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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
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170 occurrences of ideology
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The function of indeterminism or the element of
chance in the universe is a theme which runs from
antiquity to modern times. It enters unavoidably into
modern scientific developments. “No matter how far
one goes in the expression of the laws of nature, the
results will always depend in an unavoidable way on
essentially independent contingencies which exist out-
side the context under investigation” (Bohm [1957], p.
158). But scientific indeterminism is much beyond the
scope of this survey. Our purpose is to trace the mean-
ings assigned historically to the various expressions of
the element of chance in the universe, in order to
understand the concept in all its ramifications. The
most common recurring terms indicating different
aspects of the element of chance are Fortune, Fate,
and Chance itself, although other terms such as Neces-
sity, Destiny, Providence, Predestination, Virtue, Luck,
etc. also enter into the discussion. This survey will deal
primarily with Fortune, Fate, and Chance from early
Greek philosophy to the rise of Humanism.

In its popular representations, in which reasoning


and superstition overlap, Fortune assumed numerous
forms historically. In Roman times in particular, For-
tune appears as a deity worshiped under various forms
and names. Basically all the forms represented an
unknown power whose effects seemed to escape the
regularity of recognized laws of causality. That power
was feared and consequently worshiped. As Fortune,
it was personified into a divinity guarding the individ-
ual in a situation whose outcome was in doubt, such
as a storm, a trip, a financial venture, an amorous
experience, etc.

If the laws of the universe work with unfailing regu-
larity based on antecedent causes, a complete knowl-
edge of all factors regulating an outcome would unfail-
ingly lead to a knowledge of the outcome itself. If
observations prove that such unfailing regularity does
not obtain in the laws of the universe, there must be
some element which breaks that regularity, and that
element may be due to the observer or inherent in
the laws themselves. This element, generally known
as chance, could conceivably be the failure of man to
know all possible factors affecting an outcome, thereby
leading to the conclusion that the greater the increase
in human knowledge, the lesser the sphere of the in-
determinate. On the other hand, if the element of
indeterminateness is inherent in the very laws of
causality, it would remain in spite of the most complete
knowledge; the laws of the universe would be a sum-
mary of the highest probabilities affecting an outcome.

One of the earliest explanations of the workings of
the element of chance in the universe is attributable
to Democritus, in the fifth century B.C. Referring to
his ideas, Aristotle states (Physics II. iv): “Some indeed
attribute our Heaven and all the worlds to chance
happenings, saying that the vortex and shifting that
disentangled the chaos and established the cosmic order
came by chance.” Here indeterminism is present in
the creation of the cosmos as an actual element con-
noting the absence of organized purpose. On the other
hand, once the cosmos is established, natural causality
obtains and, as Aristotle further explains (ibid., 196a
28ff.): “here below, plants and animals proceed from
a definite antecedent cause, and each thing springs
from the appropriate seed, so that an olive tree will
reproduce an olive tree and a man will beget a man,
not as a result of Chance but of Nature or of Mind.”
In the Democritean or atomistic cosmology, though
chance may have been present at the formation of the
cosmos, once the heavens and all the worlds have
come into being, chance ceases to function, because
everything proceeds from an antecedent cause as a
predictable and hence necessary result. In the world
known to man indeterminism disappears except as the
subjective insufficiency of knowledge on the part of
man, but it still appears in ideas about the formation
of the universe.

Such is the element of chance as represented in the
Democritean system. Other thinkers sought explana-
tions of the workings of the universe by personifying
the element of causality which brought about events
necessarily and unavoidably; that element of necessary
sequence of cause and effect was symbolized in Fate,
known as Ananke or Heimarmene. The notion of Fate
could well have arisen from the observation of the
inexorability of death. Among the Orphics Fate was
viewed as the law which controls the conditions of our
birth, death, and successive reincarnations. The belief
in the process of a constant, monotonous, and unavoid-
able return to the point of departure came to be sym-
bolically represented in the revolution of a wheel. The
wheel of Fate was considered as regulating the course
of humanity through the process of birth, death, and
reincarnation. Plato gathered myths and beliefs con-
cerning Fate, and reshaped them in a certain order
which was to be adhered to closely by subsequent
thinkers. In his works, therefore, we can establish the
stage and the implications which had been reached
concerning Fate and its relation to Fortune.

Since a pictorial symbol tends to be a substitute for
reasoning, Fate came to be identified with Necessity
because of the unceasing revolution of its wheel. With
Necessity as the essential ingredient of Fate, the ques-
tion of free will came to constitute a fundamental
problem of ethics. How could the unceasing revolution
of the wheel be interrupted so as to make it possible
for man to exercise free volition? As developed by
Plato in the Timaeus (41E), the laws of Fate are the
divine decrees whereby the animal universe is pro-
duced out of successive reincarnations of man, who,
however, determines the nature of each successive
reincarnation by the manner of his actions or volitions.
In the Timean conception, the Creator first portioned
off souls and distributed one to each star and then He
showed them the nature of the universe and spoke to
them of the fated laws. The fated laws were spoken
by the Creator, and Fate as Heimarmene is considered
a logos. Later the Latin word fatum was to be con-
nected with the verb fari. The relations of the soul
to the body are determined by the nature of the par-
ticular star, and Fate designated the laws which govern
the succeeding reincarnations. Man's soul has been
created by God, but his first bodily differentiation has
been entrusted to the astral powers. Fate becomes the
instrument of perpetuation of the animal Universe
obtained through successive palingeneses (Laws 904E

The well-being of the Universe is the supreme con-
cern of the Deity, and to this end the welfare of indi-


viduals is subordinated and made instrumental. The law
of Heimarmene or Fate is the power which keeps order
in the Universe. In the Timaeus and in the Republic
the course of successive reincarnations which is basic
to this concept of the Universe is accomplished by the
choices which man makes through the compelling
power of the stars, but in conformity with the divine
will. The souls originally assigned to astrally differ-
entiated bodies have further differentiated themselves
by their own actions. Different roles have been assigned
to the stars and, under their influence, to man, in order
to safeguard the fixed needs of the Universe. Within
that framework, in order to maintain some freedom
of action for man, chance is made operative. The
patterns of life are submitted for selection to the souls
present for the exercise of their free will in their choice,
but the order in which the souls exercise their choice
is determined by lot. It is by chance, therefore, that
the number of patterns available to the soul at the time
of choice is determined. This chance element, viewed
subjectively from the point of view of the soul, becomes
Fortune. Following Fate, which is the law and order
of the Universe, the soul is transformed as a result of
its free choice of life, but that free choice may itself
be limited by the individual's Fortune (Cioffari [1935],
pp. 34-42).

