In Defense of Moral Luck: Why Luck Often Affects Praiseworthiness and Blameworthiness

New York: Routledge (2017)
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Abstract

There is a contradiction in our ideas about moral responsibility. In one strand of our thinking, we believe that a person can become more blameworthy by luck. Consider some examples in order to make that idea concrete. Two reckless drivers manage their vehicles in the same way, and one but not the other kills a pedestrian. Two corrupt judges would each freely take a bribe if one were offered. By luck of the courthouse draw, only one judge is offered a bribe, and so only one takes a bribe. Luck is the salient difference between the agents in each case. After all, the spatial location of the pedestrian is outside of each driver’s control, and being offered a bribe is outside of each judge’s control. But we blame the killer driver more than the merely reckless driver, and we blame the bribe-taker more than the mere would-be bribe-taker. This is because we believe that the killer driver and the bribe-taker are more blameworthy than each of their counterparts. Nevertheless, the idea that luck affects moral responsibility contradicts another feature of our thinking captured in this moral principle: A person’s blameworthiness cannot be affected by that which is not within her control. This moral principle yields the verdict that the drivers are equally blameworthy and that the judges are equally blameworthy. So, to put the contradiction in concrete terms, our thinking about moral responsibility implies that the drivers are and are not equally blameworthy, and the same is true for the judges. I argue that only the first strand of our thinking is correct. Certain kinds of luck in results, circumstances, and character can partially determine a person’s praiseworthiness and blameworthiness. In terms of the examples, I argue that the killer driver and the bribe-taker are more blameworthy than each of their counterparts. But if I am to make genuine progress in the moral luck debate, my arguments cannot appeal to case intuitions such as ‘the killer driver is more blameworthy,’ because the problem of moral luck is fundamentally a clash of intuitions. So, I offer arguments from diverse areas in philosophy in order to ensure that they do not bottom out in standard pro-moral luck intuitions.

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Robert J. Hartman
Ohio Northern University

Citations of this work

Moral Luck and The Unfairness of Morality.Robert J. Hartman - 2019 - Philosophical Studies 176 (12):3179-3197.
Moral Responsibility.Matthew Talbert - 2019 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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Skepticism About Moral Responsibility.Gregg D. Caruso - 2018 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2018):1-81.
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References found in this work

Against Luck-Free Moral Responsibility.Robert J. Hartman - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (10):2845-2865.
The Lack of Control Account of Luck.Wayne Riggs - 2019 - In Ian M. Church & Robert J. Hartman (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy and Psychology of Luck. New York: Routledge. pp. 125-135.

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