Responsibility and moral luck: Comments on Benjamin Zipursky, 'two dimensions of responsibility in crime, tort, and moral luck'
Theoretical Inquiries in Law Forum 9 (1):39-46 (2008)
The essence of the moral luck question is whether the responsibility of persons is determined only in light of actions that are within their control or also in light of factors, such as the consequences of their actions, which are beyond their control. Most people seem to have contrasting intuitions regarding this question. On the one hand, there is a common intuition that the responsibility of persons should be judged only in light of what is within their control. On the other hand, there is a strong intuition that the consequences of actions sometimes affect the responsibility of agents even when these consequences depend on factors that are beyond their control. A parallel dilemma is present in the law. Legal rules, particularly criminal law rules and tort rules, often differentiate between agents in light of factors that are beyond their control, and in this sense involve legal luck. Of course, factors beyond the control of persons, including the consequences of their actions, can be significant, with respect to the evaluation of the responsibility of persons for instrumental or epistemic reasons. The question is thus only with respect to the independent significance of factors beyond the control of agents, and particularly the consequences of actions, to the evaluation of the (extent of the) responsibility of agents. Benjamin Zipursky offers an interesting argument in order to support the intuition in favor of moral and legal luck, particularly with regard to consequences, especially the rule according to which the punishment of completed offences is more severe than the punishment of attempts and the rule that tort liability applies only to actions that have caused harm. The aim of this Comment is to evaluate this argument. I will try to consider to what extent Zipursky's explanation merely reiterates the familiar intuition that the normative evaluation of the conduct of persons should be influenced by consequential luck, and to what extent it provides new insights that might appeal also to those who are more forcefully drawn to the contrasting intuition that we should judge people only in light of factors that are within their control. I argue that while Zipursky's suggestions might appeal to those who already share the intuition in favor of (consequential) moral and legal luck, they would not convince those who have doubts regarding moral and legal luck.
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