in that sense, so the idea of being fated in that sense may be uninteresting (at least if one sees that compatibilism is true). But if one has no idea anything like a mechanistic view of the world or its laws, then one may find it interesting that things may be fated in sense (D). That differential interestingness of (D) seems to relate to the point that fatalism “has the psychological bite and practical import it has only when it doesn’t overreach.” If the main laws of the cosmos are not about the mechanics of material parts, but rather have terms such as “state” and “prospers,” then it may be interesting that some things are fated in sense (D). So one way to understand Fatalism might be as the idea that the laws of the cosmos have such terms as “state” and “prospers,” so that big things are fated in sense (D).

      – – – – – – – – – – – –

      “The Appointment in Samarra”
      (an ancient tale, as retold by W. Somerset Maugham [1933])
      The speaker is Death
      There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

      Reply
    • Hui-chieh Loy says:

      I’ve added a brief addendum to the main post incorporating your suggestions. The general definition now comes out as:

      (FF) X is fated just in case X would be the case whatever anyone were to try to do about it.

      You said: “It seems to me that the passage quoted from the Mozi needn’t be read as trying to state fatalism, but can and maybe should instead be read as trying to state some implications of fatalism, or at least inferences that the fatalists draw.”

      I’m not sure I disagree. I’m construing the passage as implying (a) a definition of what it means for some X to be fated (FF), and proposing that (b) the youming position amounts to saying that a bunch of important stuff (listed) falls under X. Strictly speaking it is (b) that that qualifies the youming position as “Fatalism”, given the definition in (a). And of course (a) and (b) (especially the former) are formulated partly with a view to spelling out the implied conclusion that the person holding to youming is supposed to draw—and the implication should be at least psychologically plausible even if not strictly valid (cf. my response to Steven’s comment under ‘(2)’).

      To recap my main point: it seems to me that if the thesis of fatalism connects up with the psychological/practical implication, it does so by positing a radical disconnect between our efforts and their supposed outcome. This disconnect has the psychological bite it has because there is a prior assumption that what we do is supposed to matter with respect to the outcomes in question. To say that some outcome X is fated is to say, against this background, that our actions do not matter with respect to that outcome.

      How exactly it gets to be the case that the thing that is fated (in my sense) *gets to be fated* is a further issue that admits of a variety of answers. I too, think that in a universe in which there are gods, who intervene in human affairs, and whose will is inexorable, could well be one in which fatalism is true. But the question now is, how exactly is it that fatalism is true in such a universe? Isn’t it because if X is fated (by the gods) in such a universe, then X would be the case whatever anyone were to try to do about it—the gods will make it so, and they always get what they want done? (In other words, (FF).) (In this case, the “anyone” needs to be explicitly restricted to mortals. But then, that’s how I understood it anyway, since I am only concerned with fatalism with respect to human doings.)

      But as I said, if X is fated, how X is fated (on (FF)) can be implemented in a variety of ways. There are gods who have plans about outcomes that have human significance and are inexorable in making sure that those plans are fulfilled; or there are more capricious gods don’t have any plans in advance but intervene at the eleventh hour in some inexorable fashion (hence the connection between fate and luck); or drop the plural and go with just one god, or call it Tian instead, or specific configurations of determinism (see my reply to Steve, under ‘(1)’), or even versions of radical indeterminism! And there can also be variations between implementations in which people have information about what is fated (e.g., the Samarra story), and those that don’t. And so on. But my contention is precisely that all of them nonetheless can (in principle) generate the requisite sense of powerlessness only because they all imply something in the region of my definition. And in the specific implementation in which gods are involved, it’s not really the fact that some other will is involved that does the job of giving the fatalist the requisite sense of powerlessness as much as it is the case that *because* some other more powerful will is involved, what I will or try to do doesn’t matter with respect to the outcome in question. Hence, back to my definition.

      (On determinism, see my reply to Steve under ‘(1)’.)

      Reply
    • Bill Haines says:

      I suppose I am off-topic. Still …

      Four projects:

      (a) Find the Mohist view of the propostion that distinguished the Fatalists.

      (b) Find the Mozi’s view (if any) of the Fatalists’ view of 命, of what it is for something to be fated; that is, the Mozi’s explication of the Fatalists’ proposition有命.

      (c) Work up an account of命 that could be accepted (on brief consideration) by the Fatalists (if offered to them) as an explication of the proposition 有命, i.e. of what it is for at least one thing to be fated.

      (d) Work up an account of fate or 命 that fairly captures what people have really meant by the term – e.g. fits the stories; and that, if possible, makes fate or命 be not easily seen to be absurd. (But I don’t know if there are Chinese stories like the Western stories.)

      (d) is the project that interests me. Of course it is not a topic you raised. But offhand one might expect it to be helpful toward understanding the ancient debate, or at least evaluating its moves. I don’t think we’ve got very close to (d) yet, because I think (C)/(FF) is nearly as bad as (B). I’m very puzzled about the whole business myself.

      I think your project is (a)(b), though I want to distinguish them and I suspect they’re not closely related. The passage you quote seems to me maybe to address (a) only, not (b). I agree that it looks as though the Mohist view is that the Fatalist proposition is at least that wealth and poverty etc. are always fated (the converses of the conditionals in the passage you quote), and that this implies that it is hopeless to resist them, just as it is hopeless to try to walk up a moonbeam. But I imagine the possibility of saying at the same time that the impossibility of walking up a moonbeam or outwrestling a tiger is not from fate. That is, even if what is practically important about fate is that it makes things necessary in way (C), (C) may not be exclusive to fate, and may not be what fatedness is. Granted, that distinction might be rejected by the Fatalists (or by the Fatalists as the Mohists envisioned them). They may have thought that all cosmic necessities are a matter of 命, or 天命. In that case I would be inclined to say that their concept 命 is quite different from my (?) concept “fate.” Which is hardly a criticism of anything you’ve said!

      On account (FF), lots of things are in fact fated, yes? Fate is real?

      In the military, if something is commanded of you, it thereby gets (at least) this kind of necessity: if you don’t do it, you’re liable to court-martial and punishment. But that’s not what it is for the thing to be commanded.

      Here are two cases to test linguistic intuition about ‘fate’.

      1. Consider two semi-deterministic cosmoi. In one, things just happen by chance to be arranged in such a way that I’m going to die by a certain date no matter what I do (of the various things that laws & circs leave me free to do). The second cosmos is just like the first, except that it was set up that way on purpose by the gods in order that I die by that date no matter what I do. I want to say that only in the latter cosmos is my death fated.

      2. Suppose God Smith hands God Jones a list of names and dates and said, “Here’s a challenge: set up a set of initial circumstances and laws such that these people die on these dates.” Jones succeeds in creating such a deterministic cosmos, in the following manner. Into the Divine Calculator she feeds inifinite numbers of sets of initial circumstances and laws, in each case getting a printout of who would die when. She doesn’t inquire further about the details of any of the histories. Finally she finds a set that works, and implements it. And as it happens, to anyone examining that cosmos alone, the death dates would look quite serendipitous; the cosmos does not give the appearance of aiming at those death-dates (as a cosmos might). I am inclined to say that in that cosmos the death dates are fated and the other events are not (except that “not fated” can conversationally suggest “not determined,” while as you and I agree, “not fated” does not imply “not determined”).

      To recap my main point: it seems to me that if the thesis of fatalism connects up with the psychological/practical implication, it does so by positing a radical disconnect between our efforts and their supposed outcome. This disconnect has the psychological bite it has because there is a prior assumption that what we do is supposed to matter with respect to the outcomes in question. To say that some outcome X is fated is to say, against this background, that our actions do not matter with respect to that outcome.

      That conception seems to me at least too general. It mattered that the servant went to Samarra and that Oedipus went to Thebes; it seems that the alternative actions wouldn’t have served. And similarly for the trying mentioned in (C): it mattered that Oedipus tried to marry someone, and that the servant tried to flee Baghdad. In stories it often seems that the fated events come to pass only because the parties work hard against them. I think a general account of fatedness has to allow that the mechanisms by which one’s fate is realized may include one’s actions and aims, such that other actions and aims that are intrinisically consistent with the laws of the cosmos would not have led to the same result.

      For formulations like (B) and (C) that quantify over ranges of counterfactual actions or tryings, there’s a problem about how to specify the range. If we say the range is those actions or tryings that are compatible with the universe’s laws and the actions’ prior circumstances, then the range seems too small, at least if we assume determinism. (I don’t think the right account of fate should make determinism entail that everything is fated.) But if we say the range is simply all those actions or tryings (or omissions to act or try) that are not intrinsically incompatible with the universe’s laws (thus ruling out only such actions as climbing to Mars on a moonbeam), the range is way too big. (Some views of the universe may not invite an easy distinction between general laws and particular circumstances. I’m not sure what to do with that point.)

      You suggest that the Samarra case may not be relevant because it involves getting information about one’s fate. I’m not sure it does; but I think most stories about fate involve something like information about one’s fate. In the Samarra story the servant has a false belief about where death is seeking him out, though perhaps no true or false belief about his fate (even if we grant that someone can believe X is fated even while trying to avoid X), and he has received no information that death is seeking him out.

      The Fatalists the Mozi has in mind may think that one’s current situation tends to be evidence of one’s fate (for the future). I wonder whether they thought we have other access to information about our fate.

      Reply
    • Hui-chieh Loy says:

      Warning, this is long. Very long. So be warned. Before I continue, I just want to say that I am thoroughly enjoying this conversation. It’s actually giving me a paper idea, if only I could find the time to do it properly. (I think whether or not I do so is a matter of fate.) So thank you, and very well met Bill!

      * * * * *

      Actually, that was quite helpful. I do see myself as doing things in the region of (a) and (b) in the OP, though they could be combined and structured as:

      (1) State the view attributed to “those who hold to [the doctrine that says:] ‘youming’”. [Bill: I take it that this is roughly what you have in mind by aim (a).] Call this view M. But there are additional constraints: if possible at all, to state M in a way that makes clear its logical structure and point—and so that M can be plausibly something held to by some people, and something that the Mohists can have an interest in disputing.

      But given the actual content of the passage, the following seems to be the component questions the answers to which that are involved in any full interpretation of M:

      (2) What does it mean for some X to ming’ed? (What does it mean 命富, 命貧, etc.?) [Bill: here’s the reason why your aims (a) and (b) are related for me: while the passage does not directly tell us what it means for something to be ming’ed, we will still need to reconstruct the implied account if we make sense of the passage—and therefore M—at all.] My provisional answer, suitably updated after the discussions in the comments is—MM: X is ming’ed just in case X would be the case whatever anyone were to try to do about it. (MM is the equivalent of FF stated without the term ‘fate’; more later.)

      (3) Is there an implied range limitation to what things can be subject to ming; can anything and is everything be ming’ed in M? Again, the passage does not directly say; but we can speculate. My proposal: the issue of ming only arises for the domain of happenings that are such that what we do is supposed to matter with respect to whether they occur or not. These are (the type of) things that we can do something about.

