What is the difference between determinism and fatalism?

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    (Also) see: Determinism, fatalism and predeterminism
    – user3164
    Commented May 18, 2013 at 8:54
  • This question would have been better posed (and less vague) if the OP mentioned which definitions of determinism and fatalism he recognised for the purpose of this question, since there is no consensus on what exactly either of the two terms actually refer to (as can be easily seen from the corresponding Wikipedia pages of the two concepts). Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 7:11

6 Answers 6


Determinism is the view that the laws of nature together with the universe's initial state are sufficient to determine the state of the universe at every other point in the future. What "determine" means here isn't always clear, but usually what people have in mind is something like "derivability": in other words, determinism is the view that one could derive (in an ideal sense of "derive") every other future state of the universe just from the universe's initial state and the laws of nature.

Fatalism is the view that every future-tensed proposition has a determinate truth value. So for instance, there just is a fact of the matter as to whether I will die in a car crash tomorrow: hopefully it's false (recall Diodorus's "Master Argument", which I believe is about fatalism, not determinism).

Determinism seems to imply fatalism; if you can determine all future states of the universe with the laws of nature plus the initial state of the universe, then surely the truth value of all future-tensed propositions is decided (at least, I don't see how they would fail to be in any interesting way).

But you might be a fatalist without being a determinist. You might think that the laws of nature and the initial state of the universe are insufficient to determine the future states of the universe (e.g. probability is involved in determining future states of the universe), but you might think at the same time that future-tensed propositions still have a determinate truth value: we just can't determine that truth value from the laws of nature and the initial state of the universe.


Deterministic is a philosophic and scientific term. One could compare usefully it to the idea of fate in religous imagery or theology.

However the term fatalistic is pejorative. It describes a certain attitude like resignation (towards fate perhaps). For example "he's fatalistic". Its not really a philosophical term.

However, it has been used to describe cultures in East (not present day). One could say it is an orientalist term (as in Edward Saids analysis). It displayed a difference of philosophy - the imperial West versus the renunciate culture of India & China (i.e. Hinduism and Buddhism). Except of course Christianity is a renunciate culture so what it really described was not on the philosophical, or religous level - but on the practical, commercial, political & military level.

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    I'm not so sure about it not being a philosophical term... I learned in a philosophy course and see it in books on subjects such as determinism; great philosophers seem to have written about it at some length. I think that's enough — at least for me — for it to qualify as a "philosophical term". :P
    – stoicfury
    Commented May 18, 2013 at 20:59

This is very similar to the question What is the difference between determinism and compatibilism?, because although the world works exactly the same way, it’s a matter of how our attitude determines what it means to us.


For fatalists, all events in the universe are predetermined, usually by a deity who also knows the future, and there is nothing they can do (or not do) to change the future.

For example, suppose a man has been smoking cigarettes since he was a child, and now that he’s older, he knows about the negative health effects. A fatalist would continue smoking because they believe if they are meant to quit, it will happen some day regardless of what they do. If they are not meant to quit, then they are meant to continue smoking and suffer the consequences. The problem with this line of reasoning is that the fatalist has the attitude that there is no reason to try. So while they wait for the predetermined event to “stop smoking” to happen, they eventually die.


For determinist, the world works the exact same way, either by a deity who knows the future or just the laws of physics, and there is nothing they can do (or not do) to change the future.

However, using the example above, a determinist would have a different attitude. The determinist recognizes that the future cannot be changed, but they also understand that nobody knows the future. Therefore, if they try to quit smoking, it may be that their future has been predetermined to not be a smoker. They use their knowledge of the negative consequences to cause them to try, and hope that their efforts produce a successful effect. So while the world works exactly same as the fatalist’s world, a determinist’s attitude is similar to those who believe in a free will.

Free Will

If we could both predict the future and change the future, we might have what many call a free will. However, this would involve predicting how every action we take will influence the entire world, truly understanding the infinite amount of possibilities, and having the wisdom to choose the greatest outcome for our self- and somehow choose what that self should be to begin with. The problem is, we would spend so much time thinking, we could never accomplish anything; and I’m not sure how we could freely choose a self prior to having a self without infinite regress. If anyone has a logical explanation of how free will is supposed to work, I would really love to hear it.


Determinism is about laws of nature, including humans as a Conscious objects liable or prone to laws of nature. In Determinism there's no free will, even for Humans. In Determinism once the cause exists, the effect necessarily will exist.

In Determinism we may consider free will as an illusion.

Fatalism is about Destiny, free will exists and is real, not an illusion, but God acts to limit the probabilities. Thus the event, any event destined to happen, will happen, but free will acts, so the event may progress or delay but anyway it will happen.

Again: - Determinism about laws of nature and future. - Fatalism about humans future and free will.


Can you change the future if you know how to manipulate people? Manipulation is essentially knowing somebody's program; how they behave, how primate societies and interactions work, and then strumming their strings accordingly to get them to act in a way you want. Wouldn't you then know their future to some degree?


Determinism is past-driven. Everything happens due to a cause in the past.

Fatalism is future-oriented. Everything happens for a purpose in the future.

Determinism implies no creator or controller. The events unfold following no plan, serving no purposes.

Fatalism implies a creator/controller deity. The events unfold according to a plan serving the purposes of said deity.

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