The Desire of Knowing Future Events

“The desire of knowing future events, is one of the strongest inclinations in the mind of man. Indeed, an ability of foreseeing probable accidents is what, in the language of men, is called wisdom and prudence: but, not satisfied with the light that reason holds out, mankind hath endeavoured to penetrate more compendiously into futurity. Magic, oracles, omens, lucky hours, and the various arts of superstition, owe their rise to this powerful cause. As this principle is founded in self-love, every man is sure to be solicitous in the first place about his own fortune, the course of his life, and the time and manner of his death. If we consider that we are free agents, we shall discover the absurdity of such inquiries. One of our actions, which we might have performed or neglected, is the cause of another that succeeds it, and so the whole chain of life is linked together. Pain, poverty, or infamy, are the natural product of vicious and imprudent acts; as the contrary blessings are of good ones; so that we cannot suppose our lot to be determined without impiety. A great enhancement of pleasure arises from its being unexpected; and pain is doubled by being foreseen. Upon all these, and several other accounts, we ought to rest satisfied in this portion bestowed on us; to adore the hand that hath fitted every thing to our nature, and hath not more displayed his goodness in our knowledge than in our ignorance. It is not unworthy observation, that superstitious inquiries into future events prevail more or less, in proportion to the improvement of liberal arts and useful knowledge in the several parts of the world. Accordingly, we find that magical incantations remain in Lapland; in the more remote parts of Scotland they have their second sight; and several of our own countrymen have seen abundance of fairies. In Asia this credulity is strong; and the greatest part of refined learning there consists in the knowledge of amulets, talismans, occult numbers, and he like.” (Joseph Addison, The Spectator, Oct. 8, 1714)