      (4) There seems to be an argument that is being attributed to the 執有命者 in their doctrine. As far as I can tell, the argument isn’t aimed at showing that various things are ming’ed (an assumed premise of the argument) as much as it enjoins a practical response given the assumption that various things are ming’ed. The question is how best to state this argument and its implied conclusion that makes it at least psychologically plausible even if not necessarily valid or sound. the argument is roughly: “Because for all items in the relevant domain (requires an answer to (2) above), everything that will happen is ming’ed (requires answer to (3)), one has reason to…” (or something like that).

      What about your (c) and (d)? Things in that region are there too, though perhaps in ways that might differ from what you have in mind. If I successfully answered the questions I raised, I get an account of M; which involves the definition MM, and a statement of the argument implied in M. But these things do not obviously connect up with ‘fate’, ‘fatalism’, etc. It is not obvious that an answer to (d), say, must be relevant to the questions raised above—the answers to my questions can be stated without any reference to “fate”, “fatalism”, etc.

      The issue of ‘fate’ and ‘fatalism’ come into play only if we want to make the further identification of M as a species of fatalism, and to see MM as a definition of “X is fated”. (On a side note: an account of M and MM will also not amount to general account of the concept of ming in early Chinese text; M and MM need relate only to the specific views the Mohists attributed to the 執有命者.)

      But I do think that there is a connection with fate and fatalism, hence my unabashed used of the terms—because of background assumptions relating to your (c)/(d). The catch (and this probably partly explains our mutual puzzlement) is that the “people” you have in mind in (d) may not be the same as those I have in mind. I’m coming from the contemporary philosophical discussions, e.g., in Łukasiewicz, Moore, Williams, Dummett, Haack, modern discussions of Aristotle, De Interpretatione 9, i.e., the folks mentioned in the SEP article on Fatalism. In those discussions, “X is fated” is basically glossed, in the first instance, as “X is inevitable”, “X is ineluctable”, etc., and often expanded in ways analogous to my FF. (I quoted Moore in an earlier comment.) From this point of view, it is uncontroversial, actually rather unremarkable, to see M as a species of fatalism, and MM as equivalent to a definition of “X is fated” (i.e., FF).

      It is a further question as to how the discussions I am referring to above related to the notions of fate and fatalism that feature in the stories you mentioned—and this would still be so even though I think that if there is any element of fate/fatalism in the stories, it is because both the stories and the philosophical discussions answer to some version of FF (plus restrictions). But that’s a separate claim.

      Incidentally, I think that it is a virtue of MM/FF that some rather mundane things really are fated (in the sense I have in mind) and we don’t need special stories involving supernatural agency, etc., to make sense of how they are so. Consider my example in my reply to Steve about the yellow river flooding. Given a certain state of technology available to people at T, it is entirely conceivable that the following statement comes out true: the Yellow River is going to flood its bank at T, destroying the city of Daliang, causing poverty and disorder, etc., and it would do so whatever human beings were to try to do about it. The situation fits my definitions MM/FF and there is thus at least one sense in which the outcome is ‘fated’. And it is also a virtue of my definition that—as far as I can tell—believing that the outcome is fated in this sense can generate the sense of powerlessness commonly associated with the psychological version of fatalism, or, if one were Confucian, call forth the stance that ‘be as it may, there is still dao in one’s manner of facing one’s fate, and so on.

      I will fully admit that my account is rather general, and is perhaps more permissive than what is associated with fate “in the stories”. But that’s a feature for me, not a bug. But having said that, my account is not as permissive as you might think.

      For instance, you said that “the impossibility of walking up a moonbeam or outwrestling a tiger is not from fate”—and I agree. It is conceivable that, given the right set up, not walking up a moonbeam and not outwrestling a tiger qualifies as things that are fated given FF. (I’m assuming you are talking about Wudalang, because his brother Wusong did outwrestle a tiger.) I did say that the domain of things that are fated—especially if the descriptive thesis is meant to be associated with its attitudinal counterpart—has to be within the domain of things that are supposed to be at least partly up to human decision and action. And also the bit you quoted in the above comment. So even though to say that FF unqualifiedly defines what it means for something to be fated would be too hasty on my part—there are restrictions to what sorts of items are allowed.

      To use your own example, while the fact that I will not walk up a moonbeam at T might be ‘fated’ in the permissive sense under FF, the deed under consideration is not in the relevant range and it’s fulfilling FF is very unlikely to generate the correct sense of powerlessness. Saying that the thing is fated would be a category mistake. It needs to be something that is antecedently assumed to be within human power, the sort of thing concerning which we can take trouble over, deliberate about, make an effort to bring about or not bring about. Without this restriction, “2+2=4”, “the speed of light is 299,792,458 m/s”, etc., are also fated. As far as I can tell, that such things are fated is either an uninteresting consequence of my definition, or category mistakes (more below).

      Consider your “not outwrestling a tiger” as an example. First, an ambiguity: is it the fact that (i) I don’t have the ability to outwrestle a tiger at T, or the fact that I won’t outwrestle a tiger at T that is at stake? If the latter, is it, (ii) I wrestle and lose to a tiger at T, or just (iii) I don’t outwrestle a tiger at T (compatible with my not anywhere near a tiger at T)? If (i) is something about which I can take trouble—I am young Wusong busy training under Zhou Tong at T-n, and not, shortie and middle-aged Wudalang at T-n—then saying that it is fated that I won’t (or will) have the ability to outwrestle a tiger at T doesn’t commit a category mistake. Similarly for (ii): say that I am the fully trained up Wusong at T-m—it is not a category mistake to think that, wrestling a tiger at T, whether I will lose to it is a matter of fate. Similarly for (iii) if we construe it as implying a view as to whether I will even get into a fight with a tiger at T, again presumably something about which I can take trouble.

