Individual Moral Responsibility and Luck

Dissertation, The University of Wisconsin - Madison (2002)

Thomas Nagel argues that it is impossible for any person to deserve blame since moral luck is ubiquitous. I reject Nagel's argument. Agents may deserve blame, even if resultant, circumstantial, and constitutive luck are widespread and moral. ;After a brief discussion of Williams's assertion that moral value is not supreme, I defend Nagel from critics who argue that there is no such thing as moral luck. This criticism fails for two reasons. First, extant versions of the criticism cannot succeed because they do not discuss constitutive luck. Even if there were no resultant or circumstantial moral luck, constitutive moral luck may remain. Second, they do not establish that there is no resultant and circumstantial luck. The nature and content of our moral obligations is influenced by our circumstances and by the results of our actions. Since the existence of moral luck is undeniable, the friend of blameworthiness should look for an alternative to Nagel's view that does not require the non-existence of moral luck. I attempt to develop such an alternative. I argue that people are blameworthy for the choices they make given the circumstances they face and the character they have at the time that they make the choice. Agents may deserve blame, not because there is no moral luck but, in spite of the existence of moral luck. Insofar as they have options, agents are blameworthy for making sub-optimal choices , even if circumstantial and constitutive luck constrain which options are available. Further, I argue that although luck is unavoidable and choice constraining, it is does not eliminate the existence of options. Since luck does not eliminate options and people are blameworthy for the choices they make given the options they have, the existence of moral luck does not preclude blameworthiness. I conclude by arguing specifically that moral integrity is possible for, and especially important to, agents whose lives are infected by luck. We remain obligated to strive for as much moral integrity as possible even if our luck makes this effort difficult and relatively fruitless.
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