Aristotle accepts the existence of the chance event
and proceeds to explain how the belief comes about.
The Greeks grouped chance events under Tyche or
Automaton, which operates in nature and in human
affairs, personified as a mysterious deity worshiped
accordingly. Tyche (“Fortune”) is used in the more
general sense including the chance element in human
affairs as well as the deity itself, and Automaton
(“Chance”) is used in the causal scheme in relation to
purposes or values. He proceeds to determine the value
of occurrences controlled by Chance relative to a
happy life; the etiological inquiry turns into a consid-
eration of human and religious values. Neutral Fortune
resolves itself into good Fortune and bad Fortune when
viewed by the individual affected by this chain of
accidental occurrences. When Fortune attaches itself
to the cause, it is Mind itself insofar as it confronts
accidental causes. In such a role Fortune is either
guidance by the divinity or providential interference.
When Chance attaches itself to the cause, it is Nature
insofar as accidents are causes. As such, chance negates
the possibility of predicting the outcome, but does not
affect the human or religious values of the outcome.
Therefore, in the ethical works of Aristotle Fortune
assumes a definite function as conditioning the happi-
ness of life, but Chance in its restricted sense does not
enter into this sort of evaluative consideration.

Philosophically luck has been resolved into causes
which are independent of Reason and Nature; yet we
observe that there are men who, with natural aptitude
and with good reasoning, strive to attain success but
fail, while others with no such qualifications succeed.
In the ethical treatises, either written by Aristotle or
attributable to his school of thought, these questions
are treated in full. In the Eudemian Ethics luck is
analyzed as operating through a personal instinct
which guides man to a desired success at the opportune
moment and under the most favored circumstances,
and does so in defiance of good reasoning, or rather
by making bad reasoning come out right (1247b 34ff.).
This personal instinct is also operative in those who
attain an end not even considered by them and there-
fore without any reliance on Reason or Nature. The
personal instinct which guides man, when traced back
to its very beginning, must resolve itself into that which
is higher than thought, and consequently it must be
God who moves all things within us. The naturally
lucky man is the one, therefore, whose desires are
prompted and guided by the deity. The Scholastics'
view of this divine luck as Providence is introduced
into the world, and good Fortune is seen thus as par-
tially disconnected from Fortune in general. However,
two questions remain unanswered: (1) How is it possi-
ble for the deity to bring luck to the undeserving? (2)
Why is bad luck visited upon those who deserve good
luck? These questions become the main task of later
writers, particularly in scholastic philosophy.

In the Magna moralia luck is connected with Nature
rather than with the deity. The lucky man is defined
as “the one who has an impulse without reason toward
goals which he actually gets, and such an impulse is
natural,” since by nature there is in our soul something
in virtue of which we are impelled toward things for
which we are well fitted (1207a 16). The man who
is actuated by such an impulse behaves as though he
were beside himself, unconscious of what he is doing.
Beside this form of luck as a natural impulse, there
is another luck—independent of any impulse—which
enables us to get praeter-rationally goods that have
not even been considered as desired. Thus in the
Eudemian Ethics luck is viewed as a superrational
impulse and in the Magna moralia as a natural, but
praeter-rational impulse in the province of psychology.
If the lucky ones had a reason for what they do, then
luck would constitute an art: all people would learn
how to be lucky and all science would be lucky pur-
suits. In either case irrationality lies at the base of

Aristotle analyzes the realm of Fortune in terms
often repeated in the Middle Ages, and which explain
the many later usages of Fortune, Fate, and Chance.
He explains that good things have been divided into


three classes: external goods, goods of the soul, and
goods of the body. The external goods constitute the
realm of Fortune. Under external goods are grouped
noble birth, wealth, power (both political and other-
wise), friends, good children, beauty, and in general,
good luck and bad luck (which include all other unde-
fined external goods). There is an overlapping between
the goods of the body and external goods in the matter
of goods ascribable to heredity, such as personal at-
tractiveness or beauty, but there is no confusion be-
tween external goods and goods of the soul. Conse-
quently the realm of Fortune which is transmitted to
later philosophers is the realm of external goods as
opposed to goods of the soul. Fortune comes to be
viewed not just as an indeterminate cause, but as a
power which controls external goods and arranges their
distribution among human beings in such a way as to
affect their happiness. “Since our discussion is about
happiness, it will be connected with the preceding to
speak about good fortune. For the majority think that
the happy life must be the fortunate one, or not apart
from good fortune, and perhaps they are right in
thinking so. For it is not possible to be happy without
external goods, over which fortune is supreme” (Magna
1206b 30ff.).

In understanding the relation of the fortuitous to
God, it became necessary to trace the causal chain
leading from God to the accidental event affecting
man's existence and thereby to integrate Fortune into
Divine Providence. Among the Stoics in particular the
necessity arose to account for bad luck in a providen-
tially ruled world. In Greek tragedy Fate had been
considered a deterministic power ruling both men and
gods. In Seneca God and Nature became identical, and
Destiny was identical to both. Fate was the word of
God, which once spoken had to be obeyed (De
V). In Apuleius Providence is the Divine
Plan and Fate is the law regulating the unfolding of
that plan (De Platone et eius dogmate, I. 12.205). Fate
itself is necessity and order, but as such it is the law
which governs variations. The cyclical, eternally re-
current character of Fate accounts for its necessity and
order. Mythology combines with philosophy to account
for the tripartite division of Fate into the Parca:
Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, with Lachesis control-
ling the future. Control implies accompanying neces-
sity, leaving a residuum of free will and chance to be
accounted for. In Simplicius Fate is the chain of causal
concatenation which is inherent in the seed and there-
fore considered the ratio seminalis. It is the law of
individual aberration made to control human actions.
The Stoics considered Fate as an incomplete compre-
hension of causal concatenation. However, if Fate is
defined as a cause unknown to human understanding,
it can have no reality of its own. As such, it can no
longer be suspended from God.