      The boundaries of what are in or out of the relevant domain can shift. First, in the mundane sense that what is fated is relative to a specific group under consideration with reference to something at a time. The fact that Henry VIII divorced Katherine of Aragon is not the sort of thing about which we (as in present people) can do something and so even though this past fact answers to FF, to say that it is fated would be a category mistake. On the other hand, whether correctly or otherwise, it is at least not a category mistaken to think that Henry VIII’s divorcing Katherine of Aragon is (or is not) something fated—when the relevant “we” refers to Henry, Katherine, Cardinal Wosley, Anne Boleyn, Princess Mary, Thomas Cromwell, Charles V, and so on. But when time travel becomes possible, and it turns out that we from the present can go back to the past and make changes there, then whether or not Henry VIII (will have) divorced Katherine becomes the sort of thing that we can do something about, the boundaries will change again.

      There might be another restriction. The thing fated must not be a mere disjunction of all the things that could conceivably happen with respect the matter at hand. It might be fated (or not) that I, fully trained Wusong at T-m, will outwrestle a tiger at T. But even though the following will fulfill FF, it is a category mistake to think of it as something that can be subject to fate: “That I, Wusong, will either not be wrestling any tiger at T, or will outwrestle a tiger, or wrestle and lose, or wrestle and draw, etc.” Presumably that will happen, and would happen whatever anyone were to do about it; while the individual disjuncts are things about which people can take trouble, they can’t do the same for the disjunction as a whole. So this is just another application of my restriction.

      To formalize it a bit, let’s introduce the restricted version of my definition:

      (FF’) X is fated (with respect to S) just in case (a) X will happen and would happen whatever anyone (in S) were to do about it, and (b) X is the sort of thing that S is supposed to be able to do something about.

      If something fulfills FF’, it will fulfill FF, but not necessarily the other way round. A lot more things will fulfill FF than FF’. Are both FF and FF’ definitions of what it means for something to be fated? There are a few possible answers. We could also say that FF is already a definition of what it means for something to be fated but only things that also satisfy FF’ are fated in an interesting way (suggested to me by my colleague Ben Blumson and Kyle Swan: my thanks to them). We could also say that FF’ is the definition proper and FF is only the definition of a component idea involved in fate, say, “ineluctability”, or something like that. Or relatedly (the assumption of my exposition above) we could say that FF’ is the definition proper, and to say that something that fulfills FF but not FF’ is fated only as a matter of category mistake. I’m not sure that the linguistic evidence decides the issue—I think that even in ordinary usage, “X is fated” admits to a more permissive reading where it is just another way of saying “X is ineluctable” (FF), and a more restricted sense (FF’).

      But I have been claiming it is the implied restrictions to the domain of X that gives the notion that Fatalism—i.e., the thesis that various things satisfy FF—its psychological bite. So if we are looking for a definition of what it means for something to be fated that connects up with the psychological versions of fatalism, then we either say that FF’ is the right answer, or say that it’s FF but there is a background assumption of a range restriction. Either way would work for me.

      Going back to your comment, you said that there’s a problem about how to specify the range; I don’t disagree. I’ve not said much about the (b) condition in FF’. But I certainly will not be spelling it out in terms of X’s compatiblity with the universe’s laws and/or prior circumstances—I need something more neutral with respect to determinism. Whatever goes there needs to answer to common sense notions implied in answers to the following question: “Consider some posited happening X—is it the sort of thing that people are supposed to be able to do something about—independently of any beliefs about whether X is fated.” That is, is X the sort of thing that people (especially in S) could individually or collectively take trouble to bring about or prevent from happening?

      Assuming that S=modern people, “squaring the circle”, “time travel” will not be within S’s powers, but “avoiding death tonight (when I am in the pink of health)”, “not killing my father or marrying my mother”, or for a collective example, “electing a US President who can speak Spanish” are the sorts of things that are supposed to be within S’s powers. In other words, we are really talking about how the X type of happening relates to the general capacities of members of S (either singly or collectively), capacities that they could in principle have whether the universe is deterministic or not. (If this universe is deterministic, and even though the mere fact that I didn’t speak Chinese at T even though my mouth was not taped, I was wide awake, etc., etc., entails that, in some suitable sense, I could not have spoken Chinese at T, it will still be the case that I have the ability to speak Chinese at T.) In short, yes, it is not easy to specify the range of X for the (b) condition in FF’—but only in the sense that the proper analysis of the general capacities I speak of above, or just “abilities”, is a matter of some philosophical controversy. But that’s not the same as saying that I am wrong to claim that if a definition of what it means for something to be fated is to connect up properly with ‘fatalistic’ attitudes regarding that thing, both FF and a range restriction that follows roughly the distinction between what happenings are within people’s individual and collective powers, and what are not are needed.

      The Samarra Case is often presented as a paradigmatic story about fate. I think that the story so told is underdetermined. (The bit about information is neither here nor there since my FF/FF’ is neutral with respect to it. My point was that cases of fate could involve information about what is fated, but they need not.) The puzzle is this: exactly in virtue of what is it a story about fate? If it really “mattered that the servant went to Samarra”, that “the alternative actions wouldn’t have served”, that the relevant events “come to pass only because the parties work hard against them”, and that “other actions and aims…would not have led to the same result”—if so why is this an instance of something being fated? That is, without some sense of unavoidability, I am at a loss as to where the fate resides. (It is almost as if we are not even talking about the same concept.)

