Williams - Bernard Williams, "Moral Luck," in...

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Bernard Williams, "Moral Luck," in Moral Luck (Cambridge: CUP, 1981) The capacity for moral agency is supposedly present to any rational agent whatsoever, to anyone for whom the question can even present itself. The successful moral life, removed from considerations of birth, lucky upbringing, or indeed of the incomprehensible Grace of a non- Pelagian God, is presented as a career open not merely to the talents, but to a talent which all rational beings necessarily possess in the same degree. Such a conception has an ultimate form of justice at its heart, and that is its allure. Kantianism is only superficially repulsive-despite appearances, it offers an inducement, solace to a sense of the world's unfairness. It can offer that solace, however, only if something more is granted. Even if moral value were radically unconditioned by luck, that would not be very significant if moral value were merely one kind of value among others. Rather, moral value has to possess some special, indeed supreme, kind of dignity or importance. The thought that there is a kind of value which is, unlike others, accessible to all rational agents, offers little encouragement if that kind of value is merely a last resort, the doss-house of the spirit. Rather, it must have a claim on one's most fundamental concerns as a rational agent, and in one's recognition of that one is supposed to grasp, not only morality's immunity to luck, but one's own partial immunity to luck through morality. Any conception of 'moral luck', on this view, is radically incoherent. The phrase indeed sounds strange. This is because the Kantian conception embodies, in a very pure form, something which is basic to our ideas of morality. Yet the aim of making morality immune to luck is bound to be disappointed. The form of this point which is most familiar, from discussion of freewill, is that the dispositions of morality, however far back they are placed in the direction of motive and intention, are as 'conditioned1 as anything else. However, the bitter truth (I take it to be both) that morality is subject, after all, to constitutive luck is not what I am going to discuss. The Kantian conception links, and affects, a range of notions: morality, rationality, justification, and ultimate or supreme value. The linkage between those notions, under Kantian conception, has a number of consequences for the agent's reflective assessment of his own actions-for instance, that, at the ultimate and most important level, it cannot be a matter of luck whether he was justified in doing what he did. It is this area that I want to consider. I shall in fact say very little until the end about the moral, concentrating rather on ideas of rational justification. This is the right place to start, I believe, since almost everyone has some commitment to ideas of this kind about rationality and justification, while they may be disposed to think, so far as morality is concerned, that all that is in question is the pure Kantian conception, and that conception merely represents an obsessional
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This note was uploaded on 11/09/2010 for the course PH ph150 taught by Professor ?? during the Spring '10 term at BU.

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Williams - Bernard Williams, "Moral Luck," in...

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