Moral Luck

Edited by Nick Smyth (Fordham University)
About this topic
Summary Moral luck occurs when the features of action which generate a particular moral assessment lie significantly beyond the control of the agent who is so assessed.  It is very difficult to deny that we seem to assess persons for things that they do not control: we punish the successful murderer more harshly than the person who unsuccessfully attempts the act. The problem appears more and more formidable as we consider the myriad of ways in which the results of our actions lie beyond our control.
Key works In Williams & Nagel 1976, Thomas Nagel and Bernard Williams initiated the modern discussion of moral luck.  They differed in their aims: Nagel thought that the phenomenon provided an important clue to the nature of the "objective" and "subjective" perspectives we can take on our own agency, whereas Williams thought that moral luck was a kind of "oxymoron" which showed that the institution of morality fails to be all that it aims to be.   Kant's Groundwork For the Metaphysics of Morals (Kant 2011) remains the classic attempt to "purify" moral judgment, locating it solely in the character of an agent's intentions and (apparently) divorcing such judgment from the contingent effects of our actions.  Daniel Statman's Moral Luck is a well-known collection of essays which deal with the problem.  See also Andre 1983 and Jensen 1984.
Introductions Dana Nelkin's Moral Luck provides an excellent review of the issue and of the literature that has arisen in response to the problems.
Related categories

213 found
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  1. Sophie's Choice.John P. Anderson - 1997 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 35 (4):439-450.
  2. Moral Distress in Healthcare.Judith Andre - 2002 - Bioethics Forum 18 (1-2):44-46.
    Moral distress is the sense that one must do, or cooperate in, what is wrong. It is paradigmatically faced by nurses, but it is almost a universal occupational hazard.
  3. Nagel, Williams and moral luck.Judith Andre - 1983 - Analysis 43 (4):202.
  4. Luck and Equality.Richard Arneson - 2001 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 75:51-90.
    [Susan Hurley] I argue that the aim to neutralize the influence of luck on distribution cannot provide a basis for egalitarianism: it can neither specify nor justify an egalitarian distribution. Luck and responsibility can play a role in determining what justice requires to be redistributed, but from this we cannot derive how to distribute: we cannot derive a pattern of distribution from the 'currency' of distributive justice. I argue that the contrary view faces a dilemma, according to whether it understands (...)
  5. Semantic and Moral Luck.Axel Arturo Barceló Aspeitia - 2012 - Metaphilosophy 43 (3):204-220.
    The similarities between the philosophical debates surrounding assessment sensitivity and moral luck run so deep that one can easily adapt almost any argument from one debate, change some terms, adapt the examples, and end up with an argument relevant to the other. This article takes Brian Rosebury's strategy for resisting moral luck in “Moral Responsibility and ‘Moral Luck' ” (1995) and turns it into a strategy for resisting assessment sensitivity. The article shows that one of Bernard Williams's examples motivating moral (...)
  6. Morality, Moral Luck, and Responsibility: Fortune's Web.Nafsika Athanassoulis - 2005 - Palgrave-Macmillan.
    This book considers two different approaches to moral luck--the Aristotelian vulnerability to factors outside the agent's control and the Kantian ambition to make morality immune to luck--and concludes that both approaches have more in common than previously thought. At the same time, it also considers recent developments in the field of virtue ethics and neo-kantianism.
  7. Common-Sense Virtue Ethics and Moral Luck.Nafsika Athanassoulis - 2005 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 8 (3):265-276.
    Moral luck poses a problem for out conception of responsibility because it highlights a tension between morality and lack of control. Michael Slote’s common-sense virtue ethics claims to avoid this problem. However there are a number of objections to this claim. Firstly, it is not clear that Slote fully appreciates the problem posed by moral luck. Secondly, Slote’s move from the moral to the ethical is problematic. Thirdly it is not clear why we should want to abandon judgements of moral (...)
  8. Liability Insurance, Moral Luck, and Auto Accidents.Tom Baker - manuscript
    Beginning with the seminal work by Williams and Nagel, moral philosophers have used auto accident hypotheticals to illustrate the phenomenon of moral luck. Moral luck occurs in the hypotheticals because (and to the extent that) two equally careless drivers are assessed differently because only one of them caused an accident. This article considers whether these philosophical discussions might contribute to the public policy debate over compensation for auto accidents. Using liability and insurance practices in the United States as an illustrative (...)
