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Moral Luck watch

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    So! I read a paper by Nagel called 'Moral Luck' and it has really got me thinking. In short, he states that if it is true that we are not morally accountable for things beyond our control (this is known as the control principle), and it is also true that moral luck exists (that luck in our circumstances/the success of our intended actions/etc. exists), then it turns out we are accountable for pretty much nothing. After all, I didn't choose to have my personality, or my values (maybe?), or to be born into my circumstances - it is quite beyond my control - so if we apply the control principle consistently, we are morally accountable for nothing!

    To illustrate this with examples, partially stolen from Nagel: if I tread on your foot, you will hopefully excuse me if I only did it because the dude next to me pushed me, because it was out of my control. If I just did it for fun, you'd probably hold me accountable for my action.
    Sticking with this principle, consider people in Nazi Germany who did Bad Things. If the Nazi party had not come to power, they'd never have done anything like that, and would probably have lived nice quiet inoffensive lives. It was beyond their control that circumstances led to them being in a position to do Bad Things. Compare them to a similar person who happened to leave Germany a couple of years before, and went to live somewhere abroad where they lived a nice quiet inoffensive live. Their character is (let's say) identical to the person who stayed in Germany; their circumstances, which are beyond their control, were different. Yet, we do not consider them moral equals! One did bad things and the other did not!

    Another example! If I got super drunk and started driving my car around, luck will decide whether I hit someone or not. Maybe I drive my car really fast, swerving everywhere, but nobody sees me and nobody gets hurt. You think I'm an irresponsible jerk, for sure. If I did the same thing, not looking where I was going, and I happened to hit someone unintentionally, you're going to judge me much more harshly! And I'm going to judge myself much more harshly, because I didn't just put people in danger (morally reprehensible); I put people in danger AND hurt someone (more morally reprehensible?)! But the difference in outcomes is beyond my control, so there should be no moral difference if we accept the control principle!
    There are lots more examples - if I leave a baby in the bath and walk off for a minute, realise in horror and run back, there is a moral difference between endangering it and it being fine, and between it drowning and dying. If you save a person from a building on fire, there is a moral difference between accidentally dropping them from the 30th floor, and between carrying them to safety. How do we account for these moral differences?

    Nagel doesn't really give an answer to this problem, and I want one! Do we give up the idea that we are not morally accountable for what is beyond our control (but it seems so plausible!) or give up the idea that moral luck exists (that there is a difference between the two German dudes)? I've been thinking all day and I still haven't resolved the issue. Over to you?
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    I think the best way to deal with this is to look at the examples listed.

    (Original post by covered farm wagon)
    if I tread on your foot, you will hopefully excuse me if I only did it because the dude next to me pushed me, because it was out of my control.
    Here immediately we find a rogue word "hopefully", because it's not that clear cut is it?

    Why did the guy push you?

    Did you make suitable effort to avoid the situation?

    Did you make suitable effort to avoid my foot?

    Did you incite him?

    Your input into the scenario dictates my level of forgiveness.

    If I just did it for fun, you'd probably hold me accountable for my action.
    Yes.

    Sticking with this principle, consider people in Nazi Germany who did Bad Things. If the Nazi party had not come to power, they'd never have done anything like that, and would probably have lived nice quiet inoffensive lives.
    I immediately see a problem here.

    I highly doubt that the worst war criminals, regardless of war, would have lead inoffensive lives had the situation of war not presented itself.

    It isn't the situation that made them do bad things, they chose to do them, the situation only presented them with a greater opportunity.

    So the chances are that even had luck dealt a different hand we would still be holding some atrocity, or missdeed against them.

    It was beyond their control that circumstances led to them being in a position to do Bad Things.
    Not really.

    Hitler was democratly elected, therefore a sizeable proportion of the people charged with war crimes made an active contribution in creating the situation, what's more I would imagine that those who supported him most were the ones who followed his plans, and ideals the closest, and were therefore more likely to be held accountable for war crimes.

    In other words they contributed to the circumstances, it wasn't just happenstance.

    Compare them to a similar person who happened to leave Germany a couple of years before, and went to live somewhere abroad where they lived a nice quiet inoffensive live. Their character is (let's say) identical to the person who stayed in Germany; their circumstances, which are beyond their control, were different.
    Firstly I would dispute their character was the same, a couple of years before the war, or even a couple of years before Hitler was elected, he was still a known politician, with a known agenda, anyone who chose to leave that behind was clearly not as committed to "the cause" as someone who stayed and helped to implement it, therefore their characters were different.

