Belief in a special providence, or else in a supernatural guidance of the events in an individual’s life, has at all times been universally popular, and even with thinkers who are averse to all superstition, it is occasionally found firm and unshaken and entirely unconnected with any definite dogmas. Opposed to it in the first place is the fact that, like all belief in a God, it has sprung not really from knowledge, but from the will; thus it is primarily the offspring of our miserable state. The data for this, which might have been furnished merely by knowledge, could perhaps be traced to the fact that chance which plays us a hundred cruel and maliciously contrived tricks, does sometimes turn out particularly favorable to us, or indirectly ministers to our great benefit. In all such cases, we recognize therein the hand of providence and this most clearly when it has led us to a fortunate destiny against our own insight and even in ways that we abominate. We then say “I then had a good voyage, even though I was shipwrecked” and the contrast between choice and guidance becomes unmistakably clear, but at the same time in favor of the latter. For this reason, when we meet with misfortunes, we console ourselves with that short maxim that is often proved true ‘who knows it may be some good? ‘ This has really sprung from the view that, although chance rules the world, error is nevertheless its co-regent, since we are as much subject to the one as to the other. Perhaps the very thing that now seems to us a misfortune is a blessing. Thus we shun the blows of one world-tyrant and rush to the other in that we turn from chance and appeal to error.
Apart from this, however, to attribute to pure evident chance a purpose or intention is an idea of unparalleled audacity. Yet I believe that everyone has had at least once in his life a vivid conception of it. It is found among all races and in all faiths, although it is most marked among the Mohammedans. It is an idea that can be the absurdest or profoundest according as it is understood. Nevertheless, striking as the instances may at times be whereby it could be supported, there is always the standing objection to them that it would be the greatest marvel if chance never watched over our affairs as well as, or even better than, our understanding and insight could have done.
Without exception everything that happens takes place with strict necessity, and this is a truth to be understood a priori and consequently to be regarded as irrefutable; here I will call it demonstrable fatalism. It is confirmed empirically and a posteriori by the fact, no longer in doubt, that magnetic somnambulists, persons gifted with second sight, and sometimes even the dreams of ordinary sleep directly and accurately predict future events.