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moral luck


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A phenomenon identified and christened by Bernard Williams and investigated by Thomas Nagel. In the Kantian tradition, a person's moral worth depends only on the quality of their will, and is thus independent of external circumstance. But reflection shows that our ordinary estimates of persons may depend greatly on external matters, and even matters of chance. For example, it may be chance whether my driving has an accident as a consequence, yet I will rightly feel worse about myself, and be judged more harshly by others, if it does. It may be luck whether or not I am put in circumstances in which my weaknesses come to the fore, but again, if I am so placed, I will be judged more harshly than if I am not. Equally, the beneficiary of good luck will find his or her character estimated more highly than an equally deserving victim of misfortune. In some cultures (e.g. that of the Icelandic sagas), possession of good luck was a merit or virtue, akin to wisdom or strength. See also Gauguin problem.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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