    Furthermore their circumstances were influenced by them, one chose to stay in an enviroment of increasing hostility, and to participate in it, and the other made the choice to leave.

    At any time either of our Germans could have swapped his position, the one in Germany could have elected to leave, or rebel (many did), and the one who had left could of elected to return.

    Personal choice played a part in their circumstances.

    Yet, we do not consider them moral equals! One did bad things and the other did not!
    We do not consider them moral equals because one elected to not participate in bad things, whilst the other elected to participate.

    Circumstances may have played a part, but on the other hand both men played a part in those circumstances, and both had the opportunity to change their position.

    Therefore free will was involved, and it is on the basis of the choices made with that free will that blame is apportioned.

    Another example! If I got super drunk and started driving my car around, luck will decide whether I hit someone or not.
    To a degree, but so would judgement.

    Unless you had drunk yourself into a state of unconsciousness, in which case you wouldn't be able to drive, no matter how impaired your judgement was you would still have some form of judgement, and the ability to make choices.

    It was also your choice to get super drunk in the first place, knowing the possible circumstances to such actions.

    Therefore it is not just luck, your judgement played a part at every step of the way.

    Maybe I drive my car really fast, swerving everywhere, but nobody sees me and nobody gets hurt. You think I'm an irresponsible jerk, for sure.
    Yes.

    If I did the same thing, not looking where I was going, and I happened to hit someone unintentionally, you're going to judge me much more harshly! And I'm going to judge myself much more harshly, because I didn't just put people in danger (morally reprehensible); I put people in danger AND hurt someone (more morally reprehensible?)!
    Yes, you had chosen to continue your actions until such a time where the consequences were more damaging, therefore you are more culpable.

    But the difference in outcomes is beyond my control, so there should be no moral difference if we accept the control principle!
    No, the difference in outcome is directly in your control.

    You created the enviroment, you made the choices that lead to the outcome, therefore you are judged upon those facts.

    It is not fate, or luck, that has killed that person, it is a series of bad judgements, and it is based upon those judgements that blame, and levels of blame are apportioned.

    There are lots more examples - if I leave a baby in the bath and walk off for a minute, realise in horror and run back, there is a moral difference between endangering it and it being fine, and between it drowning and dying.
    No, both were immoral.

    The only difference is that in one situation you made the choice to return in time to save the child, in the other you did not.

    If you save a person from a building on fire, there is a moral difference between accidentally dropping them from the 30th floor, and between carrying them to safety. How do we account for these moral differences?
    The level of moral accountability all comes down to the levels of responsability.

    In certain sectors of industry there is a saying "there is no such thing as an accident", and technically speaking that is true.

    Every action, on this planet, is a reaction to another action, nothing happens by pure chance, it is because of a series of events, sometimes we have limited control over these, sometimes we have complete control over these, and the amount of control we have is directly related to the amount of immorality, or culpability that we carry for the actions.

    For there to be moral luck there has to be luck, and luck does not really exist, but that leads us into the theory of probability, and other related areas, which is a whole different ball game.

    Nagels excersise (although it's not really his, it's been around for generations) is one of those clever little excersises that works on paper, but when you relate it to the real world it doesn't hold up.

    We can write it as a mathematical equation, but it doesn't transfer to life.
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    @OP:

    I would take the view that it's a person's intentions in carrying out an action that determine their moral responsibility. However, the way people react seems to depend more on the consequences of the action. This is why someone is condemned more for running someone over while drunk than simply driving drunk, and still more if the person who gets run over dies. It's irrational, but pretty understandable.

    Love the Dinosaur Comics avatar btw
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    Paul practically said it all.

