Moral Luck Philosophical Issue Related to Free Will Discussion


Moral Luck

A philosophical issue related to free will has been discussed by figures such as Bernard Williams and Thomas Nagel; it is often called “Moral Luck.” This issue is adjacent to, and may be thought of as part and parcel of, the problem of free will—although it is somewhat different. The problem starts off with an intuitive assertion, an assertion that seems deeply rooted in the human moral psyche as such, namely, that we are morally assessable only to the extent that what we are assessed for depends on factors within (or under) our control. Many theorists call this “the control” principle. It is intuitive, compelling, and is intuitively believed by both philosophers and non-philosophers. It seems so commonsensical that rejecting it wholesale seems utterly irrational. The authority of morality seems to depend upon it.

Simple applications of this theory might be as follows: Suppose Jack intentionally and maliciously pushes Mary into another person, causing that person bodily harm. Who should we blame in such a case? Would it be morally correct to punish Mary? The movement of her body was utterly against her will and was solely the result of Jack’s maliciously pushing her. In such a case, wouldn’t it make more sense to blame Jack, and thereby punish Jack? Commonsense would suggest as much. In another typical kind of case, suppose that late one night a driver—haven taken all precautions and abiding by all the rules of the road—runs over and kills a cat that suddenly, and unexpected, darts in front of the vehicle. It would surely seem wrong to blame the driver in such a case. Only a “telepath” or “clairvoyant” would have been able to predict the animal’s movements in such a way as to avoid its untimely death.

The Moral Luck theorist holds that a great deal of human life, if not almost all of human life, involves moral luck (or varying degrees of moral luck). Human beings are thrown into a wild world over which we have very little control. We have little control over the circumstances of our life, the way things turn out (or play out), the circumstances in which we find ourselves, the traits and dispositions that make us who we are (–such as our facticity, economic circumstances, gender, genetic makeup, etc.–); moreover, one has no control over how one is determined by antecedent circumstances (–this is the classic case of free will reemerging once again–).

Do you think “Moral Luck” theory might, in any way be true? Why / why not?


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