e-book Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame

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I have published extensively on moral luck; currently, I am working on a monograph about relations between character and moral responsibility for actions. In this monograph, I defend the thesis that certain kinds of luck in results, circumstance, and character can partially determine the praise and blame a person deserves. C hurch Routledge, This interdisciplinary handbook explores the history of luck, the nature of luck, moral luck, epistemic luck, the psychology of luck, and future research on luck.

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I have broad teaching interests in ethics, metaphysics, free will and moral responsibility, biomedical ethics, moral psychology, epistemology, philosophy of religion, and logic as well as in the history of philosophy. Skip to content Robert J. I earned my PhD in philosophy from St. Louis University May Email: roberthartman gmail. C hurch Routledge, This interdisciplinary handbook explores the history of luck, the nature of luck, moral luck, epistemic luck, the psychology of luck, and future research on luck.

TEACHING I have broad teaching interests in ethics, metaphysics, free will and moral responsibility, biomedical ethics, moral psychology, epistemology, philosophy of religion, and logic as well as in the history of philosophy. How to read philosophy. Let's stipulate that an otherwise exactly identical person, Georg, who was transferred by his company to Argentina just before the Nazis took over, led an exemplary life there. Zimmerman claims that if it is true of Georg that he would have freely behaved as bad as Hans did but for a fortuitous circumstance over which he had no control his having being transferred to Argentina , then he and Hans are blameworthy to the same degree.

It is true that in this case the scope of Georg responsibility is null, but never mind: he still is, in Zimmerman's words, "responsible tout court" , p. I think there are several problems with this proposal. Let me briefly mention three. It is claimed that the driver who killed a child is responsible for more things than the driver who didn't, despite the fact that both are responsible to the same degree. This implies that the additional thing the unlucky driver is responsible for the child's death adds nothing to his "net degree" of responsibility, which in turn implies that he is zero degrees responsible for it.

The problem is that the idea that someone can be responsible for something despite being zero degrees responsible for it is incoherent. The reason is that, when a character trait X or a set of such traits is essential for who the agent is, we cannot make sense of a counterfactual of the form "If the agent lacked X, he would have freely committed wrongdoing," for in that case the agent in question wouldn't exist. And if it is indeed the case that the essential trait or set of traits in question led the agent to behave rightly, then it turns out that he escaped responsibility through luck after all.

Finally, Zimmerman's assumption that judgments of responsibility are essentially about a person's moral record is questionable.

Moral Luck: Crash Course Philosophy #39

A plausible alternative is to think that, when we judge someone blameworthy for something, our central concern isn't whether he controlled every single factor that may have influenced his conduct, but something more prosaic like whether he was capable of avoiding wrongdoing. This second usual strategy is the opposite of Zimmerman's: it consists in fully accepting moral luck and arguing that Nagel's paradox is generated only because he mistakenly assumes that the CC is an essential element of the ordinary conception of responsible agency.

So once we realize that the CC is not part of that ordinary conception, the paradox vanishes. A representative adherent of this strategy is Margaret Walker Walker claims that the CC is part and parcel of a "noumenal" or "pure" conception of agency stretching back to Kant, according to which agents are only morally assessable for the effects of "that causality which may be identified with the agent itself, e. She then claims that this conception is fundamentally at odds with moral practice, since the latter is premised on the assumption that competent moral agents grasp the fact that they are entangled "in a causally complex world with imperfectly predictable results" , p.

Grasp of this fact, Walker continues, is what allows moral agents to exhibit the "virtues of impure agency," such as integrity and dependability in the face of unexpected circumstances resulting, in part, from one's own actions. By contrast, a world of pure agents, who defend "the strict correlation of moral assessment and responsibility with control" , p.

Walker's argument against the CC is thus twofold: on the one hand, that such condition is not part of the ordinary conception of responsible agency but, rather, the product of a philosophical fiction, i.


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On the other, that a world of such noumenal or pure agents-that is, of agents who endorse the CC-would be morally appalling. Both of these points can be disputed, however. Concerning the first, it is simply false that the CC is essentially tied to Nagel's or, for that matter, Kant's conception of responsible agency.

On the contrary, one can offer an interpretation of the CC that is compatible with the fact of our entanglement "in a causally complex world. Walker's second point can also be disputed. The worry here is that if responsibility is correlated with control, agents are entitled to do nothing to remedy the harmful yet unintended results of their actions.