    How can you not be morally held accountable for leaving a baby alone in a bath, though? Or drinking and driving, period? Also, if you're under the Nazi regime you can also secretely revolt and conspire against the government. It's a big difference between that and accepting everything that's being laid in front of you. During the Nazi regime german officers beat jews in public and humiliated them, laughing at them. So it seems a bit naïve to say they weren't to be held accountable morally. You always have control over your actions to some extend.
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    (Original post by covered farm wagon)
    Imagine he pushed me for his own amusement. I, taken by surprise, stumble and tread on your foot. In this situation, I'd hope that you wouldn't find me morally accountable; I mean, sure, I trod on your foot, but there was no morally relevant motivation. Sure, in the other scenarios you mention, it'd be different. The point I was trying to make was that in this situation, I'd hope you wouldn't blame me because it was out of my control.
    Exactly, it came down to a matter of your responsability, not to luck or anything else.

    Maybe not the worst ones, but I'm talking about the regular people who got pushed into doing things they wouldn't normally do.
    So minor people who didn't do much wrong?

    Well we don't treat them like the really bad ones do we?

    There is a difference, and it's all based on accountability.

    Have you ever heard of an obedience study done by a dude called Milgram? Every psych student has heard of it, it's about how people will do pretty extreme things if an authority figure tells them to. In the study, the participants are tricked into thinking they are electrocuting someone, but secretly they're not.
    Yes, but in a psych study, even if you think you are giving someone a minor electric shock, when you are not, it's hardly comperable to mass genocide.

    Anyone who merely turned a blind eye, or was just a common foot soldier on the front line is not considered to badly for their actions, most were allowed to return to normal life after the war, hence the fact that Germany was able to rebuild.

    The level of punishment and accountability was approximately in proportion to the actions of those involved.

    Luck and happenstance did not enter into it.

    Anyway, the point is that a regular, kind of weak willed person who grows up in a culture like ours where there is no pressure to commit atrocities doesn't end up doing this sort of thing. Their crime is not malice, but weakness.
    They still had the choice though didn't they?

    The circumstances didn't make them do it, they chose to, therefore they are accountable.

    These same people, if put in a position where they are being encouraged to act badly, will do so.
    Only if they chose to.

    So, imagine two dudes, identical in every way, except one grows up in a nice culture, and the other in Nazi Germany. One doesn't do anything wrong, the other is responsible for multiple deaths.
    You see here is where you break down again, you said moments ago "Maybe not the worst ones, but I'm talking about the regular people who got pushed into doing things they wouldn't normally do.", now you are on to mass murderers.

    To make your theory fit takes a massive jump, a jump that doesn't exist.

    You don't just commit genocide because of circumstance, if you are that disturbed then your mental faults would appear in other walks of life, regardless of the circumstances.

    Answer me this, if I put a gun in your hand, and told you to kill 50 people, 50 people you felt were innocent, and had no grudge against, would you do it?

    I would hope you would chose not to, I certainly would, even if it was risking my own life to refuse the order.

    So even if I create a similar set of circumstances for you there is still the option to say no.

    Therefore anyone who choses to say yes has made a personal choice to act in an immoral way, and it is that choice that they are punished for, not luck, or chance, or any other random variable that doesn't really exist.

    If they had been switched at birth, both would have done as the other did.
    Not at all. A homicidal person is a homicidal person, and will create the circumstances to act in, if need be, and someone who would never chose to commit genocide would always find a way to avoid the situation.

    My point is not that we should ignore the differences in their actions, but recognise that their circumstances were beyond their control, and wonder if "it was out of my control" is really a very good excusing condition after all.
    But as I keep explaining their actions were their choices, therefore they are accountable.

    Just because a set of choices and selections presented an option to them, where they could select to kill, or not to kill, does not clear them of the guilt of having decided to kill.

    I'm not talking about those people though. I maybe didn't make it very clear - I meant the sorts of people I've been talking about above.
    Which ones, because you seem to be jumping about trying to make people fit your theory, when in fact none do.

    The dude who left did so way before the Nazis came towards power, and their decision was completely unmotivated by politics.
    Then he would have been to old to serve anyway.

    Your starting to reach, you are inventing a more and more implausable person, in fact a person that can only exist in your scenario, and not in the real world.

    It just happened that they were not in that circumstance (again, sorry if I was not clear).
    But it isn't circumstances, it's choice.

    People chose to kill, it's not a random act of luck.

    You have to aquire the weapon, create the situation, pull the trigger, there are multiple choices along the path, and at anytime you can say no.