The problem of maintaining both free will and fated
causality was at the root of explanations of the fortu-
itous in a providential universe. In Proclus Divine
Providence includes Fate and is superior to it. Fate
acts as a providentially ruled nature, i.e., as a divine
incorporeal nature; through it bodies are united in time
and space, but Fate itself transcends connection and,
as the mover, is independent of the thing moved. The
difference between Fate and Nature lies in the fact
that Fate is the only one of the two which controls
external goods such as noble birth, reputation, and
wealth. As such, its domain is that which was assigned
to Fortune by Aristotle; Fate and Fortune become
interchangeable terms, but only in the particular sense
that Fortune is that part of the total chain which
controls external goods. All things in the universe are
divided into three classes: the intellectual, the corpo-
real, and the animal. The life of sense, or the corporeal,
is more subject to Fate and the life of the intellect
is less subject to it. Fate guards the interest of the
universal over the interest of the individual. Fortune
acts like the daemon which governs our inner move-
ments, with the distinction that the daemon works out
the adaptation of the soul to the universe, and Fortune
works out the adaptation of the universe to the soul.

In Simplicius Fortune moves from the cold, philo-
sophical indeterminism of Aristotle's second book of
Physics into an all-embracing power controlling all
things which are in need of attainment. Fortune (Tyche)
is the divine power that controls success, both intended
and unintended. In the universe all things are in need
of attainment which need to participate in something,
and all things need to participate in something when
they are severed from one another. The celestial
spheres, although separate from each other, are not
severed because there is consubstantiation among them
and not participation from one to the other. Tyche is
operative among the celestial spheres as it is every-
where, but its power is not manifest because the neces-
sity and constant attainment operating in them re-
moves from our mind the concept of attainment.
However, for all things in the sublunar world there
is danger that the needed attainment may fail to occur
because of the concourse of indeterminable causes.
Tyche is the power which conjoins all causes so that
each thing may not miss but will have its fitting out-
come. It shows its power best when mind (or something
like it) is not directly causative, but, rather, when
indeterminable causes are at work. Therefore Tyche,
although always operative, is particularly obvious in
the case of those occurrences in which we see no other
cause. Fortune or Tyche has the function to guide


everything in nature which is in process of coming
together into the proper order, and consequently it is
represented as the helmsman—Fortuna gubernans
which steers all that crosses the sea of becoming.

The philosophic implications of Fortune and Fate
are clear in some of the pictorial or mythological
representations. In Martianus Capella (fifth century
A.D.) the universe is governed by a celestial Senate,
in whose inner consistory are present Adrasteia,
Heimarmene, and the Fates, right next to Zeus and
Hera. These powers abide with Zeus. Adrasteia sets
down the laws operating above the material world and
binding on the gods as well; Heimarmene indicates the
law which operates in the material world; and the three
Fates are the ministers of Zeus whose job is to deter-
mine and record his mandates when the gathering takes
place (De nuptialis philologiae [On the Marriage of
], I. 64ff.). The Fates indicate the laws of the
events which must necessarily follow at the bidding
of Zeus. Fortune is represented as a celestial deity who
comes into the conclave shocking everyone with her
unexpected behavior. She interferes with the recording
Fates by introducing sudden and unforeseen outbursts.
Not satisfied with the control of unforeseeable occur-
rences, she claims some control over predictable
causality, thereby becoming identified with Nemesis,
the goddess of retribution, in a way which will recur
frequently in later writers.

As we approach Christian philosophy, the problem
of integrating the element of chance into a providen-
tially governed universe becomes paramount. The
Neo-Platonic Chalcidius, in his Commentary on the
(Ch. 145) enumerates and arranges the differ-
ent causes of being. He tells us that some things come
from Providence alone, some from Fate, some from
free will, some from Fortune, and some from Chance.
Thus all causes and outcomes are accounted for, both
those which are determinate and those which are
indeterminate. All existence proceeds from God in one
eternal, uninterrupted flow whose regularity is the
expression of God's will and understanding. In imme-
diate sequence to God is Providence, which the Greeks
called Nous and which is the intelligible essence of
Goodness, ever turned toward God as the Highest, who
showers His goodness through Providence to all beings.
Its name does not imply seeing the future in advance,
but rather the act of understanding of all things as a
property of the Divine Mind. Next in sequence comes
Fate, which is the law of the world soul; it is the
unchanging law of change, which rules all things ac-
cording to their nature. Fate, which makes room for
free will, contains Fortune within itself, because in the
occurrences of elemental nature we have frequency
and not constant regularity. Fortune is the power that
controls the residuum between constancy and the rare
or unusual occurrences. Having accounted for the oc-
currences which are under the power of Fortune,
Chalcidius includes the Aristotelian distinction be-
tween Fortune and Chance, since they are both unde-
termined causes of undesigned results. However, while
in Aristotle the causes for Fortune are Mind (for For-
tune) and Nature (for Chance), in Chalcidius the prin-
cipal cause of both Fortune and Chance is Fate.

The influence of Chalcidius on Christian thought is
profound. In his view Fate is controlled by Providence,
which means that no occurrence in the universe is
outside of the sphere of God's Will. Fate as the divine
law inherent in the world-soul and carrying out the
order of Nature carries a connotation of the spoken
mandate of God as well as a connotation of unavoid-
ability or necessity. The sphere of domain of the
world-soul consists of three parts: (1) the aplanes or
sphere of fixed stars, (2) the planetary spheres, and (3)
the elemental world. In the heavens regularity and
unfailing necessity obtain, and therefore Fate is deter-
minate. But in occurrences which depart from unfailing
regularity, namely in those events which have normal-
ity or frequency rather than constancy, Fate actually
exercises its power. Here Fate regulates motion and
is viewed as the unchanging law of change. Since there
is an infinite variety of accidental causes and an infinite
series of temporal points at which they can occur, Fate
is the determinate law of the series regulating these
changes, for all things which take place in the heavens
or on earth return cyclically to their point of departure.

In order to establish some harmony between human
conduct and Fate, Chalcidius has recourse to a distinc-
tion of causes in the series which comprises the total
power of Fate; they are the causes which are ex
and those which are secundum praeces-
Fate operates in human conduct on condition
that we deduce it from certain antecedents. These
postulated antecedents are our merits. There is freedom
of choice at the start, but once a choice is made,
necessity comes into control. Events are fateful only
after the exercise of free will; otherwise there could
be no rewards or punishments and consequently no
moral law. Fate from this point of view becomes no
more deterministic than any other law. The law is
there, but it is in our power to initiate or not to initiate
the action which will set off the application of the law.
Divine foreknowledge does not imply determinism, for
knowledge on the part of God is proportionate to the
thing known: necessary knowledge for necessary things
and contingent knowledge for contingent things. This
concept becomes basic in the conciliation between free
will and the element of chance in Christian doctrine.

Fate thus related to free will contains Fortune within


itself. In sequence, the powers that are subject to Prov-
idence through Fate are as follows: (1) the rational soul,
(2) Nature, (3) Fortune, (4) Chance (in the restricted
sense), (5) daemones. As stated, the control of Fate is
proportionate to the nature of the things controlled.
Among heavenly things Fate operates with constant
regularity. On earth, however, the constant regularity
is not free from exceptions and it is in this residuum
that Fortune has its control. Because Art imitates Na-
ture, the same elements in the occurrences of Nature
are to be found in Art. Although Fortune operates in
events involving human choice and Chance in lower
animals or inanimate things, both are accidental causes
and as such they have to be derived from principal
causes. In Chalcidius the sum total of principal causes
constitutes Fate, and therefore both Fortune and
Chance derive from Fate. However, in addition to the
Aristotelian explanations described, Chalcidius con-
siders Fortune as the cause which brings together two
actions or occurrences which, in appearance at least,
are totally disconnected. His final definition of Fortune,
and one which recurs frequently in scholastic philoso-
phy is (Ch. 159): Concursus simul cadentium causarum
duarum, originem ex proposito trahentium, ex quo con-
curso provenit aliquid praeter spem cum admiratione

(“There must be a concurrence of two causes, each
arising from an act of free will, and the concurrence
must produce an unexpected result”). Such are the
elements which constitute Fortune in the Christian

The Christian doctrine becomes firmly entrenched
in Saint Augustine. With him there is no question but
that Providence controls all things, for it is inconceiv-
able that God, who provided for everything in the
universe, should wish that any part of it escape the
rule of Providence (De civitate Dei, Book V, Ch. 11).
Any cause which is beyond the control of Providence
cannot be accepted. Hence Fate as a necessary cause
over and beyond Providence, or any astral determinism
independent of God's Will, cannot possibly exist, for
that would be tantamount to a denial that everything
in the universe takes place only according to God's

Yet Augustine realizes that terms such as Fate, For-
tune, and Chance do exist and that, without a logical
basis for their existence, they would have disappeared.
He therefore proceeds to present reasonable explana-
tions. Starting from the premiss that God, in His omni-
potence and foreknowledge, permitted nothing to be
without order, that order of the universe might well
be called Fate, since the Stoics had already explained
Fate as the order and connection of all causes inherent
in the universe. This order and connection is now
attributable to the will and power of the transcendent
Christian God, but within that concept Fate as the
order of the universe can well remain. In fact,
Augustine states that the word Fate is misused and that
one should speak of God's Will instead (ibid., Book
V, Ch. 1). God's foreknowledge would tend to imply
a deterministic system, but free will is maintained by
the fact that our wills are included in the order of
causes and effects and consequently they form part of
God's foreknowledge in which temporal sequences do
not apply. The necessity which would control results
contrary to our wills is no more cogent than the neces-
sity which controls them in conformity with our wills.
The necessity implied in the order of causes which we
term Fate is such only when viewed as a sequence of
cause and effect; when viewed without the element
of sequence it is timeless and hence not outside the
realm of God's Providence (ibid., Book V, Ch. 9).

In such a providential system the causeless does not
actually exist. Occurrences which are not preceded by
a natural cause or are not purposed by our will do
actually have a cause, but it is not manifest to our mind.
Augustinian philosophy does away with indeterminism
in the universe by the assumption that there can be
nothing causeless in the providential order. However,
this does not mean that every cause is determined
insofar as human beings are concerned. There are
fortuitous along with natural causes, and causes which
are the result of will. The fortuitous causes are those
which are concealed from human understanding be-
cause of its insufficiency and are consequently assigned
to Fortune and Chance. The Aristotelian accidental
causes were concealed from human understanding be-
cause of their unpredictable nature. The Augustinian
fortuitous causes would disappear as such if man had
complete knowledge of all causality in the universe.
The Aristotelian fortuitous causes could never disap-
pear entirely because there is actually an element of
indeterminism in the universe.

The Augustinian explanation of Fate, Fortune, and
Chance falls into a difficulty which will become quite
common both among Christian philosophers and liter-
ary writers. The fact that logically there is no place
for Fortune or Chance in his providential system does
not prevent Augustine from using these terms as popu-
lar designations of accepted concepts. However, the
existence of Fortune as a divinity has to be repudiated,
for if it were a divinity and could systematically favor
its worshipers, it would cease being inconstant and
therefore would cease being Fortune (ibid., Book IV,
Ch. 18). No religion can purify the language of the
common crowd and eliminate all words which in any
way refer to occult causes, but of one thing we can
be sure: the reason that any cause is fortuitous is simply
because it is concealed from us. An all-embracing


providential tutelage in control of all individual actions
leaves no room for undesigned, unmoderated, uncon-
trolled occurrences. Yet the fact that Augustine
eliminated Fortune from his providential system does
not mean that as a divinity it disappeared from Chris-
tian concepts. It rather became fixed as the power to
which were ascribed all occurrences which did not fit
logically into a providentially ruled universe.

The Augustinian providential system does not ques-
tion the existence of causality itself. However, in theo-
ries where the power of causality is denied to created
beings and is exercised only by God directly, the prob-
lem of chance assumes a different solution. In the
Epicurean system events were not causally connected
and happened either as a result of chance or of unde-
termined free will. In the Philonic system, in which
God is either the remote or immediate cause of all
that happens, it is God himself who “breaks the chain
of secondary causes or deviates from the continuity
of His own direct creation” (H. A. Wolfson [1961], pp.
198ff.). Just as God performed major miracles in the
creation of the universe, so He continues to perform
minor miracles which break the continuity of causation
by endowing man with a touch of His own miraculous
power through free will. The break in the continuity
of causation for purposeful action is due directly to
God's intervention; the break in that continuity for
occurrences which are not attributable to any human
cause must come also directly from God. Fortune in
the Philonic sense is really “the 'divine Logos,' namely
the providence of a God who is not bound by any
fixed laws of nature, but who can upset these laws of
nature fixed by himself” (H. A. Wolfson, Philo, 4th
ed. [1968], II, 422).

The whole question of the fortuitous is treated com-
prehensively by Boethius. His explanation of the ele-
ment of chance in the universe closely follows the
Aristotelian explanation. He subdivides all occurrences
into constant, frequent, rare, and even (half-and-half).
The constant occurrences are assigned to the heavens,
the frequent or regular are assigned to Nature, the even
(half-and-half) are assigned to free will, and the rare
are assigned to Fortune or Chance. Moreover causes
are subdivided into two major classifications, those
which have a purpose and those which do not. Since
both Nature and Mind act teleologically, that is with
a purpose, rare occurrences of teleological import may
occur in either realm. The element of chance operates
among occurrences which have a purpose provided
they are rare. Boethius consequently explains Chance
as follows: Chance and the fortuitous occur in those
events which, although occurring rarely, come about
through accident and are done with a purpose.
Boethius fails to account for the Aristotelian argument
of finality in the chance event itself, for in Aristotle,
if the chance meeting of two lines of action is devoid
of purpose, the occurrence cannot be ascribed to
Chance (Physics II.V, 196b 35).

The interpretation of the chance occurrence as the
apparently undesigned meeting of unconnected lines
of action does occur in Boethius, again with the qualifi-
cation that, although the chance occurrence may be
undesigned, it is not uncaused. The actual concursus
or concurrence of these causes has its own appropriate
causes, and it is their unexpected and unforeseen con-
junction which seems to have brought forth Chance.
However, the chance occurrences, or the goods or
things unexpectedly attained or unintentionally missed,
belong to the world external to man. Boethius accepts
the Aristotelian separation of all goods into goods of
the mind, goods of the body, and external goods in
order to delineate the sphere of action of Fortune.
Fortune is most powerful over external goods, has some
effect over goods of the body, but has no power over
goods of the mind.

The external goods over which Fortune has control
are (1) wealth in all its varieties, (2) dignity, and (3)
power. There is never any question but that wealth
or material goods belong to the realm of Fortune.
However, dignity and power come in different pro-
portions under the aegis of goods of the body and goods
of the mind; they will be attributed differently to the
power of Fortune or to the power of Virtue, as we
shall see in later writers. Boethius himself adds
mundane glory as one of the further divisions of exter-
nal goods which are under the power of Fortune. Once
Boethius has established the existence of the chance
event, he proceeds to clarify the sphere of action of
the power that controls it.

Like Augustine, Boethius proceeds to the justification
of the workings of the Fortune in a divinely governed
universe. The world of becoming or of change, in other
words the physical world, derives its causes, order, and
form from the motionless Mind of the Deity. This
Deity, one and undivided, wills the modus of multi-
plicity as the regime of the universe. This modus of
multiplicity, when viewed in the purity of Divine
Intelligence, is called Providence. When it operates
in the world of motion and becomes order in time and
space, it is called Fate; Fate in turn governs Chance
by joining the acts and the fortunes of men, even
though acts proceed from free will and fortunes may
proceed from other causes including Chance. Fortune
may seem to move at random, but in actuality it does
submit to a control and moves according to law.

The moral question which arises with Boethius was
initially answered in Plato's Laws (903C): How can
we admit of Providence when we see Fortune harassing


good men and favoring evil ones? If Providence by
its very nature has to be good, how can it tolerate evil?
The answer is that Fortune is always good, regardless
of the way it appears to us. This is the element of faith
and resignation which permeates the explanations of
Fortune in Christian philosophy.

The personification of Fortuna is more important in
Boethius than in any previous writer. The various
characteristics assigned historically to Fortuna appear
as aspects of this personification. The instability of
Fortune, its alterations, its slippery ways, its flattery,
its irrationality, its temperament—all form part of the
Boethian figuration of Fortuna. Philosophic concepts
merge with popular beliefs to produce a figure which
approaches a divinity and yet retains all the elements
which contributed toward its conceptual development.
Basically, the Boethian figuration remains the core of
pictorial representations through the Middle Ages and
early Renaissance.

With Albertus Magnus and Saint Thomas Aquinas
there is a return to the Aristotelian explanations of
Fate, Fortune, and Chance as a function of causality.
In Albertus Magnus the Aristotelian definition of Fate
is influenced not only by the Stoic position, but by
the astrological theories which had developed through
writers such as Hermes Trismegistus, Firmicius
Maternus, and Apuleius. In his fusion of many doctrines
Albertus presents a descending determinism from
Providence to the new creature at the time of birth.
Fatal causality flows from celestial bodies down to the
embryo. Albertus postulates two different types of
Fortune: the Fortune of causality and the Fortune of
astrology. The Fortune of causality is the last link in
the chain unfolding from the Divine Mind, through
Providence, through Fate, to the chance event. In
the unfolding of the chain of causality first come nec-
essary causes, which produce effects with unfailing
regularity; next come those causes which act with
normal regularity; then those which act with halfway
regularity; and finally the rare occurrences, in which
the fortuitous is observed. When causality is viewed
as a force differentiated among individual beings, it
is Fortune; when it is viewed as the entire process from
necessary causes to rare occurrences, it is Fate. Thus
in Albertus Magnus, as in Augustine and Boethius,
Fortune and Fate are different aspects of the total
chain of causality.

In Saint Thomas the existence of Chance is not
questioned; it is accepted and explained as an integral
part of the providential system of the universe. Assum-
ing that the Divine Ordainer cannot possibly be
Chance because effects cannot proceed except from
a direct cause, we may look for Chance anywhere in
the universe except in God himself. Chance must arise
somewhere between God's knowledge, which is all-
encompassing and timeless, and our own knowledge,
which is derived from causality and is limited by
temporal relations. Things which we see only in causes,
God sees in existence. Since for God knowledge and
foreknowledge are the same, the element of chance,
which involves a sequence of cause and effect, does
not enter into His foreknowledge. Fortune, or the
element of chance, exists only in relation to something
else in the universe, not in relation to God. If Fortune
is analyzed as the absence of intentionality either in
the cause or in the effect, the absence of intentionality
may be in relation to immediate prior causes, but not
in relation to the ultimate superior cause. The order
of human events, among which are the fortuitous, is
comparable to a procession in which one event suc-
ceeds the previous one simply because they are ob-
served in their temporal sequence; for God, who is
above the temporal procession and sees the sequence
both in cause and effect without relation to time, the
sequence constitutes no necessity. In the same manner,
human events have a causal sequence only from the
point of view of man's knowledge, so that for necessary
effects there are necessary causes and for contingent
effects there are contingent causes.