      I don’t doubt that the Samarra Case could be paradigmatic of a certain type of thing: someone thinks that by doing X he will thereby avoid Y and so does X because he wants to avoid Y, and it turns out that it is exactly by doing X that he fails to avoid Y. Cosmic irony. But fate? At least as far as how I use the term is concerned (by that, I mean ordinarily, and not just in the philosophical discussions), I don’t see the above as essential to the notion of fate. For one thing, it doesn’t connect very well with the psychological version of fatalism or the practical suggestions following (whether of the slacker or high-minded Confucian variety). It is entirely possible that we are talking about different things at this point.

      But there is this one interesting bit in the Samarra Case: the man’s statement “I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate” (assuming that the English is not some bad translation of something in the original language). I will assume that this is well formed English. The line suggests that it is possible to avoid one’s fate, which seems to go against my analysis. But we need to be careful here.

      (1) Now suppose it is fated in my sense that the man will die that night. Then whatever the man might try to do, he would still meet his death that night (given FF; or the (a) condition in FF’). It will also follow (from the (b) condition of FF’) that avoiding death that night is the sort of thing that is supposed to be within the power of the man (being in the pink of health as he is—see how he rode off in a flash.) So there is a very minimal sense in which it could have turned out differently—in the sense that it is within the man’s general powers to do things that are supposed to prevent his dying that night. But this is compatible with saying that in all the relevant possible worlds, differentiated by the different things he does or tries to do, he ends up dead that night—he will die and would die whatever he were to try to do about it. But this is at best a half solution—it fails to respect what the man meant. Even I don’t think that he meant to say only that it is within his general powers to do things that are supposed to prevent his dying that night, but nonetheless, whatever he were to do, he would die that night.

      (2) But the above is not the only solution. There is, after all, ambiguity in the use of the term. We sometimes tell people to do or not to do something so that they can “avoid our fate”. I stupidly followed the instructions in the email promising that I will receive $5,000,000 from the sender’s disposed prime minister’s private stash—if I could be so kind as to allow them to use my bank account, and don’t forget to send $5,000 to expedite the transfer—and so lost $5,000, time, and my self-esteem. But the “fate” here means only “what actually happened, usually undesirable”. This is not the same usage that is at stake here. But it points to something analogous that might help:

      (3) There is a related usage of “fate” that fits the line but doesn’t get my account into trouble—the term could just mean “death, destruction, ruin, downfall, calamitous or unfavourable outcome, etc. “The brave three hundred eventually met their fate on account of a traitor” could just mean that they met their doom, etc. This actually makes a lot of sense in the Samarra Case—“I will ride away from this city and avoid my doom”. If this is what’s going on, there is no conflict with my analysis of fate. In fact, we don’t even need any opinion as to whether his dying that night is fated (in my sense) for that to make sense.

      (4) There is always the possibility that the man was saying something akin to a Moorean paradox (e.g., “It’s raining but I don’t believe it”). I am fated to die tonight but I don’t believe it—see how fast I intend to run. Or less exotically, he simply doesn’t believe that he is fated to die that night (nothing in the story entails that he does anyway), in which case there is no conflict between his usage and my analysis.

      (Update: http links fixed)

      Reply
    • Bill Haines says:

      Thank you! I’m having a high time too. It’s truly delightful to receive such a thorough reply, and to read anything so clear and thoughtful. I didn’t know about the Wu brothers. Also, I’m not planning any paper on this stuff myself. I’ll decide what to say about Samarra later, though that’s probably relevant here.

      1.

      You propose a proposition and a range limitation (and I agree with you in not being concerned about whether the range restriction should instead be written in to the proposition itself):

      MM: “X is ming’ed just in case X would be the case whatever anyone were to try to do about it.”

      RANGE : MM applies only to “the domain of happenings that are such that what we do is supposed to matter with respect to whether they occur or not. These are (the type of) things that we can do something about.”

      Depending on exactly how we read the range limitation, we might conclude that nothing is minged, or that there is ming only when there is a widespread error about our powers.

      A third possibility puts heavy weight on the idea that X is an exception within its type. That raises a problem about which sort of type matters, and specifically: (i) Perhaps we can outwrestle most felines, but tigers are exceptional: does it follow that the tiger’s victory is minged? (ii) When it is proposed that some broad and independently identifiable class of events is minged, is the proposal necessarily false?

      (Wouldn’t your range limitation rule out the Yellow River case?)
      (You might avoid some complications by specifying whether the ‘is’ in ‘X is fated’ is present-tense or tenseless, or by instead defining ‘X is at time t fated’ (e.g. to occur at t+1).)

      Another of your formulations:

      (FF’) X is fated (with respect to S) just in case (a) X will happen and would happen whatever anyone (in S) were to do about it, and (b) X is the sort of thing that S is supposed to be able to do something about.

      I wonder whether there is some reason why (b) is not phrased as follows: “X is not the sort of thing that (a) is supposed to be true of.” Is there a difference I’m missing?

      You may address all this by your link marked in blue with ‘a matter of some philosophical controversy’. But the link doesn’t work for me, alas! (Nor do the other links, but I could find my own way in those cases.)

      2.

      Going back to your comment, you said that there’s a problem about how to specify the range; I don’t disagree. I’ve not said much about the (b) condition in FF’.

      That’s not the range I meant. I meant the range of counterfactual actions that (FF’)(a) quantifies over, or the range of counterfactual tryings that MM quantifies over.

