Co-fatality vs. Lazy Argument

Posted by on July 11, 2011

The “lazy argument” is an argument against the deterministic views of the Stoics.  The Stoics believe that all events are pre-determined and that human beings have no real control over what is to be their fate.  The “lazy argument” suggests that if such a view is held, a person does not need to do anything to worsen or improve their condition or situation because what is to be is already determined.  The example given is of a person who is ill.  “Lazy argument” claims that if the Stoic belief of determinism is to be held true, then the sickly person does not need to do anything to improve his/her condition such as taking medications or consulting a doctor because whether or not they do such things, the person is already “fated” toward further illness or improvement.  This presents a potential problem for the Stoics because it creates a hole in the deterministic belief.

The Stoics’ response to this argument is presented by Chrysippus. He criticizes the “lazy argument” by stating that while certain events such as birth and time of death are fated, others are co-fated.  An example of this would be a wrestler or boxer. If it is stated that Mohammad Ali will be boxing for the heavyweight title of the world, someone cannot say he will be doing so “whether there is an opponent or not.”  If Mohammad Ali is fated to be boxing for the heavyweight title, then it is both fated that he will be boxing for the heavyweight title and that there will be an opponent he will be facing.  Similarly, it is the case with the sickly person.  If the sickly person is fated to get well, then by necessity it will be fated that the sickly person will take some course of action to get well such as taking medications, and that the sickly person will get well.  It cannot be the case that the sickly person will get well regardless of whether the sickly person takes medications or not.  The events are co-fated.

Carneades claims the initial formation of the “lazy argument” to be improperly framed, and so presents an argument against which he believes no Stoic response can stand.   He defines fate as synonymous with the connection of antecedent causes.   Seeking to prove that not everything that happens is according to fate, Carneades exposes a contradiction between the notions that since everything happens according to necessity (due to connections between antecedent causes) nothing is in our power and the fact that there are some things that are in our power.  Since this contradiction is present, it must be true that not all things have antecedent causes and therefore, not all events that happen are due to fate.  Considering Carneades does not elaborate on the types of things he claims we do have power over and/or we do not have records of his examples, this argument is extremely weak.  If this is the case, how can it be claimed that we absolutely have power or control over some things? Even if one claims that there are some things we have power over, it can still be possible that such a claim is simply an illusion due to one’s inability to grasp possibilities outside of one’s sense of perception.  How can such a claim be clear of all doubt and be absolute?  Even if one claimed to prove determinism wrong through some spontaneous actions, those actions could still be proven to be deterministic.  I assume that the Stoics’ response to Carneades would be similar to mine, with a form of co-fatality.  For example, Stoics might claim that some person X (Carneades) is co-fated to try to prove determinism wrong at some time Z by some action Y.  Regardless of the content of Y, it is fated that person X would try to prove determinism wrong at some time Z and it is fated that person X would do some action Y at some time Z.  Therefore, co-fatality still stands.  Co-fatality, then, appears to be an extremely effective response by the Stoics to the “lazy argument.”

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