Oedipus s Responsibility: The Problem of Moral Luck Bernard Williams and Thomas Nagel

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Oedipus’s Responsibility: The Problem of Moral Luck

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Bernard Williams and Thomas Nagel

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In mythology, Oedipus is determined by destiny or fate to a set of actions. If

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he is not responsible for his fate or luck, will he be responsible for his crimes?

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Can moral judgments be independent of luck, chance or fortune? Following

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an example proposed by Nagel: two agents (with the same intention, desire,

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belief, etc.) shoot someone. The first agent hits his target. The second agent

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does not hit, because, luckily, a bird crossed the path of the bullet fired. Both

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agents wanted to hit the target, but by chance or luck interference only one

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hits. Do we judge both agents in the same moral way? The moral

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responsibility of an agent over his actions seems inseparable from a principle

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of control of the agent over his actions. However, when we analyse the object

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of the moral judgment (agent, actions) the evaluation over it varies

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according to elements of luck (constitutive, circumstantial, resulting, causal

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fortune). Does luck introduce a paradox into the core of moral judgments

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(Nagel's thesis), which limits any conception of morality (as Williams

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argues)? In this paper we defend the need to consider morally agents and

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actions, regardless of whether they are or are not subject to luck.

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Keywords: Bernard Williams, luck, moral, Thomas Nagel.

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Introduction: The Tension between Morality and Luck

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Can moral judgments be independent of luck? The moral responsibility of

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an agent for his actions seems inseparable from a principle of control of the agent

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over his actions. However, when we analyse the object of moral judgment

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(agent, actions) the evaluation about it varies according to elements of luck.

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Let us clarify the problem of moral luck, with an example from Thomas

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Nagel. Two agents1 shoot another person. In the case of the first — having

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intended to shoot the person and kill him — the bullet hits a bird, thus failing in

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its intention. This agent is thus prevented from reaching his target. The second

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agent has the same intention, the same motivation, and performs an action

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similar to that of the first agent. However, unlike the previous agent, he shoots

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1For the purposes of the argument, in the present paper, we consider agents to be those

who act. That is, without problematizing the concept of action and agent, we attribute to an agent an intention, a desire and a relevant belief (belief-desire model), considering the intention as the conductor of actions. Cf.: Sofia Miguens and Susana Cadilha, Ação e Ética: Conversas sobre a Racionalidade Prática (Lisbon: Edições Colibri, 2011), 83-84; Donald Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 12-24.

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and nothing stands between the bullet and his victim. This second agent

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manages to hit his target and kills him.

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The moral judgment about these two agents is distinct. We do not consider

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"attempted murder" and "homicide" to be incorrect on the same level (as is the

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case from the Law point of view different penalties are assigned for different

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crimes). If this is so, we admit that moral judgment varies according to luck,

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something that is not controlled by the agent. The intention and action of the

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agents does not vary from the first agent to the second (both have the

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intention to kill and act according to this intention). What does vary from one

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case to the other is the circumstance and the consequences. In this sense, we

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apparently do not judge only what is under the control of the agent in an

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action. Nothing that directly depends on the agents' control is different: they

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have the same intention, belief, and motivation to kill a person. However, one

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is effective and the other is not. That difference does not depend on something

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that was under the agents' control. In one of the cases, the trajectory of the

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bullet is intercepted by the passage of a bird, by chance or luck.2

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What can luck have to do with moral reflection? Bernard Williams, in

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associating these two terms — moral luck — thought he was using an

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oxymoron3, because it is about expressing a dilemma or a confrontation. On

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the one hand, the principle of control, the agent has moral responsibility for what

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he controls in his action. And, on the other hand, luck is something which

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escapes human control. Thus, prima facie, morality is distinguished from luck.

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Morality has to do with judgments about the agent's responsibility. The agent

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may be justified in acting as he did, he may be worthy of praise or censure.

