Gauguin's Lucky Escape: Moral Luck and the Morality System

In Sophie Grace Chappell & Marcel van Ackaren (eds.), Ethics Beyond the Limits: New Essays on Bernard Williams’ Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. London, UK: pp. 129-47 (2019)

Authors
Gerald Lang
University of Leeds
Abstract
Williams’s attack on the ‘morality system’ in Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy was preceded by his famous but misunderstood essay ‘Moral Luck’. This essay pursues two principal aims. First and foremost, I take a fresh look at Williams’s argument in ‘Moral Luck’, to assess its defensibility. Second, I investigate how Williams’s treatment of moral luck shapes and informs the wider assault on the ‘morality system’ which reached its fullest expression in the later work. We can learn something about both of Williams’s projects—his defence of moral luck, and his attack on the morality system—by seeing how each of these projects contributes to the other. Drawing on Williams’s discussion of Gauguin’s desertion of his family for a life of artistic endeavour in Tahiti, six interpretations of Williams’s argument are suggested. While some of these are better than others, none is completely satisfying or convincing. It is suggested, in conclusion, that the attack on anti-luckism does not make an indispensable contribution to Williams’s attack on the morality system.
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