Moral Luck

Moral Luck - Normative Ethics/Merli Moral Luck I. Nagel on...

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Normative Ethics/Merli Moral Luck I. Nagel on moral luck. Kantian intuition: the good will has value regardless of its effects. We judge people based on what they are responsible for or what they control The nature of blame suggests this. What’s more our intuitions about evaluation support this: we withdraw evaluations on learning more about agency, e.g. Like skepticism in that the problem comes from our everyday standards (compare closure and BIV worries) The problem: in fact we judge people based on factors beyond their control. This seems to contradict our idea that control and responsibility go hand in hand. II. Some different kinds of moral luck (a) Luck in how one’s actions and projects turn out (i) the difference between reckless driving and manslaughter might be whether or not a pedestrian wanders into the street or not (ii) leaving the baby in the bathtub to answer the phone: if the child drowns, you’ve done a horrible thing; if the child survives, you’ve merely been careless (iii) starting the revolution might be heroic, if you succeed, or it might leave you with a lot of blood on your hands, if it fails and makes repression worse Generally: “how things turn out” is going to affect or determine “what you have done” (There’s no way of indexing your action to epistemic situation, e.g., in order to inoculate yourself from blame, Nagel thinks) (b) constitutive luck: luck in ‘who one is’ (i) because of genetics and early circumstance, you’re a mean, unpleasant person (ii) generally, your “inclinations, capacities, and temperment” are beyond your control— but they affect our evaluations of you (c) luck in circumstance (i) the Midwestern businessman who would have served in the Third Reich if the circumstances were different (ii) the guard at Dachau who would have lived a quiet, law-abiding life if the Nazis hadn’t come to power (1) read Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of Evil for a disturbing account of a possible case of ‘luck in circumstance’ (2) don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re not like the others. (Case: the Milgram obedience experiments.) III. What’s the problem? The problem with moral luck is that it points out a tension between two important commitments. (a) the Kantian intuition: moral evaluation applies to things that are under our control,
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because moral action is an expression of our agency or will some related, non-identical thoughts: ought implies can (our obligations are limited by what we can do) the desert/responsibility thesis—what we deserve is determined by what we’re responsible for common theme: moral evaluation limited to what we do potential justification: if morality involves influencing action, it doesn’t make sense to assess what people don’t do.
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This note was uploaded on 04/18/2008 for the course PHI 374 taught by Professor Merli during the Fall '07 term at F & M.

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Moral Luck - Normative Ethics/Merli Moral Luck I. Nagel on...

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