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Luck, on the other hand, consists of elements that are outside the realm of

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human freedom. However, the agent is usually the object of a moral

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judgment, without distinguishing and removing from this moral judgment

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elements that escape the agent's will. Can the agent and his actions be the

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object of moral judgment, if substantively subjected to fate?

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We consider the mythological case of Oedipus. Oedipus is determined by

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fate to a set of actions. If he is not responsible for his fate, is he responsible for

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his crimes? In this paper we argue that fate interferes with moral judgments.

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However, it is necessary to morally evaluate agents and actions regardless of

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whether they are determined by luck. We begin by defining moral luck and

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categorizing different types of moral luck (resultant, circumstantial, constitutive,

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and causal); we analyse the interference of luck on judgments we make about

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others (considering Nagel's proposal); and the interference of luck on the

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agent's self-evaluation of his own actions (in Williams' philosophy). We

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conclude this article by arguing that, even if we can accept the interference of

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2Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979),

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chance in life projects, we cannot admit the interference of luck in moral

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judgments (at the risk of luck completely eliminating the object of moral

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judgment). Oedipus cannot escape moral judgment by claiming the force of

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circumstances that transcend him — fate or his luck.

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Field of Analysis

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Luck, fate or fortune — the things that escape the control of the human

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agent as a contingency, good or bad, advantageous or harmful — is a

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recurrent theme, both for moral reflection in ancient philosophy and in tragic

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poetry. Hellenic culture could express the term fate in twenty-five different

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ways (25 different words for destiny). Contemporarily, the echo of the

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problem about "luck", circumscribed to morals, is essentially due to Bernard

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Williams and Thomas Nagel. The article entitled “Moral Luck” by Thomas

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Nagel is a response to Bernard Williams' article of the same name. In the late

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seventies, both participated with a reflection on "Moral Luck" in a Symposium

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dedicated to Aristotelian thought (1975). These articles are the central

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motor/engine of contemporary discussion.

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Martha Nussbaum analyses the influence of luck or fortune on ethical life

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(particularly in The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and

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Philosophy, 1986). His argument recovers not only the philosophers (mainly

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Plato and Aristotle), but also the Greek (tragic) poets given the urgency of this

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theme for both poets and philosophers. Nussbaum recalling that the tragic

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poets were considered "important sources of ethical insight" with whom

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philosophers directly competed. Nussbaum follows Bernard Williams'

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philosophical exercise of returning to Greek thought and Tragedy. The

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Oedipus myth has multiple facets in contemporary culture (Carlos João

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Correia, 2003, pp. 147-160). In this line, we refer to the case of Oedipus as

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someone who internalizes the guilt of murder although he was destined to it.

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Oedipus would be a centralizing example of the paradox introduced by the

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moral fate we want to analyse.

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Methods and Categories

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In the present section, we will focus on both the definition and the

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characterization of the types of moral luck proposed by Thomas Nagel, trying to

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systematize them. At the end of this section we will make a brief comment on

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the cases of luck analysed by Bernard Williams. We will start by considering

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Nagel's definition of moral luck:

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"Where a significant aspect of what someone does depends on factors beyond

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his control, yet we continue to treat him in that respect as an object of moral

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judgment, it can be called moral luck” 4

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In the present reflection, we consider this definition of moral luck,

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according to which the object of moral judgment integrates external factors to

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the will. That is, character and action are also evaluated according to good or

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bad luck. Thus, the elements of luck that interfere with moral judgment can be

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distinguished and typified into different categories: resultant luck;

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circumstantial luck; constitutive luck, causal luck. The different types of moral

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luck help clarify what is the issue, and although Thomas Nagel has listed

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these forms of moral luck, the designations are not explicitly of his making.

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Resulting Luck

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The case of attempted murder, which we have previously presented, fits

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this type of resulting moral luck. Each member of the pair ("murderer" and

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"murderer in the attempted form") had the same intentions, plans, motives.