Since fortuitous events involve human choice, the
manner in which human choice enters the chain of
causality is significant. It is important to coordinate
the scheme of causality and the element of chance in
relation to the celestial bodies, the angels, and God.
In referring human things to higher causes, the follow-
ing conditions and limitations prevail (Summa contra
III. 91): (1) volitions and choices are disposed
immediately by God, without intermediary; (2) human
knowledge is disposed by God through the medium
of the angels; (3) bodily goods are disposed through
the angels and celestial bodies. Celestial bodies influ-
ence volitions and choices by acting upon our bodies
by intellectual consideration without passion. Volitions
and choices which act without man's intention and
without his knowledge are what we call Fortune.
Angels illumine our minds to make appropriate
choices; therefore the custodian angel is the cause of
what we call fortuna. Similarly, impressions from the
celestial spheres cause natural body dispositions which
affect choices and volitions. Fortune in the latter case
is a natural disposition, as opposed to Fortune coming
through the angels illumining our minds. The Aris-
totelian impulse toward achieving desired goals or
success which was not even desired has taken its proper
place in the Thomistic providential system. But the
astrological determinism which still survived in
Albertus has now been absorbed entirely in the provi-
dential universe of God, the angels, and the celestial


bodies. If the impulse which makes a person fortunate
is referred higher than the celestial spheres and the
angels, then it is found to emanate directly from God
himself. Through our will, which is disposed immedi-
ately by God, God himself is the only causa per se
of our Fortune.

Dante as the poet who synthesized previous philo-
sophic, literary, and popular ideas brings a vast eclec-
ticism into the concepts of Fortune, Fate, and Chance.
In his philosophic work, the Convivio, he limits the
influence of the fortuitous to the realm of the acci-
dental, as it was in Aristotle's Physics. Fortune is a
cause concealed from human understanding, yet not
without divino imperio, as it was in Saint Thomas. Its
irrationality is translated into a simile: “the more man
is subject to the intellect, the less he is subject to
Fortune” (Convivio IV.xi.9). Fortune appears as the
Chalcidian concursus causarum, which is accompanied
by the least amount of mind or reason. Fortune as the
impulse of the Aristotelian ethical treatises appears as
Fortune aided by reason or Fortune the aider of reason.
It appears as the divine power that controls attainment
or success, as it was in Simplicius. The astrological
Fortune of Albertus Magnus appears as personal des-
tiny transmitted through the constellation or the indi-
vidual star. The element of chance is explained in
Aristotelian fashion as the causa per accidens annexed
either to the agent or to the effect. Fortune appears
as the cause which opposes the regularity of Nature.
The element of Fortune in the individual enters as the
impression from the spheres which causes bodily dis-
positions. Yet all of the various elements which have
historically been assigned to Fortune, Fate, and Chance
are gathered into a single providential system of which
the fortuitous is a part.

All the various aspects of the fortuitous are personi-
fied in a deity which in Thomistic philosophy is classi-
fied as a divine Intelligence. In Dante this newly
created Intelligence is termed Fortuna. Since Fortuna
is a personification of the fortuitous, and the fortuitous
is a branch of the chain of causality, its normal place
in the providential scheme is within the realm of Fate,
which is the unfolding of Providence in multiplicity
and time. The gradation from the Divine Mind to the
individual event is therefore: God, Providence, Fate,
and Fortune. Fate includes the regularity of Nature
and Fortune includes the irregularity of all chance

The poetic figure of Fortuna which Dante created
personifies all aspects of the fortuitous, from its place
in the causal chain proceeding from God to the realm
which affects the individual. The distinction between
the goods of the soul and the goods of the body, or
external goods, is maintained throughout Dante's
works, and Fortune is always in charge of external
goods only, never the goods of the soul. Fortune is
always viewed as a tool of Providence and never as
a master of it (Paradiso XXXII. 53). Fortune and Fate
become indistinguishable when considered as the indi-
vidual destiny which affects a person unexpectedly, and
usually adversely. This individual destiny is an impres-
sion made by the celestial spheres on the bodily dispo-
sitions in the form of passions, and it is these bodily
dispositions which produce a regularity in the ability
or inability to achieve desired goals, or goals which
may even be independent of desires. Although astro-
logical destiny as such is denied in Dante's providential
system, the influence of constellations is resolved into
the impression which in turn guides the individual
toward success or failure in accordance with the total
plan of the universe.

Fortune in its role as a providential agent foresees,
judges, and pursues future events (Inferno VII. 69ff.).
As a divine Intelligence it has its own beatitude and
is consequently unconcerned with the effects of its
activity on mankind. Since the activity of Fortune is
that part of the Divine Plan dealing with the distribu-
tion of external goods, the identification of Fortune
with Divine Justice is logical (Inferno XXX. 13). Since
the variations of Fortune are the basis of its nature,
the figure of the wheel remains symbolic of its constant
changes. Dante accepts as natural the thesis that if the
constant movement of Fortune stopped, it would cease
being Fortune. The changes of Fortune find a correla-
tion in the constant and inexorable changes of the
moon; hence the correlation with the moon is main-
tained. The activity of Fortune is a priori that part
of human activity which is beyond our power to com-
prehend; hence Fortuna remains oltre la difension di
senni umani
(Inferno VII. 81). Since Nature follows
causality with unfailing regularity, Fortune as a branch
of causality is likewise a branch of Nature when the
latter is considered as the total circular movements of
the heavens. The differentiation which Fortune causes
in individuals independent of the moment of birth are
a result of this circular natura (Paradiso VIII. 127).
Since virtue is that power of the individual which
intentionally guides him toward a desired end, the
power which unintentionally drives him away from the
desired end (namely fortuna) must be a contrary
power; hence if one is a friend of virtue (redeeming
grace as personified in Beatrice), he is no friend of
Fortune (Inferno II. 61).