  9. Luck and Interests.Nathan Ballantyne - 2012 - Synthese 185 (3):319-334.
    Recent work on the nature of luck widely endorses the thesis that an event is good or bad luck for an individual only if it is significant for that individual. In this paper, I explore this thesis, showing that it raises questions about interests, well-being, and the philosophical uses of luck. In Sect. 1, I examine several accounts of significance, due to Pritchard (2005), Coffman (2007), and Rescher (1995). Then in Sect. 2 I consider what some theorists want to ‘do’ (...)
  10. Luck and Decision.Will Barrett - 2006 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 23 (1):73–87.
    Much recent work on moral responsibility and on distributive justice has addressed the concept of luck. Very little attention has been given to the relation of luck to rationality. How does luck bear on our choices? Can beliefs about luck lead to unwise decisions? These questions have particular relevance for understanding gambling behaviour, and for public policy on gambling. In this paper I argue that no one is reliably lucky, and that projecting luck can undermine rational decision-making. I give various (...)
  11. Human Dependency as Luck: Some Insights on Human Relationships.Matthew Beard - unknown
    Human relationships have always held a unique position in moral philosophy, particularly in eudaemonist ethics, where they are considered by most to be essential to “the good life”. However, this fact has made conceptualising the good life in purely individualistic terms difficult, due to the important role that the ‘other’ plays in any kind of relationship. In this paper I argue that the fragile relationship between self and other that exists in all human relationships – but especially in more meaningful (...)
  12. Causal Proportions and Moral Responsibility.Sara Bernstein - 2017 - In David Shoemaker (ed.), Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility, Volume 4. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 165-182.
    This paper poses an original puzzle about the relationship between causation and moral responsibility called The Moral Difference Puzzle. Using the puzzle, the paper argues for three related ideas: (1) the existence of a new sort of moral luck; (2) an intractable conflict between the causal concepts used in moral assessment; and (3) inability of leading theories of causation to capture the sorts of causal differences that matter for moral evaluation of agents’ causal contributions to outcomes.
  13. Radical Moral Imagination and Moral Luck.Mavis Biss - 2016 - Metaphilosophy 47 (4-5):558-570.
    To a greater extent than other theorists, Claudia Card in her analysis of moral luck considers the impact of attempts to transform moral meanings on the development of the agent's character and her responsibilities, over time and in relation to other agents. This essay argues that this wider frame of reference captures more of what is at stake in the efforts of those who resist oppression by attempting to implement radically revised meanings.
  14. Punishment for Criminal Attempts: A Legal Perspective on the Problem of Moral Luck.Thomas Bittner - 2008 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 38 (1):pp. 51-83.
  15. WILLIAMS, BERNARD Moral Luck. [REVIEW]E. J. Bond - 1983 - Philosophy 58:544.
  16. Moral Luck By Bernard Williams Cambridge University Press, 1981, Xiii + 173 Pp., £16.50. [REVIEW]E. J. Bond - 1983 - Philosophy 58 (226):544-.
  17. Editorial: Moral Luck, Social Networking Sites, and Trust on the Web. [REVIEW]Maria C. Bottis, Frances S. Grodzinsky & Herman T. Tavani - 2010 - Ethics and Information Technology 12 (4):297-298.
  18. Moral Luck, Photojournalism, and Pornography.Luc Bovens - 1998 - Journal of Value Inquiry 32 (2):205-217.
    I give a voice to the sort of qualms we might have about photojournalism. But this is not to say that in each instance the scales will tip to the side of these qualms. To speak with Larry Burrows, sometimes penetrating the hearts of those at home vindicates our capitalizing on other men’s grief. Photojournalism’s role as a catalyst for social change does indeed give it a certain license. But in learning about what kind of values there are on the (...)
  19. Democratic Autonomy, Political Ethics, and Moral Luck.Peter Breiner - 1989 - Political Theory 17 (4):550-574.
  20. First Acts, Last Acts, and Abandonment.David O. Brink - 2013 - Legal Theory 19 (2):114-123.
    This contribution reconstructs and assesses Gideon Yaffe’s claims in his book Attempts about what constitutes an attempt, what can count as evidence that an attempt has been made, whether abandonment is a genuine defense, and whether attempts should be punished less severely than completed crimes. I contrast Yaffe’s account of being motivated by an intention and the completion of an attempt in terms of the truth of the completion counterfactual with an alternative picture of attempts as temporally extended decision trees (...)