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Yet, the action differed in the outcomes. The different outcomes (of the

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murder and the attempted murder) trigger different moral judgments,

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depending on their outcome. Another example formulated by Nagel is the

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case of the Russian revolutionaries, known as the Dezembrists, who, like all

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revolutionaries, risked a coup and depended on the success of this action to

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justify a military uprising or coup d'état. In the case of the Dezembrists the

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outcome is nefarious. In failing the coup, the consequences were severe for the

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participating soldiers who were convinced to follow through with the coup.

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The Decembrists were a revolutionary group in Russia that contested Tsar

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Nicholas I, and whose fate was a painful one, after the dismantling of the

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military uprising. As we analyse later, it should be noted that the

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consideration of a "retroactive justification" based on future success does not

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imply that this justification eliminates the consideration of evils that occurred.

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For example, Serguei Volkonski, one of the few Dezembrists who survived the

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Siberian punishment, was Tolstoy's distant cousin. He inspired the character

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of Prince Andrei Bolkonski in War and Peace, and it is not assumed that any

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literary and artistic success supersedes, in all cases, a moral evil. We will

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return to this topic when discussing the Gauguin’s problem presented by

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Bernard Williams.6

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4Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979),

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5Sergi Rosell, "Nagel y Williams acerca de la suerte moral", Revista de Filosofia, vol. 31,

n.º 1 (2006): 158. Cf.: Bernard Williams, Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 28.

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Circumstantial Luck

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It refers to the environment in which one acts, or the time and place in

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which one finds oneself, and how this fact determines how one is evaluated.

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Consider the case of two Germans, one of whom, before the rise of the Nazi

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party in Germany, travels to Argentina and the other remains in Germany.

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Both sympathize with the ideology of the rising Nazi party. The agent who

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remains in Germany will eventually become an officer in a contraction camp,

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and the other does not effect his support for the Nazi party because he is not,

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at that time, on German territory. With this example, Nagel gives an account

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of circumstantial luck, and according to this, he concludes, we would not be

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willing to evaluate equally the two agents. This speculative case seems

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problematic, since we would have no way of gauging how circumstance was

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the element of luck that conditioned a partisan sympathy towards an action.

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The judgment would presuppose an epistemic (omniscient) condition that we

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do not have access to. In Oedipus' case, we would also not know whether he

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would kill his father knowing that he was his father (and commit parricide

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anyway).

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Constitutive Luck

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One considers "one's luck to be who one is [...] one's inclinations, talents,

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and temperament."7 An agent's response to the requirements of morality is not

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indifferent to the agent one is. Thomas Nagel points to character’s traits

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(sympathy, cowardice, coldness, envy, etc.) that are the background from

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which one responds morally (although one can counteract those same

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character traits). Williams begins his article (Moral Luck) by presenting the

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sage in classical antiquity as someone immune to luck, autonomous from

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whatever might disturb his tranquillity and happiness (think of the Stoic

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sage), however, he adds that this would already be an example of constitutive

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luck, since not all agents would be willing to be wise in these ways, able to

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accept certain demands, inclined to take this path that would not be accessible

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to all. We add that to the agent's constitutive character predicates can be

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added predicates that can also unfairly influence the life and moral treatment

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of an agent, such as gender, skin colour, etc.

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7Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979),

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Causal Luck

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"The luck in how one is determined by antecedent circumstances."8 The

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debate about determinism versus free will falls under this category of moral

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luck. On one hand, it is understood that our actions are a consequence of what

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we do not control, yet if so, they are not free actions, and freedom is, we

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would admit, a requirement for a moral act. On the other hand, admitting the

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agent's freedom, it is as if the agent inserted into the causal world, which he

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does not control, a certain spontaneity indeterminate by biological, physical,

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psychological luck, etc.9

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For the purposes of categorization we prefer Thomas Nagel's work since

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it is a more detailed one. Nagel uses Bernard Williams' term "constitutive