      3.

      The distinctive doctrine of right-to-lifers isn’t that there is a right to life, and the distinctive attitude of the pro-choicers isn’t approval of choice. I want to avoid assuming that the doctrine distinctive of the 執有命者 is “有命 There is mìng,” which seems way too weak to imply the kinds of things the Mozi takes them to think. The distinctive doctrine might instead, for example, be the idea that the main external conditions of life are from 天命, and/or that the main external conditions of life are not susceptible of change by one’s own efforts to change them. (Neither of those propositions implies that one’s conditions are unchanging.)

      As Dan’s extremely helpful comment #4 below may suggest, conceivably the view was widespread that everything in life, or the main external conditions, are due to 天命, but only 執有命者 thought that that implies one can’t change one’s conditions by direct or meritorious action. I wonder if we know anything about whether 命in the kinds of contexts we’re talking about would have been understood as shorthand for 天命?

      One disagreement between us has been this: while we both agree that a consequence of “X is minged” is some kind of inevitability (perhaps with a domain restriction), I want to say the inevitability is only a consequence, not the essence of being minged: partly because I’m at a loss to describe the relevant kind of inevitability (and I think we’re in the same boat here) and partly because it seems to me that the word 命 on its face suggests a different kind of definition.

      It’s a while since I’ve been drenched in early Chinese materials, so I may be forgetting something obvious here, in which case I apologize. But I’ll blather on anyway. Maybe 命 (or天命) is the closest approximation, among the early Chinese thinkers we’re talking about, to our idea of natural law. That is, maybe they do not have a distinction between 命 and other kinds of natural necessity or general natural necessity. Maybe they would say that the impossibility of climbing a moonbeam or outwrestling a tiger (I mean, really!) is due to命, and so maybe they would be happy to do without the range restriction you propose. That still leaves open the question how much divine intentionality is involved in their conception of 命.

      (Point taken about the modern discussion, of which I was and am distantly aware. I wonder whether there the key word is ‘fatalism’ rather than ‘fate’ or ‘fated’. The SEP article seems to treat necessity as a consequence of being fated, without speaking to the essence. No doubt other folks are bolder. I would guess ‘fated’ is mostly used very causally these days, as a metaphor for unavoidability worth bowing to, in allusion to outmoded religious ideas, as one might say “I just decided it was the will of the gods that I not go into that field,” or else in such celebratory expressions as “It looks like we were fated to find each other!” suggesting some kind of objective rightness by the metaphor of the universe’s approval.)

      Reply
      • Bill Haines says:

        In my “1” just above, in discussing MM and the range restriction, I carelessly overlooked this difference: MM speaks of tryings and the restriction speaks of actions. Is that supposed to be an operative difference?

        Reply
    • Bill Haines says:

      A qualification: On the view whereby 命 is supposed to account for all of what we’d call natural necessity, I’m not any more at a loss about how to specify the necessity implied by 命 than I am to specify the necessity in natural law. (As for whether I’m at a loss about that, I imagine I might be, but I haven’t given it a moment’s thought.)

      Samarra:

      Well, in a sense Somerset Maugham’s tale is not paradigmatic, though it seems to me consistent with my notion of “fate,” and therefore interesting since it leans against accounts one might be inclinded to give. The original seems to be the following, from the Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 53a, in a reputable translation. It’s quite different, and it isn’t much help.

      There were once two Cushites who attended on Solomon, and these were Elihoreph and Ahyah, the sons of Shisha, scribes, of Solomon. One day Solomon observed that the Angel of Death was sad. ‘Why’, he said to him, ‘art thou sad?’ — ‘Because’, he answered him, ‘they have demanded from me the two Cushites who sit here’. [Solomon thereupon] gave them in charge of the spirits and sent them to the district of Luz. When, however, they reached the district of Luz they died. On the following day he observed that the Angel of Death was in cheerful spirits. ‘Why’, he said to him, ‘art thou cheerful?’ — ‘To the place’, the other replied, ‘where they expected them from me, thither didst thou send them!’ Solomon thereupon uttered the saying, ‘A man’s feet are responsible for him; they lead him to the place where he is wanted’.
      juchre.org/talmud/sukkah/sukkah3.htm#53a

      More paradigmatic of Western or anglophone usage might be the Oedipus story, in which it is pretty plainly true that the realization of Oedipus’s fate was not consistent with the whole range of counterfactual actions or tryings (or omissions to act or try) that are intrinsically consistent with the general workings of nature. The point is especially obvious if we make our counterfactual quantification agent-neutral. “Oedipus would have married his mother no matter what anyone tried to do,” e.g. no matter if neither he nor Jocasta had tried to marry anyone, and nobody had tried to marry them to each other against their wills ….

      Since I think of the core notion of fate as that of some kind of supernatural determination, I’m not troubled by the idea that the realization of our fate may now and then turn out to require even some direct divine nudging of our actions and tryings.

      On the other hand, the more anthropomorphic is our conception of the gods, the more natural it seems to regard fate as something above and beyond the gods.

      Reply
    • Bill Haines says:

      I’ve been assuming that in the Samarra story, Death is not the fater but rather just an instrument of fate; the appointment in Samarra was made for him.

      I had overlooked that the Samarra story uses the word ‘fate’.

      When I said the servant didn’t have “information” about his fate, I meant nobody told him about his fate.

      without some sense of unavoidability, I am at a loss as to where the fate resides.” I’m inclined to agree. Here, if you will, are three kinds of unavoidability of X (some event tomorrow):

      Not-X is intrinisically inconsistent with natural law.
      Not-X is inconsistent with today’s circumstances + natural law.
      Not-X is inconsistent with the will of the all-powerful god.