  21. Epistemological Contextualism and the Problem of Moral Luck.Berit Brogaard - 2003 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 84 (4):351–370.
    We have a strong intuition that a person’s moral standing should not be affected by luck, but the fact is that we do blame a morally unfortunate person more than her fortunate counterpart. This is the problem of moral luck. I argue that the problem arises because account is not taken of the fact that the extension of the term ‘blame’ is contextually determined. Loosely speaking, the more likely an act is to have an undesirable consequence, the more its agent (...)
  22. On Luck, Responsibility and the Meaning of Life.Berit Brogaard & Barry Smith - 2005 - Philosophical Papers 34 (3):443-458.
    A meaningful life, we shall argue, is a life upon which a certain sort of valuable pattern has been imposed by the person in question?a pattern which involves in serious ways the person having an effect upon the world. Meaningfulness is thus a special kind of value which a human life can bear. Two interrelated difficulties face ths proposal. One concerns responsiblity: how are we to account for the fact that a life that satisfies the above criteria can have more (...)
  23. Luck as Risk.Fernando Broncano-Berrocal - forthcoming - In Ian M. Church & Robert J. Hartman (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy and Psychology of Luck. Routledge.
    The aim of this paper is to explore the hypothesis that luck is a risk-involving phenomenon. I start by explaining why this hypothesis is prima facie plausible in view of the parallelisms between luck and risk. I then distinguish three ways to spell it out: in probabilistic terms, in modal terms, and in terms of lack of control. Before evaluating the resulting accounts, I explain how the idea that luck involves risk is compatible with the fact that risk concerns unwanted (...)
  24. Luck.Fernando Broncano-Berrocal - 2016 - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Winning a lottery, being hit by a stray bullet, or surviving a plane crash, all are instances of a mundane phenomenon: luck. Mundane as it is, the concept of luck nonetheless plays a pivotal role in central areas of philosophy, either because it is the key element of widespread philosophical theses or because it … Continue reading Luck →.
  25. Moral Luck and Moral Responsibility.Alison Marie Brown - unknown
    The problem of moral luck is rooted in the following pair of conflicting intuitions. On the one hand is the idea that the basis of moral assessments should be limited to factors under agents’ control. This intuition can be formulated as the Control Principle: (CP) We are morally assessable only to the extent that what we are assessed for depends on factors under our control. On the other hand is the fact that there seem to be a plethora of cases (...)
  26. Control, Risk, and the Role of Luck in Moral Responsibility.Eric Brown - 2011 - Philosophy in the Contemporary World 18 (2):11-21.
    Questions about the role of luck in attributions of moral responsibility have troubled theorists for some time. In this paper I will explicate a position that acknowledges luck as a contributing factor to most, if not all, outcomes and consequences while denying luck the exculpatory role that some theorists contend it plays. I begin by going through the characterization of two perspectives on luck offered by Susan Wolf. From there I outline two necessary conditions for the legitimate attribution of praise (...)
  27. A Solution to the Problem of Moral Luck.Brynmor Browne - 1992 - Philosophical Quarterly 42 (168):345-356.
  28. Moreel toeval en symbolisch herstel.Arnold Burms - 2003 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 65 (4):615 - 626.
    This paper does not question the thesis that the phenomena associated with the phrase 'moral luck' point to an important philosophical problem. The aim is, rather, to sketch an interpretation of these phenomena. It is argued that the notion of symbolic restoration is the key we need to understand why the out-come of our actions has a moral significance that is not reducible to the moral significance of the mental states from wich these actions arise.
  29. Differential Demands.Vanessa Carbonell - 2015 - In Marcel van Ackeren & Michael Kuhler (eds.), The Limits of Moral Obligation: Moral Demandingness and Ought Implies Can. Routledge. pp. 36-50.