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luck", but for Williams, the category of constitutive luck is a broader one as it

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encompasses not only "constitutive luck" (as we called it before), but also

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"circumstantial luck" and "causal luck". Williams would distinguish

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"constitutive luck" from "incident luck", understanding the latter as "resultant

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luck”, within the types we have presented.10

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Results: Limits, Justifications, and Regret

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First. The boundaries of moral luck are interdependent on the conception

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of morality that we may have. If we think Kantian, moral responsibility

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excludes the idea of luck. If we agree with Kant - the "good will" (guter Wille)

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— the will whose goodness is intrinsic (since it expresses duty or has the

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moral law as its motive) must dominate over "talents," "temperament" (which

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we referred to earlier as constitutive luck) and over "its luck" (circumstantial,

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etc.) as a condition for being moral. According to Kant, luck does not or cannot

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interfere with morality and moral judgments. Kant would represent the

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paradigm of the denial of moral luck, since moral duty — to act according to

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good will — excludes from its horizon the different elements of "luck", "fate"

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or "fortune", as diverse elements that escape the exercise of the determination

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of the will by duty.

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Contrary to the wise man referred to by Williams (whom we mentioned

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earlier), inclined to his sagacity by his constitutive luck, for Kant, the

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possibility of the agent morally determining his will is universal, regardless of

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8Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979),

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9Thomas Nagel will return to this problem in The View from Nowhere, cf.: Thomas

Nagel, The View from Nowhere (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 110-137.

10Sergi Rosell, "Nagel y Williams acerca de la suerte moral", Revista de Filosofia, vol. 31,

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inclination. Bernard Williams recognizes in this thesis — of conceiving

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morality as independent of luck — an enticing aspect: a consolation, in a

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certain sense, for the injustice of the world.11 Morality would restore a certain

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equality that does not simply derive from luck (constitutive, circumstantial,

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etc.).12

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Second. Luck imposes limitations on morality. According to Bernard

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Williams, morality (contemporary and otherwise) aims to "deliver good news"

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by reaching harmonious conclusions to practical dilemmas. This ambition

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would be betrayed at every turn by the circumstantial contingency of human

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life. Williams is mindful of Greek tragedy because in it he recognizes man

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(even the hero) as irreconcilable with the world. The difference and

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confrontation between individual desires and imposed reality occurs regardless of

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whether we call this "fate," "gods," or "social reality."13 In this sense, the agent

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could have acted well and feel regret. Rationality and morality are not a

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guaranty of any evaluative harmony, nor a safe conduct inhibiting luck and

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circumstantial (or other) chance. Williams is sceptical of the ability of morality

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to solve practical dilemmas.

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Third. Let us consider, in the context of luck, the retrospective justifications

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for action, starting with the case presented by Bernard Williams (known as the

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Gauguin problem14): imagine that Gauguin has to decide whether to live

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according to certain expectations (he continues with his family) or to travel to

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the South Pacific, where he can evolve as an artist and become a great

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painter.15 The only justification he could give for his decision to leave his

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family and travel to perfection as an artist would be his success as a painter.

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However, the justification based on his success would be retrospective,

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therefore a posteriori. Retrospective justification depends on the consequences,

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therefore, it depends on luck in the process.16 Williams goes further and wants

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to show how Gauguin's decision reveals that morality does not prevail in all

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cases. To take a risk as an artist in progress would be, for his identity, more

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11Bernard Williams, Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 21. 12In the Kantian tradition, consider the case of the philosophy of John Rawls whose

choice of principles of justice would presuppose blindfolding the contingencies of chance. John Rawls, Uma Teoria da Justiça, trans. Carlos Pinto Correia (Lisboa: Editorial Presença, 2013), p. 76.

13Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity (Berkeley: University of California Press,

1993), 164-165.

14Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University

Press, 2005): "Gauguin problem".

15Bernard Williams, Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 22. 16Sergi Rosell, "Nagel y Williams acerca de la suerte moral", Revista de Filosofia, vol. 31,

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structuring than certain moral obligations. And that is Williams' dilemma —

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either moral value is not supreme or it incorporates elements of luck.17

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Fourth. One might think that if the agent has no control over a particular

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action, then he is not truly an agent, but a spectator of an event. However, this

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does not seem to be true. If a truck driver runs over a child who jumps into the

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road, the driver, although prudent, has no control over the outcome, and yet

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he is not a mere spectator of an event.18 The driver can be expected to regret

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the event even if he is exempt from moral responsibility. Thus, the agent's

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participation in a misfortune is not indifferent, even without responsibility for

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the resulting fate.19

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Williams proposes a concept that helps clarify what is at issue:

agent-11

regret. That is, to the general idea of regret, according to which: "it would have

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been better if things had been otherwise" if we had deliberated differently,

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there is added the agent's participation in an action (not restricted to

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deliberative agency) and the evaluation that the agent exercises about

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himself.20 This regret presupposes that the agent participates in an act, even if

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he is exempt from moral responsibility for it, as in the example of the truck

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driver who runs over a child who throws himself/herself on the road. If the

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truck driver was not sorry for what had happened, even though he had no

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responsibility, it would be, we would admit, morally wrong. Although the

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and-run was not intentional and the perpetrator had committed no negligence,

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the example reveals that not only consequences matter for moral judgment.

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Reactions to misfortune also play a relevant role to morality (regret would

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understandably be present even if no misfortune occurred). Thus, even if one

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tries to focus moral evaluation on the agent's "motive" and "intention," first,

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these do not escape moral fate, and second, they are not the only elements to

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consider morally, it is important to consider (moral) reactions in the wake of

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unintentional acts.

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17Sergi Rosell, "Nagel y Williams acerca de la suerte moral", Revista de Filosofia, vol. 31,

n.º 1 (2006): 153.

18Bernard Williams, Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 28. 19On the debate around the "egalitarianism of luck", whether or not, in the name of

justice, a more egalitarianism distribution of goods should correct certain inequalities arising from constitutive luck (natural talents), on the grounds that it is unjust for people to have advantages for which they are not responsible, cf: Nelkin, Dana K. (2019) "Moral Luck", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2019/entries/moral-luck/>.

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Discussion: The Paradox of Moral Luck or a Hybrid Position

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Thomas Nagel will object to Gauguin's case by arguing that it does not

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constitute a moral case. For Nagel, the problem of moral luck consists of a

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paradox formed at the core of morality or our moral judgments. Let us analyse

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two corollaries of Nagelian’s philosophy applied to this problem.

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First, Thomas Nagel will not give up the principle of control as a structuring

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element of morality. However, his philosophy views various philosophical

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problems from a reading key, which is also true for moral luck: the individual

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is capable of a double viewpoint. 21 On one hand, the internal (or first-person)

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viewpoint, from which the individual conceives him/herself as an "agent acting

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in the world"; and, on the other hand, the external (or third-person) viewpoint,

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from which the individual conceives him/herself as an "event" in a given

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causal nexus, from which the agent is absent.22 Nagel's argument is that we

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would be incapable of continually looking at ourselves from an external point

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of view, as mere events in a causal nexus. In a sense, this external point of view

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would eliminate the point of view from which we see ourselves as agents.

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Second. Luck threatens intuitive and habitual moral judgements, since

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attributable responsibility seems reduced to a 'point without extension'.

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However, at the same time, the paradox clarifies relevant aspects of the

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agent's conception of himself:

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21CF.: Thomas Nagel "Subjective and objective", Mortal Questions (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1979), 196-213. «The power of the impulse to transcend oneself and one's species is so great, and its rewards so substantial, that it is not likely to be seriously baffled by the admission that objectivity has its limits. While I am arguing for a form of romanticism, I am not an extremist. The task of accepting the polarity without allowing either of its terms to swallow the other should be a creative one. It is the aim of eventual unification that I think is misplaced, both in our thoughts about how to live and in our conception of what there is. The coexistence of conflicting points of view, varying in detachment from the contingent self, is not just a practically necessary illusion but an irreducible fact of life.» Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 213.

