Justification, Regret, and Moral Complaint: Looking Forward and Looking Backward on (and in) Human Life

R. Jay Wallace

in Luck, Value, and Commitment

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780199599325
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741500 | DOI:
Justification, Regret, and Moral Complaint: Looking Forward and Looking Backward on (and in) Human Life

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Consider a teenage girl who is contemplating motherhood. Prior to her becoming pregnant, it seems that she might truly judge that it would be a bad thing on balance to have a child at this stage in her life. After giving birth as a teenager, however, she might also truly judge that it is not a bad thing on balance that her child exists. These attitudes have commonly been thought to be in tension with each other. This chapter argues, however, that when correctly interpreted in deliberative terms, as judgments about the agent's reasons, the apparent conflict disappears. Giving birth changes the girl's situation, in ways that give rise to corresponding changes in her reasons for action and for various emotional responses. A consequence of this analysis, however, is that there may be mistakes or errors in deliberation that the agent is unable to regret having made. The teenage mother ought not to having conceived and given birth to a child at that stage in her life; and yet, as a mother, she can hardly regret having made the wrong decision in this particular matter. This raises large questions about the relation between justification and regret. Williams argues in ‘Moral Luck’ that our decisions can be justified or ‘unjustified’ retroactively through intervening circumstances that make regret either impossible or unavoidable. The chapter challenges Williams' assumption that justification and regret are necessarily connected in this way, and shows that the things that drive a wedge between justification and regret need not have anything to do with epistemic luck.

Keywords: luck; morality; regret; justification; affirmation; identity; Bernard Williams; non-identity problem; guilt; resentment; reasons; values

Chapter.  14747 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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