    If the traditional problem of demandingness is that a theory demands too much of all agents, for example by asking them to maximize utility in every decision, then we should ask whether there is a related problem of “differential demandingness”, when a theory places vastly different demands on different agents. I argue that even according to common-sense morality, the demands faced by particular agents depend on a variety of contingent factors. These include the general circumstances, the compliance of others, the (...)
  30. What We Know and What We Owe.Vanessa Carbonell - 2013 - Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 3.
    Knowledge is necessary for certain moral obligations. In learning something new, one sometimes triggers a moral obligation. This paper argues that the existence of these knowledge-based obligations poses a problem for the view that we are not only free to choose the course of our own lives, including our careers and personal projects, but also free to change our minds and quit at any time to pursue something else. For if our choice of life path has generated knowledge-based moral obligations (...)
  31. Stoicism, Evil, and the Possibility of Morality.Claudia Card - 1998 - Metaphilosophy 29 (4):245-253.
    Martha Nussbaum's work has been characterized by a sustained critique of Stoic ethics, insofar as that ethics denies the validity and importance of our valuing things that elude our control. This essay explores the idea that the very possibility of morality, understood as social or interpersonal ethics, presupposes that we do value such things. If my argument is right, Stoic ethics is unable to recognize the validity of morality (so understood) but can at most acknowledge duties to oneself. A further (...)
  32. The Unnatural Lottery: Character and Moral Luck.Claudia Card - 1996 - temple.
  33. Gender and Moral Luck [1990].Claudia Card - 1995 - In Virginia Held (ed.), Justice and Care: Essential Readings in Feminist Ethics. Westview Press. pp. 79.
  34. Luck, Blame, and Desert.Michael Cholbi - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 169 (2):313-332.
    T.M. Scanlon has recently proposed what I term a ‘double attitude’ account of blame, wherein blame is the revision of one’s attitudes in light of another person’s conduct, conduct that we believe reveals that the individual lacks the normative attitudes we judge essential to our relationship with her. Scanlon proposes that this account justifies differences in blame that in turn reflect differences in outcome luck. Here I argue that although the double attitude account can justify blame’s being sensitive to outcome (...)
  35. The Mengzi and Moral Uncertainty: A Ruist Philosophical Treatment of Moral Luck.Jesse Ciccotti - 2014 - International Philosophical Quarterly 54 (3):297-315.
    In this paper I will argue for a plausible account for moral luck in the Ruist tradition. In part one I will offer a preliminary framework for moral luck to establish an intersection between Ruist virtue ethics and its counterparts outside of Ruism. I will situate the term moral luck in a Ruist context. Although the term moral luck does not appear in The Mengzi the concept was known to Master Meng and is useful for comparison with its foreign counterparts. (...)
  36. Moral Luck, Control, and the Bases of Desert.David W. Concepcion - 2002 - Journal of Value Inquiry 36 (4):455-461.
    If we want to see justice done with regard to responsibility, then we must either (i) allow that people are never morally responsible, (iia) show that luck is not ubiquitous or at least that (iib) ubiquitous luck is not moral, or (iii) show that ascriptions of responsibility can retain justice despite the omnipresence of luck. This paper defends (iii); ascriptions of responsibility can be just even though luck is ubiquitous.
  37. Individual Moral Responsibility and Luck.David Worster Concepcion - 2002 - Dissertation, The University of Wisconsin - Madison
    Thomas Nagel argues that it is impossible for any person to deserve blame since moral luck is ubiquitous. I reject Nagel's argument. Agents may deserve blame, even if resultant, circumstantial, and constitutive luck are widespread and moral. ;After a brief discussion of Williams's assertion that moral value is not supreme, I defend Nagel from critics who argue that there is no such thing as moral luck. This criticism fails for two reasons. First, extant versions of the criticism cannot succeed because (...)
  38. Moral Luck?Margaret Urban Coyne - 1985 - Journal of Value Inquiry 19 (4):319-325.
    Despite bernard williams's and thomas nagel's attempts to show that moral luck poses deep problems about the reality of morality or the tenability of our actual moral concepts, It is argued that moral luck has this sort of alarming result only if we are (roughly) kantians about moral agency. Minus certain implausible assumptions, Moral luck is neither contradictory, Paradoxical, Or even surprising.