22«The problem arises, I believe, because the self which acts and is the object of moral

judgment is threatened with dissolution by the absorption of its acts and impulses into the class of events. Moral judgment of a person is judgment not of what happens to him, but of him. It does not say merely that a certain event or state of affairs is fortunate or unfortunate or even terrible. It is not an evaluation of a state of the world, or of an individual as part of the world. We are not thinking just that it would be better if he were different, or did not exist, or had not done some of the things he has done. We are judging him, rather than his existence or characteristics. The effect of concentrating on the influence of what is not under his control is to make this responsible self seem to disappear, swallowed up by the order of mere events.» Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 36.

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«I believe that in a sense the problem has no solution, because something in the

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idea of agency is incompatible with actions being events, or people being things.

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But as the external determinants of what someone has done are gradually

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exposed, in their effect on consequences, character, and choice itself, it becomes

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gradually clear that actions are events and people things. Eventually nothing

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remains which can be ascribed to the responsible self, and we are left with

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nothing but a portion of the larger sequence of events, which can be deplored or

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celebrated, but not blamed or praised.»23

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The analysis of the agent from an external point of view, scientific-natural

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point of view, eliminates entirely a free and responsible subject, submerging

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him or her in a causal chain, which can be happy or unhappy, without being

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able to praise or morally censure the agent. In a causal nexus, who would be

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the subject who responds or who is responsible? In a flow of events, which actions

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may be the object of moral judgment? In Thomas Nagel there are no

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limitations to morality of the same order as those presented by Bernard

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Williams, such as scepticism regarding the capacity of moral values and

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practical rationality to definitively influence practical decisions with

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autonomy vis-à-vis other inputs and other values.

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Nagel's and Williams' analysis have different focuses: (a) Nagel is

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interested in the interference of luck in the judgments we make about others.

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(b) Williams seeks to understand the interference of luck in the agent's

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evaluation of his actions (agent-regret; Gauguin's problem), the problem of

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retrospective justification for self and others. (c) Nagel discusses moral

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responsibility from an external or third-person point of view (one judges the

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agent from an "objective" point of view). (d) Williams reflects on the agent

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from an internal or first-person point of view (one is interested in the agent's

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self-evaluation). (e) Nagel is primarily concerned with non-circumstantial

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justification. (f) Williams highlights the agent in his surrounding circumstance

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with irresolvable or morally undecidable practical conflicts. (g) For Nagel, the

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problem of moral luck connects to our conception of action, on the one hand,

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the internal "moral" (actions) point of view. And, on the other hand, the

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external "factual" viewpoint (events). (h) For Williams it is not just a problem

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of the nature of action, but of the limits of the voluntary, the field of what can

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be blameworthy and praiseworthy. One can censure the driver who runs

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someone over without regret, even if he has no responsibility for the running

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over. That is, the agent is not limited to the strictures of morality in a legalistic

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sense, moral reactions and feelings also play a relevant role.

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23Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979),

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Conclusions: Oedipus' Responsibility

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First. Where does the debate leave us? Either we deny the principle of

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control, admitting the contamination by luck of every object of moral judgment,

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whether agents or actions. Or we deny luck, believing in the immunity that

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morality would allow (following Kant). One of the determining aspects

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introduced by the philosophical problem of moral luck is the requirement to

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define more clearly the field of "action" and "agent", considering the possible

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interference of luck and chance. "Does thinking that I act is acting?" That is,

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can one imagine an "evil genius", like Descartes', or an "evil neuroscientist"

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who makes me believe that it is I who act, when in fact everything I do is

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controlled by him?24

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Second. Returning to the tragic conception of life, which inspires Bernard

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Williams' reasoning as we have argued, and going back to classical tragedy,

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we may ask: what, in Oedipus' action, is entirely his responsibility, since it

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seems determined by his fate or luck?25 Or, in another case, can Ajax (the one

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that participated in the Trojan War), after being defeated and erring by killing

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false enemies, return to his home? Or does his integrity leave him no other

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way out but suicide? As if something in the way the agent sees himself

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overcomes moral or other values. The case of Ajax reveals the (tragic)

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connection between a life project (of the warrior hero), luck, and the identity

21

of the agent (self-respect), which is not exclusively moral.

