Saturday, September 15, 2018

Moral Luck Summary

Moral Luck

There has been discussion recently about what desirism has to say about moral luck.

A reader reminded me that I once wrote a five part series on moral luck, starting with the this link. Reading through it, I still substantially agree with what I wrote back then.

Some of what is called "moral luck" is simple luck. Two people perform a careless action. Luck determines that one of them causes $10 in damage while the other causes $10,000 in damage. To say that the one person owes more compensation than the other is not a matter of moral luck, but of simple luck. If the damage was done to the agent's own property, the fact will remain that the agent will lose more in one case than another, but this difference has nothing to do with culpability.

Some of what is called "moral luck" is epistemic uncertainty. The philosophers with their thought experiments can declare that the cause was outside of the agent's control. However, the real world where we must make judgments day to day in the face of uncertainty is not the world of the philosopher's thought experiment. We have reason to wonder if the difference between success and failure is not actually a part of the agent's character. Consequences are the primary evidence for the culpability of the agent.

We can now combine these two elements with an element of practical rationality.

It takes effort to determine culpability. In light of the epistemic problem, it can take a great deal of effort. There are efficiency reasons for allowing consequence to serve as the primary evidence for culpability. If, per chance, actual culpability is different from what the evidence suggests, this is not "moral luck". This is "simple luck".

By condemning people according to harm done, some will be more severely condemned. Some will be less severely condemned. However, we end up with a practice that condemns such actions on average according to the harm done. That a specific individual in a specific case ends up being punished too little, and another punished too much, is because of the simple luck that cause one person's wrongful action to cause more harm than another's.

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