Luck*: Richard A. Epstein

Social Philosophy and Policy 6 (1):17-38 (1988)
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John Donne's song was hardly written in the tradition of political philosophy, but it has a good deal to say about the theme of luck, both good and bad, which I want to address. There is no doubt but that bad luck has bad consequences for the persons who suffer from it. If there were a costless way in which the consequences of bad luck could be spread across everyone in society at large, without increasing the risk of its occurrence, then most of us would pronounce ourselves better off for the change. In this sense it can be said, for example, that there is a utilitarian grounding for a moral obligation to care and provide for those persons who suffer the fortunes of bad luck. For the sake of argument I do not wish to contest this particular starting point, although there are many who would. Instead, I want to ask the question of whether this moral obligation should be converted into a legal obligation, backed by public force. The dominant answer to that question today is yes. Even those who think that markets should determine decisions on production find that the state has a proper role to reduce the adverse consequences of bad luck. My cast of mind is more skeptical. In life, or, in this instance, politics, “come bad chance, and we do join to it our strength.” In general the effort to use coercion to counter the adverse effects of luck tends only to make matters worse.



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Property Rights in Persons.Richard J. Arneson - 1992 - Social Philosophy and Policy 9 (1):201-230.

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