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What is Accidentalism?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2016
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Accidentalism is a concept that has applications over a wide range of artistic, theological, and ethical disciplines. In all approaches, accidentalism is seen as providing room for the unexpected to occur, and for persons to be involved in events that appear to be out of the ordinary scope of understanding. Essentially, accidentalism represents a thought process that indicates that not every event or idea is the result of a direct cause. This means that events may take place haphazardly or simply by chance.

In some ways, accidentalism bears some resemblance to the philosophy of tychism. In tychism, change — or ruxi — is understood to be a natural part of creation and is one of the ways that natural laws adapt and evolve to encompass diversity within the known world. However, tychism as expounded by Charles Sanders Peirce tends to indicate some intentional function of chance within the universe. With accidentalism, the function of change tends to be more random and may not be part of the natural process of evolution.

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Metaphysics tends to view accidentalism as being an alternative to the idea that all things happen for a reason. From a religious or theological point of view, accidentalism references the concept that not all things occur within the perfect will of Deity. Often, the idea that Jesus had no intention of being crucified and was taken by surprise by this turn of events is presented as an example of Christian accidentalism. In ethics, accidentalism is used to explain the occurrence of mental changes that lead to actions that appear to have no relation to the previous psychological state.

Essentially, accidentalism seeks to bring understanding to the reality that actions, events, and ideas occur without appearing to evolve as a result of some previously noticeable or recognized factor. By stepping away from the causal nexus and acknowledging that events can and do sometimes appear to take place out of nothing more than pure chance, the concept attempts to provide a name for these types of chance events.

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