But a defender of the CC isn't committed to this unpalatable result; there are at least two different ways in which he can respond to Walker's worry. First, he can defend the idea that blameworthiness is strictly correlated with control, and yet contend that agents are morally expected to take responsibility for at least some of the unexpected consequences of their actions.

The way to do so is to claim that an agent's blameworthiness increases when a bad yet unintended outcome occurs only if the agent had, at a previous time, certain degree of control to prevent its actualization. I will now present what I see as a better approach to handle Nagel's paradox: not by trying to decide whether control or luck must give way to the other, but rather by diagnosing what it is that gives rise to the paradox in the first place.

I will argue that the paradox is built upon an extremely demanding picture of the "nature" of moral judgments, and that once we reject this picture and adopt a plausible alternative the paradox vanishes. Nagel claims that the "skeptical problems" that become apparent as soon as we confront the pervasiveness of luck "arise not from the imposition of an arbitrary external requirement, but from the nature of moral judgment itself" Nagel , p.

It is Nagel's view, then, that something about the very nature of moral judgment is what gets the moral luck paradox going. What exactly is this? He provides the answer in the following passage:.


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  4. Moral judgment of a person is judgment not of what happens to him, but of him We are judging him, rather than his existence or characteristics. The effect of concentrating on the influence of what is not under his control is to make this responsible self seem to disappear, swallowed up by the order of mere events idem. It thus follows from this conception of the nature of moral judgment that anything that merely happens to the agent-anything outside the agent's control-cannot be taken into account when we judge him morally. Particularly, everything due to mere luck must be left out from our judgments.

    This is why the consistent application of the constitutive requirement of moral judgment-the CC-seems to undermine moral judgment itself: the latter demands something that cannot be secured, namely, an agent with total control 17 over everything that has an impact on his actions.

    So in effect the Active Self I discussed in section 2 is a self that has-or is expected to have-this kind of all-encompassing control. Call this Nagel's "core argument" for the moral luck paradox. Nagel's core argument is thus based on a certain conception of the nature of moral judgments. What I will do in order to support my contention that the paradox can be cleanly sidestepped is to argue that such conception is highly contestable and to provide an alternative. I will also claim that a fair opportunity account of control fits nicely with this alternative.

    Begin by noting the obvious fact that, although Nagel refers generically to the nature of "moral judgment," he is concerned with a species of the latter, namely, judgments of moral responsibility. These attitudes are thought to be constitutive of responses of moralized praise and blame: when we praise or blame someone, our response is guided by them.

    And when we judge that someone is praiseworthy or blameworthy, we are judging that the person in question is an appropriate or fitting target of these attitudes. So judgments of responsibility form a class of judgments that have to do with moralized praise and blame and the associated reactive attitudes.

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    Moral responsibility - Wikipedia

    Now it is certainly true that this class of judgments seems to presuppose some form of control on the part of the person being judged. When we blame someone for something he did, we assume that the action was in some sense to be specified under his control. If we discover that this wasn't the case, then, although we may still experience certain characteristic reactions dismay, consternation, etc. Suppose that this picture of what responsibility judgments involve is on the right track and that, as stated so far, constitutes common ground between Nagel and his opponent.

    Now ask: Do we have any reasons for accepting Nagel's implicit claim that the only form of control that is compatible with judgments of responsibility so conceived is total control?

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    Recall that this would be the kind of control an agent exhibits when he can control everything that has an impact on his actions, including his character, the circumstances in which he acts, the causal history of his actions and their results. It won't do for Nagel just to insist that "Moral judgment of a person is judgment not of what happens to him, but of him" , p.

    That is, the opponent can concede that moral judgments or, more precisely, judgments of responsibility are focused on the agent-on what he does rather than on what he merely undergoes. So at this point the dialectic seems to face a stalemate. Nagel insists, and his opponent denies, that the presupposition of total control is intertwined with the nature of judgments of responsibility. Is this just a clash of intuitions? I don't think so. To move the discussion forward, consider the following: if Nagel's conception of responsibility judgments is right, a certain form of global skepticism about responsibility follows.

    If, as I think it is indeed the case, there is only a small step from Nagel's "paradoxicalism" to global skepticism about responsibility, then this is an excellent reason for questioning the assumptions that fuel the former. At this point I appeal to Randolph Clarke's eminently sane-sounding strategy for dealing with the responsibility skeptic:.