The influence of Fortune in human affairs becomes
all-important in Boccaccio's artistic world. The func-
tion of Fortune is to determine the outcome of a course
of action. Boccaccio's universe is strictly providential
and God is directly in charge of both favorable and


unfavorable circumstances. God is above Fortune and,
of course, can do no wrong. Nature and Fortune are
both administrators of the Divine Will. Fortune indi-
cates the operation of the heavens in human affairs
and the only way that its influence can be forestalled
is for free will to act prior to Fortuna. Boccaccio
accepts with resignation the idea that Fortuna influ-
ences human affairs, but feels that man can have
enough advance notice through his reasoning power
to counteract the intended course of Fortune.
Boccaccio does not change the popular and accepted
idea of Fortune; he simply molds it to fulfill his pur-
pose. Fortune was in charge of external goods;
Boccaccio adds sensual pleasures and fame as external
goods. Fortune was an impulse whose effects are ines-
capable; Boccaccio maintains that love is an even more
powerful impulse. Stoic Fate which became synony-
mous with Fortune was considered a test of courage
and virtue; Boccaccio assigns to Fortune the power
to rescue the weak of heart and inspire him with the
courage needed to achieve his goal. The Aristotelian
impulse of the moral treatises becomes the impulse that
leads the individual toward achievement irrespective
of any moral import. In Boccaccio good Fortune is
a cause for exaltation and bad Fortune is a cause for
complaint, but both types of Fortune are part of the
providential system and do not necessarily have any
bearing on the moral character of the individual.

With Petrarch the question of Fortune resumes its
moral significance. Petrarch's philosophy of life is di-
rectly related to his views on the influence of Fortune
in human affairs. Aristotelian explanations of the nature
of Fortune as a cause have no bearing on Petrarch's
views. Petrarch sees no difference between Fortune and
Fate, nor does the distinction between fortuna and
casus enter into his considerations. Fortune is God's
Will and as such it must prevail, whether we like it
or not. The problem is how to best conduct one's life
in view of the unquestioned existence of the fortuitous
element in human affairs.

Assuming that all things in this world are transitory,
the Divine Will regulates this transitoriness through
Fortune. The good or bad aspect of Fortune is a human
illusion and is basically not a distinction between good
and evil, for what is necessary in the nature of the
universe cannot possibly be evil. Complete knowledge
on the part of man and complete goodness are one
and the same. Accepting the traditional view that
material goods constitute the domain of Fortune,
Petrarch explains that these material goods are God's
gifts and their goodness depends on the use which man
makes of them. Evil arises not from their possession but
from their misuse. The root of bad luck is not any
natural disposition, but the blame which Man bears
for misusing God-given gifts. The Stoic concept of
Fortune as a test of man's fortitude runs throughout
Petrarch's views, but in the Stoics the test has no
significance for the afterlife, whereas in Petrarch the
test is viewed as a preparation for eternity.

Petrarch resolved man's struggle against Fortuna into
a system in which the escape from the inevitability
of Fortune lies in a disregard of external goods and
a withdrawal into contemplation of the goods of the
spirit as a preparation for eternal life. The providential
system of the universe, of which the element of chance
is an integral part, can be maintained only by consid-
ering the chance event as an inscrutable part of the
universe closed to our understanding as human beings.
Yet in Petrarch, as in Dante and Boethius, the allegori-
cal portrayal of Fortune offers again the opportunity
to combine all the elements ascribed to Fortune and
its kindred powers, and to relate those elements to the
philosophic concept. Superstitions and fears about
Fortuna have been turned into rationalizations which
permit man to find relative happiness in a universe
in which some elements elude the regularity of deter-
ministic causality.

While Petrarch approaches Fortune from the point
of view of its effect on the life of the individual, the
philosophic writers continued to search for a system
which would account logically for all accepted aspects
of Fate, Fortune, and Chance. The De fato et fortuna
of Coluccio Salutati constitutes a significant stage in
the comprehensive summary of the place of Fate,
Fortune, and Chance in a universe which is conceived
as the unfolding of Divine Providence. In this system,
Fate is the operation of God's Providence. Without
changing the basic Christian concept which had devel-
oped up to that time, Salutati directs that concept
toward moral values for a good life. Astrological deter-
minism is again refuted, not as being unverifiable this
time, but as having no influence on the rational soul.
The providential origin of the fortunate impulse brings
even the accidental into the fold of the total good for
the universe. This seemingly accidental cause is trace-
able directly to Divine Providence. Those events which
are entirely within man's control are the bona animi,
but as a corollary those events which are not entirely
within man's control are not bona animi and therefore
mutable or external goods. Such external or mutable
goods cannot be pertinent or important to virtue be-
cause if they were, they would become bona animi.
Since those mutable goods do not lead to virtue, the
man who is aiming toward a virtuous life must either
resist them outright or be indifferent to them. Hence
the equation that where there is the greatest prudence
there is bound to be the least Fortune.

The moral significance of the acceptance of Fortune


becomes increasingly important in the early humanists.
In Poggio Bracciolini's De fortunae varietate, for ex-
ample, we find that the mutability of the goods of
Fortune is so baffling that the only recourse for a wise
man is to withdraw altogether from worldly goods. The
power of Fortune comes from the madness of men in
wanting to possess the goods under its control. There-
fore the more men attach themselves to goods of the
soul by following Virtue, the more the power of For-
tune will be broken. The natural conclusion for
Bracciolini, as it was for Petrarch, is that the way to
virtue is a life which is indifferent to the possession
of mutable goods. Following in the same trend, Leon
Battista Alberti maintains that Fortune holds in yoke
only the man who submits to it. Whereas in the
Aristotelian moral treatises Fortune was the impulse
toward achieving goals, whether desired or not even
envisaged, in Alberti it is Virtue which is the capacity
for achieving goals of potential worth. Fortune is still
in charge of external goods; however Virtue not only
understands the distinction between the bona animi
and the bona externa, but develops techniques for
attaining the bona externa when their possession can
aid the bona animi.