    I agree that we do not consider them moral equals! My problem is with trying to locate the difference between them. The thing is, if we take the maxim "we are not morally accountable for what is beyond our control" seriously, then our personality, our moral weaknesses, the fact that the Nazis came to power, the country we live in, everything biologically determined (if you like), all these things are beyond our control.
    But they are not, are they, there are a million steps before we pull that trigger, where we are in control.

    We chose to stay in that country, so we had a choice, Hitler was elected, so we had a choice, we chose not to resist enlistment, so we had a choice, we chose that branch of the millitary, so we had a choice, we chose not to desert, so we had a choice, we chose to obey the order, so we had a choice, we chose to load the gun, so we had a choice, we chose to aim correctly, so we had a choice, we chose to pull the trigger, so we had a choice.

    Even in that over simplified scenario we see nine opportunities to resist the final outcome, so the guy did not end up dead because of our circumstances, the guy ended up dead because we chose to kill him.

    If you chose to kill someone then that is murder.

    If you commit murder then you will be held responsable for it, and you can not blame your circumstances Ias you might attempt to do with manslaughter).

    Neither of the men in question decided to be born cowards - they just were. And when you try to locate agency within them, you can't find it if you're discounting everything that was out of their control because suddenly there is nothing left!
    See above, there was a myriad of choices.

    You can't just happen upon the act of murder.

    Imagine I had my head out the window, being sick. Or I'm driving with my eyes shut, for fun. Whether a pedestrian was crossing the road or not is down to luck.
    But having your eyes shut, or sticking your head out the window is not luck, choosing to drink is not luck, chosing to drive the car is not luck, you can not blame the incident on the one variable that was out of your control when you made all the choices to create the situation in the first place.

    I can't make any judgements because I am quite unaware of them.
    Then you are unconcsious, and couldn't be driving in the first place, otherwise you have made choices and judgements, and are therefore responsable for your actions.

    I don't think the difference is within my control at all. Of course, if I drive like that, I'm responsible for making that choice, but the outcome (whether or not someone gets hit) is determined by something external.
    But you have still created the situation, not luck, which is why you are accountable.

    I don't deny that I would have made bad judgements if I acted like that - but my point is that you'd blame me more harshly if I killed someone than if nobody got hurt, even though I acted in just the same way in both scenarios.
    Not necessarily, reckless driving and reckless endangerment can carry the same sentance as death by dangerous driving.

    If you chose to be so reckless as to create the probability that you would take a life then you would be punished accordingly, whever you took that life or not.

    That's built into British law, and is the same for many other offences, not just motoring ones.

    This is important because the source of this difference comes from something external; but the idea of us being morally judged because of how things beyond our control happen to be seems crazy!
    But you are not, you are judged on your actions.

    Of course they were both immoral! But there is still a moral difference - you'd blame me way more harshly for letting your baby drown than for leaving it unattended accidentally for a bit (but the baby is okay).
    If you chose to return before the baby drowned then you had made a different choice from returning after the baby drowned, therefore you would be judged on the difference of choice.

    Okay, maybe this is a situation I didn't explain well either. In both cases, I leave the baby for exactly five minutes before I realise, to my horror, what I have done.
    Then in both cases there is exactly the same outcome, the outcome would only be different if other circumstances were involved, and these would be factors that you would be aware of, or had an input into.

    Even as I run back to the bathroom, I realise that my moral culpability depends upon what has happened to the baby in my absense. It could be fine, it could be dead, and which one of these has happened is out of my control.
    Not completely so, see above.

    Moral luck doesn't have to be luck, in that sense, though. It's just the way things happen to be.
    But you are missing the point, things don't just happen to be, they are governed by rules, and laws.

    There are plenty of things we have no control over - for example, I had no control over the fact that I was born in England. It just happened!
    Well it didn't just happen (ask your mum and dad) but that in itself does not have an effect on anything, you don't kill someone just because you were born in a specific country, and you now have the choice to stay or leave.

    Therefore if you now kill someone you have already had an input, just be that choice alone, we can factor in many more variables, depending on the scenario, but at every juncture you have an input, and that is why things don't just happen.

    Nothing is completely by luck, or chance, everything is controlled to a degree, bound by rules and laws.

    I have no control over what you ate for breakfast this morning.
    Well what I ate did not kill anyone, or commit a crime, so that's kind of irrelevent, but yes, you do have an input into what I ate this morning.

    It may be a completely miniscule and obscure input, but it exists none the less.

