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Morality and Luck

  • Henning Jensen (a1)

Thomas Nagel recognizes that it is commonly believed that people can neither be held morally responsible nor morally assessed for what is beyond their control. Yet he is convinced that although such a belief may be intuitively plausible, upon reflection we find that we do make moral assessments of persons in a large number of cases in which such assessments depend on factors not under their control. Of such factors he says: ‘Wherea significant aspect of what someone does depends on factors beyond his control, yet we continue to treat him in that respect as an object of moral judgment, itcan be called moral luck’ (p. 26).

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1 Thomas Nagel, ‘Moral Luck’ in Mortal Questions by Thomas Nagel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). Page references in brackets are to this article.

2 For a related analysis of the concept of fault see Joel Feinberg's article ‘Sua Culpa’, in his Doing and Deserving (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970).

3 Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals in Immanuel Kant: Critique of Practical Reason and Other Writings in Moral Philosophy, Lewis White Beck (trans, and ed.) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949), 88.

4 Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysical Principles of Virtue, James Ellington (trans.) (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., TheLibrary of Liberal Arts, 1964), 46.

5 I am indebted to Joel Feinberg for his helpful comments concerning this paper.

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
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