From the mobility of external goods which are under
the domain of Fortune arises the mobility of human
affairs in general. And just as the mobility of external
goods is under the domain of Fortune, so the mobility
of human affairs is under its domain. If Prudence and
Virtue can regulate the mobility of goods, they can
also regulate the mobility of human affairs. The
treatises on the subject of Fortune take cognizance of
this mobility and introduce the element of civil happi-
ness as part of their consideration of Fortune. In
Giovanni Pontano's De fortuna the distinguishing ele-
ment of Fortune is the unexpected collision with some
human purpose. Fortune is still the personification of
all elements which run contrary to the predictable
pattern of cause and effect. The difference is attribut-
able to the variation between a steadfast Divine First
Cause and variable secondary causes. Sustained good
Fortune is an impulse which comes directly from God,
whereas rare or intermittent good Fortune can only
come from accidental causes. Having assumed the
existence of sustained good Fortune as an impulse
directly from God, what remains to be explained is
the intermittent good Fortune; the only source for the
intermittent can be the causa per accidens. The astro-
logical influence of Fate on the individual is not dis-
carded because, although it does not fit into the provi-
dential system, the denial of its existence would leave
a lacuna in the explanation of the universe. Rather
loosely, the influence of stars is attributed to Fate and
to God; Fortune is considered the handmaid of Fate.

With Machiavelli we reach another important stage
in the concepts of Fortune, Fate, and Chance, and with
it we shall conclude the present study. The external
goods which are the domain of Fortune are expanded
to include political power, because civil happiness is
considered unattainable without it. Escape from the
power of Fortune through disregard of external posses-
sions or through dedication to the goods of the soul
is a solution for the contemplative life, but it is no
solution for the active life, in which one must still face
the influence of Fortune. Machiavelli views Fortune
as the compendium of all circumstances regarding the
good outside of oneself, or the sum total of all mobility
in human affairs. His analysis of Fortune is a rationale
of the balance to be maintained between the mobility
of human affairs and the ultimate purposes of humanity
on this earth, which is the survival of the state as an

Machiavelli's views are centered on the realities of
life as they exist rather than on any theological concept
of eternal life. There is a conflict between the forces
which preserve the organism and the forces which
would tend to disrupt it or retard its development,
namely between virtù on one side and fortuna on the
other. Virtù is considered as the life strength of a state;
it is the organized energy which propels the state.
Everything in life is in a state of mobility, not only
external goods and their possession, but events them-
selves. In the Machiavellian concept of reality every-
thing is bound to the wheel of Fortune, which symbol-
izes constant, inexorable change. Control of this
mobility can come only through knowledge of the laws
regulating it. Therefore, knowing the time and order
of things is the best guard against the power of Fortune
(Il Principe [The Prince], XXV).

Contrary to the accepted Christian philosophy,
Machiavelli denies any providential character to For-
tune; yet in no way does he deny the existence of
Fortune itself. Fortune represents all the external forces
with which a man must learn to work or must over-
come. Recognizing that the circumstances which beset
man's path are those which are not under his control,
the struggle which arises is between man's personal
power and the power of Fortune. From man's point
of view, Fortune is the power which acts contrary to
his control and therefore capriciously. Fortune is
identified with the errors and vices of men, because
those are the failings which beset his progress. Fortune
is considered prevalent in the affairs of men because
it represents a whole set of circumstances against which
a single individual must struggle.

Writers prior to Machiavelli had sought ideological
solutions to the confrontation between man and For-
tune. Machiavelli concentrates on practical solutions


based on hard common sense. Recognizing that the
reality in which man acts is extremely mobile and
changeable, and that by the nature of reality these
circumstances are mostly beyond man's control,
Machiavelli proceeds to show what man can do in a
one-sided struggle, as it were. In philosophic terms,
man's free will was the one sure weapon against the
irrationality of Fortune. In Machiavelli, man's free will
acts through his virtù, which is his God-given power
to determine a choice and follow it through.
Machiavelli assumes that man is conditioned by his
nature to act in a certain way, thereby accepting to
some extent Fortune or Fate as an impression on the
individual to act regularly in a predictable way. How-
ever, man does have the power of choice, and through
that power he can control his own nature. That power
of choice comes from the evaluation of future events
in their causes, and that evaluation is really prudence,
or the power of reasoning. The prudent man can fore-
see dangers, forestall them, and thereby gain control
of his own destiny. Symbolically, in the personification
of Fortune, man can aim at conquering it rather than
opposing it. The virtù of man can conquer Fortune
by the ability to make appropriate choices based on
calculations of events and their effects. Most important
in the control of Fortune is the choice of the propitious
moment or occasione, because the mobility of events
is such that only one momentary combination of cir-
cumstances provides the favorable vantage point of
attack. The concursus causarum is brought under
human control. Machiavelli not only does not deny the
existence of Fortune, but he recognizes it as a signifi-
cant force in human affairs. What he does do is to raise
the ability of man to withstand and control the forces
of causality.

Fate, Fortune, and Chance as parts of the chain of
causality in the universe have been analyzed by natural
philosophers, they have been incorporated into provi-
dential systems by theologians, they have been person-
ified by poets, and they have entered all types of
pictorial figurations. The distinctions between the three
terms were rigorously outlined by some philosophers
and were completely obliterated by others, to the
extent that it is impossible to trace each of the terms
individually. However, the element of the fortuitous
is concentrated more on the term Fortune than on
either Fate or Chance, particularly because of the
personification of Fortune and its elevation to the status
of a divinity. Treatises continued to be written on Fate,
Fortune, and Chance, treating the element of chance
primarily as Fortune; as such the topic pervaded the
literatures of western Europe long after the early


David Bohm, Causality and Chance in Modern Physics
(Princeton, 1957). V. Cioffari, Fortune and Fate from
Democritus to St. Thomas Aquinas
(New York, 1935); idem,
The Conception of Fortune and Fate in the Works of Dante
(Cambridge, Mass., 1940); idem, Fortune in Dante's Four-
teenth Century Commentators
(Cambridge, Mass., 1944). A.
Doren, Fortuna im Mittelalter und in der Renaissance, in
Vorträge der Bibliothek Warburg, 1922-23, Vol. I (Berlin and
Leipzig, 1924). K. Heitmann, Fortuna und Virtus. Eine
Studie zu Petrarcas Lebensweisheit
(Cologne, 1957). C. W.
Kerr, “The Idea of Fortune in Italian Humanism from
Petrarch to Machiavelli” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University,
1956). E. W. Mayer, Machiavellis Geschichtsauffassung und
sein Begriff virtù
(Munich and Berlin, 1912). M. Santoro,
Fortuna, ragione e prudenza nella civiltà letteraria del
(Naples, 1967). H. A. Wolfson, Religious Phi-
losophy, A Group of Essays
(Cambridge, Mass., 1961).


[See also Astrology; Atomism; Causation; Chance; Cycles;
Epicureanism; Machiavellism; Necessity; Renaissance