How can one compare the treatment of fate and free will in the story "Minority Report" by Philip Dick with their treatment in Sophocles' play Oedipus the King?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Sophocles' play "Oedipus Rex" and the file "Minority Report" raise the interesting question of whether it is possible to simultaneously possess foreknowledge of the future and have free will. This is a topic which has been debated extensively in philosophy since Aristotle and is one of the major issues in Christian theology as well. One of the reasons the issue is so important is that it has moral consequences. As modern genetics and evolutionary biology increasingly enable us to understand what factors shape our future, we must ask ourselves how we can continue to function as moral agents. For example, if one has a genetic predisposition to murder, is one still morally responsible for the crime?

In "Oedipus Rex", the issue is further complicated by the curse on the house of Thebes. Oedipus' father violated the hospitality of King Pelops, and the gods cursed him for this. The curse and the will of the gods in seeing it carried out are what condemn Oedipus to killing his father and marrying is mother. No matter what Laius and Oedipus do, they cannot avoid the curse, and foreknowledge does not help. Yet, they do act out of free will, making decisions at every moment concerning how they will respond to their situation, and those decisions define their moral natures. At times, viewers might feel that it is somewhat unfair that Oedipus gets blamed for things beyond his control -- there is no way he could have known Jocasta to be his mother before marrying her -- and in a related play, "Oedipus at Colonus", Sophocles resolves the paradox of the gods' apparent injustice towards Oedipus by making the outcome of his suffering a form of redemption for both himself and his adopted community.

Similarly, in Dick's story "Minority Report", it is predicted that John Anderton will commit a murder, and in fact he does murder Leopold Kaplan as predicted. Just as in the case of Oedipus, though, the correctness of his prediction does not violate his free will. He commits the murder for his own reasons out of a deliberate choice, preserving his free will and moral agency.