Determinism Vs Free Will in Oedipus Rex
What an individual does affects their next action and works as a predicate of their future. The most important question in Oedipus Rex is whether Teiresias’ prophecy could have been averted. The deterministic perspective outlined as determinism is based off the point of view that all events that surround human action are preordained or occur without the influence of human action whether they knew it would or not. In this case, an argument may be made that individuals do not harbor free will, and that all their action are out of their control, and in so doing, they are not responsible for their action. Free will on the other hand appeals to causality and effect, defining that an individual has choice in their action, and what they do, predefines their next path, and as such, individuals have the power to define their future. In Oedipus Rex there is a mix of fate and free will developed to define the tragic ending of Oedipus, and in so doing define their situation. This makes it difficult to fully determine without a doubt whether the prophecy could have been averted or on the contrary out of the people’s ability. Oedipus flaws and his decisions, show that free will could be exercised to certain degrees to provide meaningful results, but at the same time outline that free will would not have interfered with fate and all the same create a paradox. The following short review outlines that fate is preordained and cannot be changed, but how an individual responds to fate is a matter of free will.
Teiresias’ decision to disclose the prophecy to Laius and Jocasta results in the dramatic unfolding of events, all of which work to propel the prophecy. All of these could have been avoided had he not revealed the prophecy. In a bid to escape the prophecy the character’s in their hubris make the wrong choices, thus fulfilling the prophecy. Teiresias outlines to Oedipus the dangers of truth, and its effect in sealing individual fates stating “Alas, alas! How dreadful it can be to have wisdom when it brings no benefit to the man possessing it. This I knew, but it had slipped my mind. Otherwise, I would not have journeyed here” (Sophocles, Line 374). This is a foreshadow that reveals the trouble of having knowledge in the prophecy and how it forces human intervention, which in the case of Oedipus, Laius and Jocasta propels it fulfillment. The great uncertainty that the knowledge of their fate brings allows them to manifest free will in decision making, all of which unintentionally works to bring about their demise. Jocasta outlines to Oedipus “Why should a man whose life seems ruled by chance live in fear—a man who never looks ahead… It’s best to live haphazardly, as best one can” (Sophocles, Line, 1161). By knowing the truth of the prophecy, Laius and Jocasta decide to give the child up a matter of free will, he ends up with Corinthian king Polybus and Merope. Here the prophecy is revealed to him, and in a bid to escape his fate, thinking he will kill Polybus and marry Merope, he goes to Thebes to stay far away from them. On his way, at the crossroads, he kills Laius unknowingly that it is his father. Brings victory to Thebes and marries Jocasta, but when he finds out about his truth, in an act of free will he blinds himself, fulfilling the prophecy.
The prophecy summarily outlines that that Laius and Jocasta’s child would kill the father and marry the mother before blinding himself, bringing demise to their family. Oedipus action of killing his father were a matter of fate, he fulfilled this prophecy long before, unknowingly. His actions show that he had no free will in the matter, but only in the context of the grand scheme of things. This is identified in his statement where he outlines that “I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect” (Sophocles). Implying to the fact that his actions were defined by fate, that is why he regrets them. Solomon argues that Sophocle, interpretation of free will is in the context of fate, staging that fate “does not make men do what they would not do, but arranges circumstances, such that the man would ‘naturally’ do determines the inevitable outcome” (70). Implying that they have free will, but not enough to avert the prophecy or their fate, as in one way or another their fate will become fulfilled. It is in the context of their fate, that they could choose the right path. Oedipus in pride killed Laius, at the crossroads. The imagery is symbolic as it compels on to think that Oedipus, at this juncture was at a figurative crossroad and had a choice (free will). But he did not know Laius was his father, and “naturally” his pride overtook his thinking and he killed him. His response as such at this stage was a matter of free will and not fate. He would have decided otherwise.
Generally, fate cannot be averted as it is preordained and the effects in one way or another eventually come to happen. This rings true in Oedipus Rex as Jocasta and Oedipus come to find out. While they believe that the prophecy said upon Oedipus to have passed, their actions in a bid to intervene in changing the prophecy ends up making them fulfill it. Laius and Jocasta order the killing Oedipus in a bid to avert the prophecy, but this does not happen and he ends up killing Lauis unknowing that he was his father, while trying to flee from his supposed father, and marries his mother. Showing that their actions ultimately led to the occurrence of the prophecy.
Solomon, Robert C. “Nietzsche on Fatalism and ‘Free Will.’” Journal of Nietzsche Studies, no. 23, Penn State University Press, 2002, pp. 63–87, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20717781.
Sophocles. “Oedipus The King”. Slps.Org, 2004, https://www.slps.org/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=22453&dataid=25126&FileName=Sophocles-Oedipus.pdf.