Tap to Read ➤

Difference Between Fatalism and Determinism

Christina Andrew Jan 25, 2019
What are you? A fatalist or a determinist? Know for yourself, as we carry out a fatalism vs. determinism comparison along with the definitions and examples of these philosophical concepts.

The idea behind the theories

Fatalism and determinism are philosophical ideologies that state that every event occurring in the present or future is controlled by fate and past human actions respectively.
Most of us have been brought up by our parents or care takers to believe in various faiths or various religions right from the time we start to comprehend and understand our surroundings.
We are taught about good and the evil, about heaven and earth, about angels and demons, and believe in God. We are told that everything is preplanned. Everything is meant to be. Everything is controlled by God.
As we start evolving, we start to think and sometimes question everything that is taught to us as kids. Few things we agree with, but few are hard for us to accept. Amongst these few is the notion or belief that everything that happens in our lives and around us is preordained.
Are we slaves to what we did in our past, where our whole life will depend on the actions we do? Or we are individually given complete freedom to live as we want.
To get a deeper understanding about the idea of our lives being controlled by an omniscient being, where questions arise if we are nothing but puppets performing our own little scripts to present a big show, let us give you an overview of the two philosophical theories fatalism and determinism with thought-provoking examples that might give you some answers.


Fatalism is an ideology that says everything―the past, the present, and the future―is all preplanned. Whatever that happens―good or bad―is all fate. That God plans each and every action of a person, and so, obviously, there is no free will.
If God has planned what a person is going to do the next moment, then the person should do it, otherwise God's knowledge will be wrong. And if a person does what was already planned, where is the freedom of choice? Where is the free will?
Example: Suppose you have planned a vacation with your family since three months. You booked your tickets, are done with all the preparations and are all set to leave. You reach the airport, and realize you have forgotten your passport.
The airport is so far from your place that if you plan to collect it, you will miss your flight. So, in short, the vacation that you've been planning for from so long has to be canceled.
Now, if we consider this example from a fatalist's point of view: Going on a vacation was your free choice, but something happened, and you couldn't go. That's fate. The trip was not meant to be.


Determinism is an ideology that everything is a result or a consequence. Everything is causal. Today, you are what you are because of what of you did yesterday. And what you did yesterday was a result of what you did the day before. So, this also is incompatible with free will.
Example: A child grows up to become an aggressive criminal because as a kid, he saw and learned from his criminal father. So the present situation of the child is controlled by his past.

Difference Between Fatalism and Determinism

Fatalists believe in fate. They believe in 'what will be, will be'. They literally surrender their lives to God who made it all, and accept their future as an inevitable occurrence of events.
Determinists believe in the fact that the future is a result of the actions taken in the present and the past. Certain human actions cause certain other actions to occur, but these human actions are also the result of something else.

The Idle Argument

The 'Idle Argument' or 'Lazy Argument' is an ancient and famous argument on fatalism. It states that nothing can be done, or there is no point in taking efforts on a particular event if it is destined to happen.
It was described by Origen and Circero, and it goes something like this:
  • If it is fated for you to recover from this illness, then you will recover whether you call a doctor or not.
  • Likewise, if you are fated not to recover, you will not do so whether you call a doctor or not.
  • But either it is fated that you will recover from this illness, or it is fated that you will not recover.
  • Therefore, it is futile to consult a doctor.


Let's take an example of an alcoholic individual.

According to fatalism, if our actions are predefined and are meant to be, then an alcoholic who abuses his kids and wife should not be blamed for being a jerk, because he has no choice, no free will, and he was meant to treat his family this way!
If becoming an alcoholic was a consequence of that individual's upbringing and surroundings, he can again not be blamed for wasting his life, because, for determinists, he/she does not have free will. So, even if he wants to quit drinking, he won't, because otherwise his past will prove to be false.
Now, an example of a chemical reaction.

When two chemicals react, they will always give the same result. They are meant to react that way, always!

According to determinism, two chemicals react because of what they are constituted of. The reaction is the result of some past reaction that created these two chemicals.
Fatalism is often confused with predestination that the Bible teaches. Predestination is the belief that our lives are destined, but it does not exclude free will. A person has the freedom to take his own decisions.
Let's just say, that our destiny is predefined, but there are several paths to reach it. It depends on you which path you choose. You have the right, the freedom to choose. Your decision of a yes or a no will just take you through another path (difficult or easy), towards reaching your destination.
So here, both fatalism (the predefined destiny) and determinism (the present action affecting the future, i.e., taking a decision and choosing a path), and free will (the freedom of choice) all these come into the same picture.