Author's Summary of "Nagel (Thomas) - Moral Luck"
- However, whether we appreciate the role of luck in our lives or not can have a profound impact on how we see and treat others. The philosopher Thomas Nagel claims that things for which we are morally judged are determined, in more ways than we think, by what’s beyond our control. What we are and do, what we become or have done, all these things are dependent on what he called ‘moral luck’.
- Nagel identifies four ways in which moral judgment is subject to luck. The first is the kind of person you are: intelligent, disciplined, tall (a disproportionate number of CEOs are above average height). The second is your circumstances, the situations you face. The third is luck in how one is determined by antecedent circumstances. The fourth is luck in the way one’s actions turn out. Nagel takes a drunk driver who is caught and charged with drunk driving. He is seen morally differently to the drunk driver in a parallel world who has a child step out in front of his car, leaving no time for even a sober driver to swerve. Our moral judgment is more severe towards the latter. Nagel asked: ‘How is it possible to be more or less culpable depending on whether a child gets into the path of one’s car … ?’
- According to Nagel, across these elements of moral luck, the idea of us having genuine agency, and therefore being able to be legitimately morally judged, seems to shrink. Yet, we don’t view ourselves simply as results of external circumstances and genetic fate. We have an idea of the boundary between what’s us and what’s not us, what we do and what happens to us, who we are and what fate throws in our path. This remains true even when we accept Nagel’s arguments that we are not ultimately responsible for our own existence, or nature, or the circumstances that give our acts the consequences they have. As there’s a close connection between our feelings about ourselves and our feelings about others, this allows us to feel justified in judging others, even when we accept how little responsibility they have.
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