Moral Luck – Choice and Chance

Welcome to my first review from a lecture I picked up this course from the teaching company called “Questions of Value”. This lecture although rather deep, is quite a fairly good start to my blog since it involves ethics, something family, carers and the community can become involved in from daily situations.

The course is taught by Professor Patrick Grim from State University of New York.

Professor Patrick Grim

Within this particular course I look at lecture 19 out of 24 called “Choice and Chance”. Here this particular lecture looks at how the role of luck affects ethics and morality. We explore in this lecture Is life a mere matter of luck?

First the lecture explores why Immanuel Kant a famous philosopher thought that luck plays no role in mortality, Kant thinks that it is the good will that’s important and luck should not be a factor in moral decisions.

 

Here is a passage where Kant explains why he feels Luck has no place in the idea of moral decisions.

“A good will is good not because of what it effects, or accomplishes, not because of its fitness to attain some intended end, but good just by its willing, i.e. in itself; and, considered by itself, it is to be esteemed beyond compare much higher than anything that could ever be brought about by it in favor of some inclinations, and indeed, if you will, the sum of all inclinations.”

However Prof Patrick feels moral value of an action CAN depend on mere luck, there are factors of luck that can affect the outcome of an action. Some outcomes can be favourable, while others can cause disaster.

 

This lecture explores how morality is open to chance and for most of the lecture, Prof Patrick concentrates on factors of the law. We have several examples where ethics and the law are open to dispute. A good example brought up in the lecture was for instance the idea of crime of murder and the idea of attempted crime. The law has varying levels of different punishment, hence the act of attempted and the act of murder carried out.

Prof Patrick poses several questions
– How can these cases be treated so differently?
– What the person was trying to do, if successful?

Patrick starts that attempted murder may be unsuccessful because something outside your control could have happened e.g. Luck or something deeper that changes the outcome.

so here we have the law which allows one person to be executed to death, and the other is in jail a few years. The lecture looks at what how much of a difference that the mere amount of luck plays. Plus it seems unfair because of the ethical differences, but mainly just down to chance.

The lecture looks at the idea of intent, for instance when two drunken men fight in a bar and one yells out “I ll Kill you” and pushes the other man far back, which leads to the man falling and cracking his skull. We are asked what was the intent?

Another view from a philosopher Thomas Nagel, feels something seems unfair about this. Thomas feels moral luck does play a part in ethics and how it affects us. Thomas explored the ideas of 4 types of moral luck.

Being : –

Circumstantial Moral Luck
Constitutive Moral Luck
Causal Moral Luck
Resultant Moral Luck

thomas-nagel

The lecture examines the idea of “Resultant Moral luck” further by exploring the following example.

A speeding truck driver runs over a person, the driver will feel bad about this, however the truck driver can be negligence if he did not check his truck’s tires. While another truck driver also drives dangerously, but for him, even though he was speeding as well, the person was crossing on the road at the time.

Although negligence seems to be the case for both examples, the main difference is that outside forces e.g. the person being on the road must have played a part in how luck can affect the outcome.

Nagel shows our moral values can be self contradictory and he feels Kant conclusion of moral luck is unacceptable. However there are still some problems with this conclusion, the course feels Nagal is wrong, and there is a deeper level of ethics and intuition that plays its part in the human condition. Sometimes the legal system struggles take these factors into account because of the cost of social resources.

 

The lecture also looks into the problem of how social machinery operates, where we all know that no social machinery operates flawlessly, we are all prone to error. The social machinery design to present harm, can actually cause harm as it sways from one factor to another in balancing social issues.

So the fine line between the truck drivers is that they have both done something wrong, whether or not the person dies…which leads kant to be roughly right, but the social machinery needs to fit in to this structure, which it sometimes does not do.

How can this relate to families and carers? How can moral principles affect how society views them. we all question ourselves about if we are negligent towards our loved ones. We wonder if they suffer more because we have made the wrong decision. I sometimes feel that as a carer it is not possible to cover all bases, sometimes carers are in a position where outside factors can affect the result of care.

The lecture states that Morality has a social machinery as well, some moral principles are maybe too difficult to frame without expecting people to apply them without moral error.

The lecture finally looks at the problem of the transmission of ethical principles from generation to generation, such principles need to be generally effective and easily taught. Not all can be easily transferred, some are just not quite right where legal frameworks can also fail. for instance the idea of inherent wrongness cannot be easily identified.

There are problems where there are levels of social complexity in morality. The law also has is own problems because of social complexity. Prof Thomas feels that we have to take into account that some of our moral conditions or intuitions are far deeper than others, but the difficultly is identifying the ones that form some truth against the easy principles.

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