      Nothing in either kind says that X will happen no matter what anyone does or tries, of the whole range of counterfactual doings or tryings intrinsically consistent with natural law.

      Reply
    • Hui-chieh Loy says:

      A few quick ones. (The http links in the previous fixed.)

      1. You are right–my memory was hazy after all. While the gloss I was thinking of (e.g., from the SEP) relates to “Fatalism”, it does not directly entail a definition of what it means for something to be fated. I had been assimilating the later to the former (or defining the latter in terms of the former). There could well be considerations about “fate” and “is fated” as we use them that are not related to “fatalism” (either “the attitude of resignation in the face of some future event or events which are thought to be inevitable” or “the view that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do”) in as straightforward a way as I was assuming. That’s something learned.

      2. Relatedly, I on hindsight, I really shouldn’t be phrasing what I’m saying (in MM) as a definition of “X is ming’ed” as much as clarifying what the view attributed to the zhiyoumingzhe. After all, they could be making a synthetic claim when they assert that “If X is ming’ed, then X, and there is nothing that we can do about it strong and unyielding as we might be, etc.” rather than laying out a definition of what it means for some X to be ming’ed. And the subsequent argument would still have gone through.

      3. My impression of the early texts is also that ming is often assumed to be short for tianming. It’s not something that applies to all contexts though. And even in contexts where it is tianming that is at stake, the tian part may be degenerate (e.g., given the writers’ views about tian as not being some command issuing agent). Need more info.

      4. Yes, it is a consequence of what I’m toying with that what counts as something that falls under FF is relative to a reference class (S) and time. The sentence type “(some specified) X is fated (under FF’)” could have different truth values depending on the reference class (ancient people, ancient technology and knowledge vs. modern people with modern technology and knowledge vs. people from the star trek universe), and when it was uttered.

      5. And yes, there is a sense in which to believe that something is fated (in my sense) is to discover that there is an error in my background assumptions; but with a catch. If that belief led to the of attitude fatalism, it seems to be because it is coupled with the additional thought: “…but not killing my father and not marrying my mother is *supposed* to be the sort of thing that is within my power. The psychological state associated with the above (involving the two thoughts) seems different from that goes with only the one thought that the thing would be so whatever I were to try to do about it.

      6. Yes, unpacking what the zhiyoumingzhe are saying is not just unpacking the phrase “youming”–I don’t assume that. In fact, I do think that they are (roughly) saying or made to say that certain (a) “main external conditions of life are are from (天)命”, and as such, (b) “are not susceptible of change by one’s own efforts to change them.” Per #2 above, I don’t need to see the second part as following by definition from the first (given general usage regarding (天)命”. But they are being saddled with the view which asserts the second part. Most of my effort can be thought of as an attempt to give some sense to how (b) might be best construed so that it connects up with a certain psychological and practical outlook. Seen in this light, I’m happy to grant that maybe I’ve been fighting for more than I need–the stuff that interests me don’t need to be part of an account of the essence of either fate or ming.

      Ok, maybe more later.

      Reply
  2. Bill Haines says:

    By chance I have just discovered that fatalism 宿命论 in television shows is officially discouraged by Beijing as of March 31.

    business.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/14/china-bans-time-…

    Reply
    • Dan Robins says:

      Bill, that’s fantastic! (I’ve actually ended up lecturing on time travel and fatalism a few times this term. It’s an interesting and difficult issue, I think.)

      Reply
  3. Steve Angle says:

    Facinating stuff. I’m particularly interested in this bit: Conversely (and ironically), the above also suggests that descriptive fatalism has the psychological bite and practical import it has only when it doesn’t overreach. That is, even though whether one ends up wealthy or poor might be a matter of fate, what one does in the lead up to that outcome is in some sense “up to us”, so that what one does can be either redundant or futile, and hence there is a point in urging surrender rather than resistance in face of one’s fate.

    Is the idea that there are BIG ISSUES that are fated (dying young or old, getting rich or not), but various LITTLE DETAILS along the way are up to us? If that’s right, then I have some questions.

    (1) Why would one think this? Why don’t the DETAILS collectively determine the BIG ISSUES? I realize I’ve just used the word “determine,” and you’ve made a point of distinguishing this from determinism…so maybe what I’m asking is what would need to be assumed to buy fatalism, as you’ve sketched it, and not buy some sort of determinism?

    (2) Does the gap you’ve posited between the BIG and the LITTLE connect to Mencius’s discussion of fate in 7A2? The wiggle-room one has, on your account, would allow for one to meet one’s fate in a proper (zheng 正) or improper way, even if it doesn’t change the ultimate outcome. If that’s right, furthermore, doesn’t it suggest a problem with the argument you’ve sketched for fatalism as a psychological attitude: namely, that even if effort to change the BIG outcome doesn’t make sense, sitting back and relaxing only makes sense if the way one meets one’s fate is morally irrelevant.