  39. Your Luck in Your Hand.A. R. Craig - 1884
  40. Moral Luck in Medical Ethics and Practical Politics.R. Crisp - 1993 - Journal of Medical Ethics 19 (4):242-243.
  41. When Do Circumstances Excuse? Moral Prejudices and Beliefs About the True Self Drive Preferences for Agency-Minimizing Explanations.Simon Cullen - 2018 - Cognition 180:165-181.
    When explaining human actions, people usually focus on a small subset of potential causes. What leads us to prefer certain explanations for valenced actions over others? The present studies indicate that our moral attitudes often predict our explanatory preferences far better than our beliefs about how causally sensitive actions are to features of the actor's environment. Study 1 found that high-prejudice participants were much more likely to endorse non-agential explanations of an erotic same-sex encounter, such as that one of the (...)
  42. Moral Luck and the Flicker of Freedom.Scott A. Davison - 1999 - American Philosophical Quarterly 36 (3):241 - 251.
    I argue that a well-known argument concerning moral luck supports something like the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (PAP), despite the attacks on PAP by Harry Frankfurt and John Martin Fischer.
  43. Moral Luck in Medical Ethics and Practical Politics.Donna Dickenson - 1989 - Dissertation, Open University (United Kingdom)
    Available from UMI in association with The British Library. ;Typically we maintain two incompatible standards towards right action and good character, and the tension between these polarities creates the paradox of moral luck. In practice we regard actions as right or wrong, and character as good or bad, partly according to what happens as a result of the agent's decision. Yet we also think that people should not be held responsible for matters beyond their control. ;This split underpins Kant's assertion (...)
  44. Tossing the Rotten Thing Out: Eliminating Bad Reasons Not to Solve the Problem of Moral Luck.Darren Domsky - 2005 - Philosophy 80 (4):531-541.
    Solving the problem of moral luck—the problem of dealing with conflicting intuitions about whether moral blameworthiness varies with luck in cases of negligence—is like repairing a dented fender in front of two kinds of critic. The one keeps telling you that there is no dent, and the other sees the dent but keeps warning you that repairing it will do more harm than good. It is time to straighten things out. As I argue elsewhere, the solution to the problem of (...)
  45. Moral Dilemmas and Moral Luck.M. V. Dougherty - 2004 - Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 78:233-246.
    In recent years, Alasdair MacIntyre and others have observed an increasing interest on the part of contemporary ethicists regarding the question of whetherinnocent agents ever find themselves in moral dilemmas. This present-day support for the existence of moral dilemmas for innocent agents has spawned a re-reading of canonical ethical texts in the history of philosophy. The point of departure for the present paper is one particularly contentious battleground of this ongoing historical retrieval, namely, the ethical writings of Thomas Aquinas. I (...)
  46. Luck and Fortune in Moral Evaluation.Julia Driver - 2012 - In Martijn Blaauw (ed.), Contrastivism in Philosophy: New Perspectives. Routledge.
  47. Moral Dilemmas and Moral Luck.Timothy John Dunn - 2001 - Dissertation, Rice University
    A moral dilemma is a situation in which a person cannot avoid acting wrongly. In the first part of the dissertation, I examine the two most important arguments for the possibility of moral dilemmas: the incommensurability argument and the argument from guilt. I argue that neither of these arguments is successful. ;In the second part of the dissertation, I show that moral dilemmas are a species of moral luck, or moral responsibility for factors beyond one's control. I argue that those (...)
  48. Is Consequential Luck Morally Inconsequential? Empirical Psychology and the Reassessment of Moral Luck.Rahul Kumar Edward Royzman - 2004 - Ratio 17 (3):329-344.
    Philosophical discussions of the phenomenon that has come to be known as ‘moral luck’ have either dismissed it as illusory or touted it as the evidence for doubting the probative value of our commitment to certain widely avowed views concerning interpersonal assessments of responsibility. In this discussion, we present a third, distinctive interpretation of the moral luck phenomenon. Drawing upon empirically robust results from psychological studies of judgment bias, we argue that the phenomenon of moral luck is demonstrably not illusory. (...)
  49. Review of Moral Luck.Rem B. Edwards - 1985 - International Studies in Philosophy 17 (1):111-112.
  50. Moral Luck and the Criminal Law.Nir Eisikovits - 2005 - In Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O'Rourke & David Shier (eds.), Law and Social Justice. MIT Press. pp. 105--124.
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