22

Third. The definition of moral luck and the argument around distinct

23

moral judgments on the same evaluated object, whose only variable depends

24

on luck, presupposes certain apparently intuitive moral feelings and reactions

25

(repudiation of the assassination attempt, etc.). If these reactions are not

26

presupposed it is difficult or infeasible to recognise moral luck. Furthermore,

27

if we admit that the agent who missed the target (murder in the attempted

28

form) and the agent who hit the target deserve equal moral judgement

29

(treatment), then we do not in fact validate the interference of luck in moral

30

judgements. That is, both (murderer in the attempted and actual form) are

31

guilty, regardless of the resulting luck.

32

However, even if we are not strictly consequentialist, the resulting luck

33

seems to have to be weighable, otherwise it also seems to us that we would be

34

forced into other absurd conclusions, or inferences that are hardly defensible,

35

prime facie, namely: if we did not need the results to evaluate a drunk or

36

reckless driver and evaluated both the one who runs someone over and the

37

one who does not, equally, we would admit to condemning all reckless

38

24Sofia Miguens e Susana Cadilha, Ação e Ética: Conversas sobre a Racionalidade Prática

(Lisboa: Edições Colibri, 2011), 70.

25Cf.: Bernard Williams, Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981),

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drivers in the same way, regardless of the outcome. We admit that this

1

conclusion is counterfactual, since they are not both the subject of an

2

equidistant moral judgment. Or imagine a virtuous man who, by luck, never

3

manages to put his virtue into practice, would we admit, nevertheless, to

4

attribute merit to him for it? Would we consider an agent virtuous even if he

5

has no actions or only morally correct intentions and motivations?

6

Symmetrically, would a vicious agent who, by luck, never acts morally wrong

7

(a hypothetical agent continually thwarted in his murderous intentions), be

8

morally judged only by his malicious intention or motivation? If we admit to

9

negatively evaluating (censuring) the murderer regardless of whether he was

10

successful or not (murder in the attempted form or murder in fact), it does not

11

seem symmetrically permissible to positively evaluate (praise) a virtuous

12

agent who carries out his virtuous intentions and a virtuous agent who does

13

not carry out his noble intentions (or, in extremis, a malicious agent whose

14

actions are benign as to consequences).

15

Fourth. Going back to the Greek horizon, even Zeus, having sympathy for

16

Hector, had to accept the fatal fate of the Trojan prince, after weighing the

17

fates of the latter and Achilles.26 It may be that even the gods are doomed to

18

fate. Yet, as far as morality is concerned, perhaps we cannot be so resigned.

19

We cannot benevolently understand Oedipus' statement - "I did not err"27 -

20

after the prophesied crimes have been committed. In conclusion: we cannot

21

accept, prima facie, that luck interferes decisively in moral judgment.

22

Finally, the rereading of the Oedipus tragedy marks Western culture since

23

Freud with psychoanalysis; or Oedipus as a "scapegoat" who, being sacrificed,

24

allows the re-establishment of justice in Thebes and to end the plague of

25

which he becomes the only culprit (René Girard), as argued by Carlos João

26

Correia, the myth accounts for this cut between life and thought.28 In this case,

27

we highlight the gap between the chaos of chance, fate, the circumstances of

28

life that escape the will of the agents and moral thought and judgement. If, on

29

the one hand, we designate destiny as the vital circumstance that has

30

uncontrollable elements, on the other hand, moral thought cannot abandon its

31

critical, evaluative and guiding purpose of right action. It is this responsibility

32

for moral errors shrouded in fate that Oedipus bears.

