Belief in Karma in Action

 Posted by on 27 March 2015 at 10:00 am  Ethics, Luck, Medicine
Mar 272015

Back in December, I answered a question about the reality of karma on Philosophy in Action Radio. If you’ve not yet heard it, you can listen to or download the relevant segment of the podcast here:

Then, some weeks ago, Robert Garmong sent me a tidbit from this article — Shock and Anger in Cambodian Village Struck With H.I.V. — relevant to karma:

The villagers’ affection for the doctor does not blunt their pain and bewilderment over the mass infection. Prum Em, Ms. Yao’s 84-year-old husband, stares with blank incomprehension when asked about the infections, which struck across three generations.

“I have done only good deeds my whole life,” he said. “It’s inconceivable that the family could have this much bad luck.”

Robert Garmong added:

There’s no specific evidence that this is what happened, but it could easily have been the case that this man’s family members intentionally took risky injections because “my family has only done good deeds, so surely the downside risk won’t happen to me.” I doubt that’s what happened, because there’s no evidence that the people even knew they were taking a risk. But the point remains. By messing with people’s rational calculations, the concept of “karma” leads in principle to self-destructive thinking.

Excellent example!


I’m delighted to announce that my first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, is now available for purchase in paperback, as well as for Kindle and Nook.

The book defends the justice of moral praise and blame of persons using an Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility, thereby refuting Thomas Nagel’s “problem of moral luck.” It’s an academic work but accessible to anyone with an interest in philosophy.

About Responsibility & Luck

Does the pervasive influence of luck in life mean that people cannot be held responsible for their choices? Do people lack the control required to justify moral praise and blame?

In his famous article “Moral Luck,” philosopher Thomas Nagel casts doubt on our ordinary moral judgments of persons. He claims that we intuitively accept that moral responsibility requires control, yet we praise and blame people for their actions, the outcomes of those actions, and their characters — even though shaped by forces beyond their control, i.e., by luck. This is the “problem of moral luck.”

Philosopher Diana Hsieh argues that this attack on moral judgment rests on a faulty view of control, as well as other errors. By developing Aristotle’s theory of moral responsibility, Hsieh explains the sources and limits of a person’s responsibility for what he does, what he produces, and who he is. Ultimately, she shows that moral judgments are not undermined by luck.

In addition, this book explores the nature of moral agency and free will, the purpose of moral judgment, causation in tort and criminal law, the process of character development, and more.

For more information, including two sample chapters and the detailed table of contents, visit the book’s web page.

Again, you can purchase Responsibility & Luck in paperback, as well as for Kindle and Nook.

Paperback Kindle Nook

Like every author, I depend on good reviews of the book on Amazon, social media, and elsewhere. So once you’ve read Responsibility & Luck, please review it!


Not too long ago, I realized that my four-lecture 2010 OCON course — Luck in the Pursuit of Life: The Rational Egoist’s Approach to Luck — is available from the Ayn Rand Bookstore for just $22.38.

Update: As of January 2013, this course is no longer available from ARB. Check this page to see if it’s available now.

Here’s the course description:

Many people think of luck as a metaphysical force in the universe: they aim to increase good luck and decrease bad luck. That’s wrong—but how should rational egoists think about luck? This course argues that we ought to diminish the influence of luck on our lives by more fully exerting our powers of rational, purposeful control.

After defining luck, the first two lectures of this course survey two major false views of luck. The first lecture examines the religious view, exemplified by Augustine, that luck is a mere illusion because every event is the product of divine providence. The second lecture examines the modern egalitarian view, developed by philosophers John Rawls and Thomas Nagel, that luck is so pervasive in life that no one can be said to justly deserve anything, not merely economic goods but moral praise and blame too. These two views of luck are not merely based on false assumptions. When practiced, a person is subject to more blind luck than ever before.

Then the course turns to the rational approach to luck. First, Aristotle’s writings on moral responsibility, plus Ayn Rand’s argument for explicit philosophy, provide a framework for thinking about how to expand our power to shape our lives and thereby minimize luck. The heroes in Atlas Shrugged exemplify this approach, while the villains concretize its opposite. Next, the course considers some of the ways in which the Objectivist virtues make possible greater rational, purposeful control over our pursuit of values. Finally, the fourth lecture discusses some practical strategies for minimizing the effects of luck on our pursuits, with a focus on managing emergencies, increasing productivity, dealing with irrational people, and engaging in political activism.

Apr 112012

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed cultivating good luck. The question was:

Can and should a person try to cultivate his own “good luck”? For example, a construction worker might leave his business card with neighbors in case they or anyone they might know happens to need his services in the future. Similarly, an investor might look to buy stock in companies with promising patents pending or forthcoming products. Is pursuing these kinds of uncertain opportunities a means of cultivating good luck?
My answer, in brief:
Good luck is not a force in the universe that a person can cultivate. Rather, to the extent that a person extends his knowledge and control over his life, he minimizes the effects of luck in life. That’s the right approach.
Here’s the video of my full answer:
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Compensating for Unequal Luck

 Posted by on 21 June 2010 at 7:00 am  Ethics, Luck, Politics
Jun 212010

Back in January, I wrote a blog post entitled No Kindles on Campus: All Must Be Blind. It concerned the news that three colleges seeking to experiment with using the Kindle rather than expensive textbooks were forbidden from doing so by the Justice Department because they’re not fully functional for blind students. In writing that post, I cut the following few paragraphs from it when I decided that I wanted to go in a different direction. However, I liked them so much that I saved them. When I ran across them yesterday, I decided to make a quick blog post out of them. Without further ado…

To assert that supposedly lucky people are obliged to sacrifice for supposedly unlucky people — even just for the sake of equal opportunities — means penalizing people for their virtues, effort, and success. How so? Of course, we cannot possibly equalize people’s luck. That would require making everyone’s life like a video game, such that each person played experienced the same world, faced the same obstacles, and possessed the same capacities and tools. That’s absurd — and impossible. Yet implicitly, that is the egalitarian ideal, as best exemplified by John Rawls’ “veil of ignorance.”

So what does the egalitarian of opportunity actually advocate? He advocates sacrificing better-off people to worse-off people. Consider how opportunities might be equalized. People living in wealthy neighborhoods might be taxed at higher rates to support schools in poorer neighborhoods, so as to give children similar educations regardless of the wealth of their parents. People who earn more might be taxed more (whether in absolute numbers or percentages) to find welfare programs, so that even poor children might not suffer from the poverty of their parents. The most qualified person for some position might be passed over for a promotion, so that a person with a pitiable background might not suffer doubly from that.

To adopt any of those policies is to penalize people because they are better off — meaning for their virtues, effort, and success. It’s not compensation for luck, as that cannot be isolated. It’s inflicting sacrifices on the good because they are the good. Ultimately, just as in Kurt Vonnegut’s story Harrison Bergeron, that’s the only way to make people equal: degrade and burden the more rational, capable, and ambitious people until they cannot do any better than than the irrational, the inept, and the shiftless.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha