Although European travelers to the Ottoman Empire often noted the inhabitants’ “fatalism,” historians have never seriously examined this intellectual phenomenon. Whether or not we can credit such sources, the testimony of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century Turkish and Arabic sources points to a robust debate over fate, free will, and predestination. What were the reasons behind these discussions? What issues were at stake? This article outlines the context and content of the debate. It then offers some observations about the wider significance of free will and predestination in the Ottoman intellectual universe – particularly their relation to early modern bureaucratic and military reform.