33

34

35

26Ilíada 22, 209-213, cf.: Antunes, Sebenta de História da Cultura Clássica (1970), 262. 27«Meus sofrimentos são inesquecíveis; / sofri-os sem saber o que fazia. / Os deuses

são as minhas testemunhas / e tudo aconteceu malgrado meu.» Sófocles, A Trilogia Tebana: Édipo Rei, Édipo em Colono, Antígona, trans. Mário da Gama Kury (Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2012), 575. «Não! Eu não pequei!» Ibid., 594.

28Correia, Carlos João. Mitos e Narrativas: Ensaios sobre a Experiência do Mal. Lisboa:

(13)

References

1

2

Antunes, Manuel (2008) Sebenta de História da Cultura Clássica (1970) in Obra Completa

3

do Padre Manuel Antunes, Sj. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, t. I, vol. II.

4

Blackburn, Simon (2005) The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford

5

University Press.

6

Correia, Carlos João (2003) Mitos e Narrativas: Ensaios sobre a Experiência do Mal. Lisboa:

7

Centro de Filosofia da Universidade de Lisboa.

8

Correia, Carlos João (1999) Ricoeur e a Expressão Simbólica do Sentido. Lisboa: Fundação

9

Calouste Gulbenkian.

10

Donald Davidson (2001) Essays on Actions and Events. Oxford: Oxford University

11

Press, 12-24.

12

Figes, Orlando (2017) Uma História Cultural da Rússia. Rio de Janeiro: Record.

13

Ilíada (2019). Translated by Frederico Lourenço. Lisboa: Quetzal.

14

Kant, Immanuel (2003) Fundamentação da Metafísica dos Costumes. Translated by Paulo

15

Quintela. Lisboa: Porto Editora.

16

Miguens, Sofia e Cadilha, Susana (coord.) (2011) Ação e Ética: Conversas sobre a

17

Racionalidade Prática. Lisboa: Edições Colibri.

18

Nagel, Thomas (1970) The Possibility of Altruism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

19

Nagel, Thomas (1979) Mortal Questions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

20

Nagel, Thomas (1986) The View from Nowhere. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

21

Nelkin, Dana K. (2019) "Moral Luck", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward

22

N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

<https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2019/entries/moral-23

luck/>.

24

Nussbaum, Martha (2001) The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and

25

Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

26

Odisseia (2018). Translated by Frederico Lourenço. Lisboa: Quetzal.

27

Rawls, John (1971) A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

28

Rawls, John (2013) Uma Teoria da Justiça. Translated by Carlos Pinto Correia. Lisboa:

29

Editorial Presença.

30

Ricoeur, Paul (1996) Soi-même comme un Autre. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

31

Rosell, Sergi (2013) La Suerte Moral. Oviedo: KRK Ediciones.

32

Rosell, Sergi (2006) Nagel y Williams acerca de la suerte moral. Revista de Filosofia, vol.

33

31, n.º 1: 143-65.

34

Sófocles (2004) Ájax. Translated by Mário da Gama Kury. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge

35

Zahar.

36

Sófocles (2012) A Trilogia Tebana: Édipo Rei, Édipo em Colono, Antígona, trans. Mário da

37

Gama Kury. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar.

38

Williams, Bernard. (1981) Moral Luck. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

39

Williams, Bernard (2006) Ethics and Limits of Philosophy. London: Routledge.

40

Williams, Bernard (1993) Shame and Necessity. Berkeley: University of California Press.

41

Wolf, Susan (1992) Morality and Partiality. Philosophical Perspectives n.º 6: 243-259.

42

Wolf, Susan (1982) Moral Saints. The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 79, n.º 8, August: 419-39.

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