Skip to main content

Black History Month: Select Books 30% Off

Harvard University Press - home
Providence Lost

Providence Lost

Genevieve Lloyd

ISBN 9780674031531

Publication date: 11/15/2008

To the ancient Greeks, providence was the inherent purpose and rational structure of the world. In Christian thought, it became a benign will “providing” for human well-being. And in our own ever more secular times—is providence lost? Perhaps, but as Genevieve Lloyd makes clear in this illuminating work, providence still exerts a powerful influence on our thought and in our lives; and understanding how can help us clarify the functioning—or, increasingly, disfunctioning—of concepts of freedom and autonomy that define our modernity. Such an understanding is precisely the goal of this book, which traces a succession of transformations in the concept of providence through the history of Western philosophy.

Beginning with early versions of providence in ancient Greek thought, Lloyd follows the concept through its convergence with Christian ideas, to its role in seventeenth-century philosophical accommodations of freedom and necessity. Finally, she shows how providence was subsumed into the eighteenth-century ideas of progress that eventually rendered it philosophically superfluous. Incorporating rich discussions of thinkers from Euripides to Augustine, Descartes and Spinoza to Kant and Hegel, her lucid and elegantly written work clearly and forcefully brings the history of ideas to bear on our present confusion over notions of autonomy, risk, and responsibility. Exploring the interplay among philosophy, religion, and literature, and among intellect, imagination, and emotion in philosophical thought, this book allows intellectual historians and general readers alike to grasp what it actually means that providence can be lost but not escaped.


  • In a wonderfully clear treatment, Lloyd filters changing understandings of freedom, responsibility, and necessity through the lens of providence. Showing just how much hinges on the presence or absence of notions of fate and providence, she is able to engage the question of how moral responsibility—for example, under conditions of uncertainty—has borne a complex relationship to the understanding of freedom of action. She stresses the role of the imagination and the passions in understanding such freedom, but above all she makes it clear in what way the abandonment of the notion of providence in the modern era is a distinctive feature of modernity, most notably in its understanding of the temporality of action. Nevertheless, as she shows, the exclusion of providence also puts us closer to the concerns of classical Greek ethics than to our more immediate sources of moral theory.

    —Stephen Gaukroger, author of The Emergence of a Scientific Culture


  • Genevieve Lloyd is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University of New South Wales, and Research Associate in Philosophy, Macquarie University, Sydney.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press