    Because I have no control over them, it seems mad to claim I have any responsibility for them, moral or otherwise.
    But you do have an input, therefore you have a degree of culpability, if it is as miniscule as your involvement in my breakfast then it would probably be beyond the merit of investigation, let alone punishment, but if it was a direct act of murder then that would be different.

    It all comes down to your level of involvement, your choices, and your accountability for the action.

    None of it is happenstance.

    But all the examples above are intended to show that sometimes things beyond our control do affect how we are morally attributed.
    But none of them show that, each one of those scenarios is affected by your personal choices, and it is those you are judged on.

    Not one of them was a random situation that you had no input into.
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    (Original post by covered farm wagon)
    But in the baby-in-the-bath case, the intention was not to hurt the baby.
    No, but we all know by leaving a baby unattended in a bath that is a possible outcome, so it may not have been your intention, but you made a choice knowing that could be the outcome, and are treated on that basis.
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    (Original post by covered farm wagon)
    I'm not saying you shouldn't be held morally responsible for these things! I'm saying that you definitely ARE, but that there is an intuition that if we do these things and they have terrible consequences (like the baby drowning, or running someone over) then we are morally responsible for more than if these things do not happen.
    And the point I was trying to make with the Nazi example was maybe a bit too controversial (I blame Nagel for picking it). The ins-and-outs of the Nazi regime are basically irrelevant. I'm not saying that the cowards who went alone with it shouldn't be held morally accountable - the very fact that they should be is at the heart of the problem! The point is that the people who did bad things out of cowardice would, if they were never put in scary situations, have not done bad things. We don't punish cowards who are born into fortunate circumstances, but we do punish those who are not. Explaining how something beyond their control (their circumstances) is morally relevant is the issue here.

    Oh, and just for the record - I've never babysat, driven a car or killed a person in my life. You know, just FYI.
    Hah, that's good to know. Yeah, I just use the 'you's' loosely for the sake of being able to formulate less complicated sentences.

    But you know, you can get punished for drinking and driving without running anyone over too and maybe child protection could take the baby away if you treat it that irresponsibly. Morally, it doesn't matter whether something truly happens or whether it doesn't. It's equally morally wrong. If you will run someone over, people will say it's wrong because you were drinking and driving, but not because you killed someone. Laws however, couldn't be applied to this principle, because you're not going to be trialed as a murderer while you didn't kill anyone. It doesn't mean you can't be held accountable for anything anymore. You just shouldn't drink and drive, period.
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    (Original post by covered farm wagon)
    So! I read a paper by Nagel called 'Moral Luck' and it has really got me thinking. In short, he states that if it is true that we are not morally accountable for things beyond our control (this is known as the control principle), and it is also true that moral luck exists (that luck in our circumstances/the success of our intended actions/etc. exists), then it turns out we are accountable for pretty much nothing. After all, I didn't choose to have my personality, or my values (maybe?), or to be born into my circumstances - it is quite beyond my control - so if we apply the control principle consistently, we are morally accountable for nothing!

    To illustrate this with examples, partially stolen from Nagel: if I tread on your foot, you will hopefully excuse me if I only did it because the dude next to me pushed me, because it was out of my control. If I just did it for fun, you'd probably hold me accountable for my action.
    Sticking with this principle, consider people in Nazi Germany who did Bad Things. If the Nazi party had not come to power, they'd never have done anything like that, and would probably have lived nice quiet inoffensive lives. It was beyond their control that circumstances led to them being in a position to do Bad Things. Compare them to a similar person who happened to leave Germany a couple of years before, and went to live somewhere abroad where they lived a nice quiet inoffensive live. Their character is (let's say) identical to the person who stayed in Germany; their circumstances, which are beyond their control, were different. Yet, we do not consider them moral equals! One did bad things and the other did not!

    Another example! If I got super drunk and started driving my car around, luck will decide whether I hit someone or not. Maybe I drive my car really fast, swerving everywhere, but nobody sees me and nobody gets hurt. You think I'm an irresponsible jerk, for sure. If I did the same thing, not looking where I was going, and I happened to hit someone unintentionally, you're going to judge me much more harshly! And I'm going to judge myself much more harshly, because I didn't just put people in danger (morally reprehensible); I put people in danger AND hurt someone (more morally reprehensible?)! But the difference in outcomes is beyond my control, so there should be no moral difference if we accept the control principle!
    There are lots more examples - if I leave a baby in the bath and walk off for a minute, realise in horror and run back, there is a moral difference between endangering it and it being fine, and between it drowning and dying. If you save a person from a building on fire, there is a moral difference between accidentally dropping them from the 30th floor, and between carrying them to safety. How do we account for these moral differences?