    Reply
    • Hui-chieh Loy says:

      Hi Steve

      Thanks for your comments! (And gentle reminders, of course:)) In reversed order:

      (2) Good. The gap I am positing does, among other thing, help account for the Confucian response to ming laid out in Mencius 7A2, and say, Lunyu 12.5. In general, the early Confucians seem to grant that whether a bunch of outcomes that we (should) care about occur is really a matter of ming—thus literally out of human control, up to and including whether or not dao prevails (Lunyu 14.36). But, they insist that nonetheless, how we live in face of these immovables is the morally significant bit. I’ll call this the Confucian response as opposed to the Slacker’s response. My sense is that it is exactly the gap I’m positing that makes possible both the Confucian’s and the Slacker’s response. And we can even construe the Confucian as charging the Slacker for concluding in a mistaken fashion from otherwise agreed upon premises (That is, (6) doesn’t follow from (5)! At best (6’) We might have some reason to slack off—but that’s compatible with some other response as the thing we have most reason to adopt.) I’m not disputing any of this. And one can also imagine the Mohists as being suspicious of the Confucians—you guys in particular might be all high-minded, but the same underlying notion of ming could very well produce more Slackers than Confucians as a matter of human psychology, and so on.

      (1) Fatalism and Determinism are not mutually entailing even though there are points where they can intersect. By a deterministic system, I mean the one in which: take any two states of the system S1 and S2, and a statement of the regularities L that goven said system—S1 & L entails S2. (This formulation is neutral with respect to whether S1 or S2 comes first in time; requiring that S1 is prior in time to S2 would be bad enough though.) So to say that this universe is deterministic just is to say that the state of the universe at some point in time is entailed by all the laws of nature plus the state of the universe at some other point in time.

      So suppose it is part of the state of the universe at some point in time T that X: Mencius has his big debate with Gaozi, and the universe is deterministic. It follows that the past state of the universe (say, when the dinosaurs walk the earth) and the laws of nature entails that X happens at T. What this means is that were X not to happen, then either the past was different, or the laws of nature were different. But it doesn’t follow from the above that X would be the case whatever anyone were to try to do about it. In fact, had Gongduzi been less diligent with the arrangements (getting the requisite funding for Gaozi’s campus visit, dealing with the visa situation), or had Gaozi been busy with his big grant application, or had Mencius not been in a mood (remember how he treated Yi Zhi), the debate would not have happened. Of course, since determinism is true, those things did not, and could not (given the past and the laws of nature) happen. But all that is compatible with denying that X would still be the case whatever anyone were to try to do about it.

      Conversely, one might believe that the debate is fated—e.g., because an intervening Heaven can’t wait to see it happen and is quite willing to use all the powers at its disposal to make sure that Gongduzi does his job, that Gaozi’s RA (Mengjizi, I think) took over the grant application thing and so he has time to kill, and that Mencius is not irritated—while believing that the universe is not deterministic.

      But as I mentioned, fatalism intersects with determinism. It is entirely conceivable that some event X in a deterministic universe is also fated given my definition. It is fated just in case it is X would be the case whatever anyone were to try to do about it. Suppose the universe is deterministic and it is determined (given the past and the laws of nature) that the Yellow River will massively overflow its banks at T, flooding the city of Daliang, and basically ensuring poverty and disorder in the region for a decade. Given a certain state of technology, organization, etc. (in Mencius’ day), it is entirely conceivable that the outcome (flood leading to poverty and disorder) will occur whatever anyone were to try to do about it—even though whether or not the river floods, whether or not poverty and disorder, are supposed to be outcomes that are partly up to human effort.

      Reply
  4. Dan Robins says:

    Maybe it will help to relate the Mohists’ opposition to fatalism to another of their doctrines, promoting the worthy.

    One of the Mohists arguments in favour of promoting the worthy is that if worth is not rewarded, then people will not strive to be worthy. If they’re from the right sort of family, they know they’ll get ahead, and if they’re not then the know that they won’t, and in neither case will it make a difference if they are worthy. This exactly parallels their appeal to the deads of the sage kings in their arguments against fatalism: if how things turn out for us does not depend on how worthy we are, then why strive to be worthy?

    Admittedly there are lots of cases (but not all of them!) in which one should make an effort no matter how poorly one’s efforts are rewarded. I take it that Mencius 7A/2 is playing up that idea, and that in general this is one of the main ways that classical Confucians thought we should respond not only to fate but also to a world without the way (though in the latter case there sometimes also seems to be a retirement option).

    But the Mohists’ point here is a psychological one, not a normative one. (You don’t often get to say that when arguing against Confucians!) Maybe that’s how people should react, but the question here (for the Mohists anyway) is how to organise a whole society, so what matters is not how, ideally, people should react, but how they can be expected to react given human nature and the social and institutional context, together with the incentives they offer. And I think the Mohists are on the money here: a lot of us (maybe not all of us, but enough for it to matter) have a hard time staying motivated when rewards and punishments, or praise and blame, are out of sync with our efforts and accomplishments.

    In any case, when thinking about the Mohists on fatalism, I think it’s helpful to connect the issue up with rewards and punishments. Fate would be something like a force that rewards and punishes us, but not according to our worth. It would be like a ruler who does not reward the worthy.

    More precisely, it would be like a heaven that does not reward the worthy. It’s important, maybe, that when the Mohists argue that our efforts do affect outcomes, they appeal specifically to the actions of the sage kings—and not to what the rest of us do. The outcomes of most people’s actions are contingent on (among other things) how our superiors will judge us, so maybe it would be hard to tell whether fate gets involved too and maybe the hand of fate would be easier to discern in the actions of the sage kings. And what we (or anyway the Mohists) find when examining their actions is that they were rewarded when worthy (and their wicked counterparts were punished for their wickedness). (Maybe we even have an explanation here why the Book 36 version of the test of basis mentions not just the actions of the sage kings, but also the will of heaven and the spirits.)

    (Frank Perkins’s article in JCP 35.3 is very good on a couple of the points I’ve mentioned in this comment.)

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