Inevitability v. Contingency

To what extent do humans have control of their own destiny? Read the definitions of inevitable and contingent below (adapted from and the quotes from King, Sumner and others, and reflect upon the degree to which we are helpless pawns driven by unconscious drives and pushed around by large unalterable forces or free agents, endowed with the power to act and shape, or at least influence, history as we choose?

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent."

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

"The great stream of time and earthly things will sweep on just the same in spite of us. . . Every one of us is a child of his age and cannot get out of it. He is in the stream and is swept along with it. All his science and philosophy come to him out of it. Therefore, the tide will not be changed by us. It will swallow up both us and our experiments."

--William Graham Sumner

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past." --Karl Marx

"It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves." --William Shakespeare (Tragedy of Julius Caesar)

"I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor." --Henry David Thoreau


Agency: The capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power.

Contingent: Dependent for existence, occurrence, character, etc., on something not yet certain; liable to happen or not; uncertain; possible; happening by chance or without known cause.

Determinism: A theory or doctrine that acts of the will, occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are causally determined by preceding events or natural laws.

Inevitable: Sure to happen; unable to be avoided, evaded, or escaped; certain; determined; unalterable.