Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame
By Diana Hsieh
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.
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Chapter One introduces Thomas Nagel's problem of moral luck, then surveys the three major types of moral luck – resultant moral luck, circumstantial moral luck, and constitutive moral luck. The problem of moral luck is not merely some small problem in ethics. It threatens to undermine any and all moral praise and blame of persons. It also provides the foundation for John Rawls' arguments for an egalitarian political order. This chapter concludes by surveying the book as a whole, chapter by chapter.
View or download the PDF of Chapter One.
Chapter Three critically examines Thomas Nagel's concept of "control," so crucial to his case for the existence of moral luck. Nagel claims that his view of control is the "intuitively plausible" condition for moral responsibility. Yet in fact, Nagel's view of control is unrealistic and impossibly strict. A few commentators on the problem of moral luck have noticed that problem, yet none made good use of it. To do so, a theory of moral judgment and moral responsibility must be developed from scratch, as is done in Chapters Four and Five.
View or download the PDF of Chapter Three.
Contents in Detail lists the page numbers for each chapter and its sections. This listing shows the structure of the book, as well as topics covered.
View or download the PDF of the Contents in Detail.