The Prophecy-Driven Life:
Fate and Freedom at Hogwarts
We have to believe in free will. We’ve got no choice.
—ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER
Think how cool it would be if you had a crystal ball that— unlike Professor Trelawney’s—could infallibly predict the future. You could make a fortune betting in the Quidditch pool, know in advance all the questions that will appear on your Herbology final, and never, ever again get shot down in flames when asking that cute witch or wizard from Ravenclaw out for a date.
Some things, of course, wouldn’t be so cool about knowing the future. Like knowing exactly when you will die, and how. Imagine if you knew now, for example, that you will die in a fiery flying car crash on June 23rd, 2012. Or that your best friend will be killed by Voldemort on December 5th, 2008. That kind of knowledge would be tough to live with. In fact, if you did learn that something terrible was somehow fated to happen in the future, you would naturally wonder if there was anything you could do to prevent it.
There’s a wonderful story philosophy profs often use to get their students thinking about conundrums of fate and free will— and I don’t mean the “what will really bake your noodle” scene from The Matrix. It’s an old Arab fable retold by W. Somerset Maugham in his 1933 play Sheppey. The speaker is Death: