Forgetfulness of destiny

Again, we have a word “happiness”, but we think it is more or less the sort of thing that one can measure by phone surveys. No amount of invoking “flourishing” can change this. There is a similar forgetfulness about the concept of destiny. Philosophers seem to be embarrassed by the idea. Destiny is not a hard reality to us, like bricks or our rights or intrinsically interesting lives of celebrities or baseball. It is more a fuzzy, harmless reality, like a faded inspirational poster in a high school  counselor’s office or the name of a yacht. Who would ask questions about his destiny? How quaint!

My suspicion is that secular people like ourselves have no place for destiny. So far as we are secular and naturalist, there is only this life and oblivion – the first can’t be the destiny of this life, the second is worth forgetting.



  1. thenyssan said,

    August 25, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Do you take “destiny” to be a modern way of saying “end” in the Thomistic sense?

  2. skholiast said,

    August 25, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    “Destiny” (“Fate”) has been edged out by the other term in Heraclitus’ equation, Ethos Anthropos Daimon: “character.” Or rather, I should say, not edged out but eclipsed. Today one would not speak of destiny but of “being true to oneself.” There is–or can be– (I think) a moral gravitas to this mode of being this being true to you, just as there can be a shallowness to speaking of destiny. (Charles Taylor is pretty good on the former in The Ethics of Authenticity). But my suspicion is that, lose either end of Heraclitus’ riddle and you lose the tension that keeps it together.

  3. August 25, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Nyssan and Skhol,

    Destiny has a note of inevitability, not to the exclusion of any choice whatsoever, but nevertheless inevitability is inseparable from it. Being true to oneself and the goals that we set and which are set by nature can have a moral value, but the note of inevitability that is essential to destiny is missing in both. Destiny is either the oblivion of death or the judgment of God.

  4. thenyssan said,

    August 26, 2010 at 6:43 am

    I agree with the clarification vis-a-vis fate, but I’m not so sure about end. Maybe I should specify “man’s last end.” Then it seems like destiny is the attainment or non-attainment of that end, oriented in/by nature but only attained by free action.

    Would you say: destiny does not equal end, but refers to man’s inevitable attainment or non-attainment thereof? And is it a term that only applies to the free actor?

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