    Nagel doesn't really give an answer to this problem, and I want one! Do we give up the idea that we are not morally accountable for what is beyond our control (but it seems so plausible!) or give up the idea that moral luck exists (that there is a difference between the two German dudes)? I've been thinking all day and I still haven't resolved the issue. Over to you?


    people are responsible for their own actions.

    If whomever trod on your foot wasnt so close, when they got pushed they wouldnt of stepped on it.

    Likewise the nazi's had the choice to behave how they did.

    and whatever you do in your car. You are responsible for no matter what.

    I think hes had a logic twist, we may not be morally accountable for things beyond our control, but the options provided were in realms of control.

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    The whole question is very simple ultimately; agents are held 'morally accountable' for their intentions.

    Obviously no-one can be responsible for themselves in an ultimate sense- each individual is entirely the result of their biological nature and the 'cultural' effects upon them throughout their existence, neither of which any given person can have any control over whatsoever.

    Thus any sort of 'moral judgement' of a person, is not a statement of their ultimate or intrinsic moral status; but rather a statement regarding some other element of their moral life.
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    No because 'you', as it is generally used accounts for a number of possible definitions 1) Who you are genetically before environmental inputs, meaning you are morally accountable for anything that is not deemed by the person making the judgement to be a result of your environment 2) The combination of your genes and the environmental influences which are reflected in your character is you, so you are morally accountable for anything which the person making the judgement deems to be a reflection on your character. 3) You is all of your actions, intentional or otherwise, making you totally morally accountable. In the situation you are talking about, it isnt that 'you' could not be blamed, it is that 'you' would exist only as a stage in the life of a collection of particles brought about by determinant physics, rather than the metaphysical concept it is generally used for when attributin the concept of blame.
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    No because 'you', as it is generally used accounts for a number of possible definitions 1) Who you are genetically before environmental inputs, meaning you are morally accountable for anything that is not deemed by the person making the judgement to be a result of your environment 2) The combination of your genes and the environmental influences which are reflected in your character is you, so you are morally accountable for anything which the person making the judgement deems to be a reflection on your character. 3) You is all of your actions, intentional or otherwise, making you totally morally accountable. In the situation you are talking about, it isnt that 'you' could not be blamed, it is that 'you' would exist only as a stage in the life of a collection of particles brought about by determinant physics, rather than the metaphysical concept it is generally used for when attributin the concept of blame.
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    sorry, pressed twice
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    A wise woman, quoting God Himself, once said, "Pragmatism not idealism".

    We have no choice about the genes we are given. Nor do we have a choice about who are parents are. Two enormous influences on who we are and our moral inclinations are beyond our control. We then have several decisions to make. Do we want to behave morally as often as possible? The answer to this will almost certainly be 'yes'.
    We can then make numerous choices which will impact upon our chances of behaving morality. Who our are friends going to be? How much effort are we going to invest into behaving morally (for we are all guilty of complacency: I could write my essay which will be a sound investment in my future or I could procrastinate on TSR replying to threads on philosophy)?

    Nevertheless, if we say that we would like to behave morally as often as possible then how can we not assume responsability for our actions?

    Good thread. More thought required.

    After I've written this essay, bien sur.
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    if we say that we would like to behave morally as often as possible then how can we not assume responsability for our actions?
    The question of whether an individual can meaningfully "assume responsibility for their actions" is a rather different question. The point remains, however, that the choices an individual makes, (including) whether or not they "would like to behave morally," are determined exclusively by factors outside of the control of that individual- genetics and environment.
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    (Original post by TCovenant)
    The question of whether an individual can meaningfully "assume responsibility for their actions" is a rather different question. The point remains, however, that the choices an individual makes, (including) whether or not they "would like to behave morally," are determined exclusively by factors outside of the control of that individual- genetics and environment.
    One can choose one's environment to a certain extent. We choose who we are friends with.
    Are you saying that we can never be free as we are always slaves to our genes and early upbringing?

