Avoiding Luck: The Problem of Moral Luck and its Significance

Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada) (1998)

I have two aims in the thesis. First, to explore the notion of luck and second, to apply the results of that exploration to the problem of moral luck. The problem of moral luck stems from a conflict between the intuition that luck should not affect a person's moral status and the fact that, in practice, luck does seem to affect a person's moral status. The problem was brought to wide attention by Bernard Williams and Thomas Nagel in 1976. Since then a number of philosophers have offered solutions to it. I argue that none of those solutions succeed. To see this, we must undertake an analysis of the notion of luck. From discussions of luck by Aristotle, Daniel Dennett and Nicholas Rescher, I develop an account of luck as a property of pairs of events and people. The degree to which a pair possesses that property varies with chance and value, and so upon perspective. I use the account to show the problem of moral luck to be insoluble for any system of morality that involves the evaluation of individuals. Cases of moral luck will arise on any such moral system. I close the thesis by arguing that the inescapability of moral luck leads us to some one of two possible conclusions about morality: either there is a sort of unfairness built into morality or we must reject a very natural form of moral evaluation, namely the assessment of a person's moral worth . Either conclusion is surprising, hence the problem of moral luck is of considerable importance.
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