Moral Dilemmas and Moral Luck

Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 78:233-246 (2004)
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Abstract

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 contend that Aquinas is not an ally of those who defend the existence of moral dilemmas for innocent agents. However, Aquinas does present what is in my view a valuable contribution to the discussion of moral dilemmas as such. I show that a close textual reading of one of Aquinas’s examples leads to some rather interesting consequences for his moral theory, and that, surprisingly, this example could be of interest to contemporary ethicists who argue for the existence of moral luck.

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M. V. Dougherty
Ohio Dominican University

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