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Responsibility And Moral Luck

  One is responsible for one\'s actions just if one can be held accountable for them, and so can be praised or blamed for them. One is responsible for one\'s actions only if they were within one\'s control. Nagel has argued that the notion of moral luck is incoherent. This is the idea that one\'s moral status, that one\'s being worthy of blame or praise, can be affected by factors beyond one\'s control, by one\'s luck.

Suppose that two drivers get drunk and crash onto a pavement. One is lucky: no one is on the pavement. The other is unlucky: a child is on the pavement and is killed by the collision. There were thus two very different outcomes. The first outcome was a car crash in which no one was hurt. The second outcome was the death of a child. But the two drivers\' contributions to these outcomes were exactly the same. They both got drunk. The difference between the outcomes was determined by a factor beyond the drivers\' control, whether or not someone was on the pavement they mounted. The difference between the outcomes was determined by luck. So, Nagel argues, the drivers must be equally culpable. AJ

See also freedom and determinism.Further reading T. Nagel, Moral Questions; , B. Williams, Moral Luck.



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