    In any event, my point (perhaps poorly expressed) was that this is not a pragmatic approach to life. We might not be responsible for who we are now, but given that we are who we are, we can still choose whether we are going to behave morally or not. In a sense it is like controlling a complex computer character. We cant choose whether that character is fast or slow or has brown eyes or blue eyes. Or even whether they are a communist or a facist. But we can choose whether we are going to stab someone or not.
    Your upbringing might have made you mentally unstable, but you do have a choice whether to kill someone. The inherent bias or predisposition to reacting in a certain way doesnt completely eliminate free will.
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    One can choose one's environment to a certain extent. We choose who we are friends with.
    Are you saying that we can never be free as we are always slaves to our genes and early upbringing?
    We can't choose our environment outside of the predetermining context of our genetics and previous environment, because our 'choice' of environment at any given stage will be based exclusively upon genetic and prior environmental factors.

    Thus we aren't exclusively "slaves to our early upbringing," we're slaves to all environmental factors prior to and including the present time.

    given that we are who we are, we can still choose whether we are going to behave morally or not.
    Quite so, the point is not that we do not choose our actions, in that our choices are based upon our current preferences, but rather than every internal factor that influences our choice is based upon factors wholly outside of our control. Thus choices are indeed based upon internal factors (our current nature based on genetic and prior environmental influences), in addition to external factors that determine the choice which we are faced with at any given point.

    The inherent bias or predisposition to reacting in a certain way doesnt completely eliminate free will.
    This depends on whether you mean practical or metaphysical free will. We have free will, insofar as our choices are based upon our 'self,' nevertheless we are not free insofar as those choices are exclusively determined by prior factors which we could in no sense influence.
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    Surely the major enthymeme here is that psychological determinism is true - that is, we have no voluntary control over our actions beyond the dispositions we are born with. It's not my fault I'm a raving nutter because I was born that way.
    The obvious objection is to claim that - no you weren't, you've made free choices at various points in your life that have to an extent molded the way your life is now, you chose to get drunk - yes that was due to you disposition towards alcohol, but you chose to strengthen that dispostion when you had alcohol last week when you could have said no etc.

    If ultimately, in every case you/Nagel are just going to say - yeah, but that's because of the disposition you had before - then what you are doing is just denying free will. We have no free will becase every so called choice is determined by the circumstances before it. But the problem of free will is a heavily discussed age old problem, it been around for Millenia.
    Nagel's Moral Luck idea seems to be collapsing into that - or else is easily objected to. So either his point isn't a new one, or its a relatively weak argument. What's unique about Nagel's idea then?
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    Psychological determinism has been addressed to quite a significant extent in the thread already. The notion that people are influenced by free choices throughout the course of their lives is in my view flawed, as in your example:
    you've made free choices at various points in your life that have to an extent molded the way your life is now, you chose to get drunk - ...you chose to strengthen that dispostion when you had alcohol last week
    Demonstrably any such choice will be exclusively the result of prior factors which were beyond the control of the person. Thus, at best you can say that a person is moulded by their past 'self' but it must be admitted that all aspects of the 'self' are determined by prior factors, which were beyond the control of the individual.

    "then what you are doing is just denying free will."
    Yes.

    Nagel's main point regarding moral luck is a fairly incontestable statement of the weakness of common sense moral intuition- namely that there cannot be a straightforward relationship between the moral status of a person's moral conduct and the 'moral standing' of that person.
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    And thus my final point - "What's new?"
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    It might be more accurate to view "moral luck" as more a new piece of terminology than a radical new paradigm of thought. That said, the new category does to some extent mark a significant new way of looking at the issue.

    Nagel's notion is much broader than the argument regarding determinism outlined above; it is also, in my view, much less convincing. He demarcates between various different forms of "luck"- which are essentially subcategories of the different determinate factors already discussed.

    This page is a good introduction to the issue, and includes a short paragraph covering precisely the same ground we're discussing in the "Causal Luck" section.

    Given that I think that there isn't any significant debate outside of a deterministic logic, the 'Moral Luck" paradigm is an insignificant philosophical development in my view. That said, it does represent a new area of debate, even if, in my view, the logical conclusion is absolute determinism in any case.
 
 
 
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