Better good than lucky: An Aristotelian solution to the problem of moral luck
Philosopher Thomas Nagel casts doubt on our ordinary moral judgments of persons by his arguments for the existence of “moral luck.” We intuitively accept that moral responsibility requires control, yet we seem to routinely praise and blame people for actions, outcomes, and character substantially shaped by luck. This challenge to moral judgment rests on a faulty view of the conditions for moral responsibility and the process of moral judgment. The morally responsible person must satisfy the control and epistemic conditions originally identified by Aristotle in Book Three of the Nicomachean Ethics. When those conditions are adequately explained and developed, moral responsibility clearly tracks a person’s voluntary actions, outcomes, and character. Nagel’s questions about whether a person might have done otherwise given better or worse luck are irrelevant to the praise and blame a person deserves for his actual voluntary doings. This account of moral responsibility and moral judgment eliminates the appearance of moral luck in the puzzling cases raised by Nagel and others. We can conclude that our ordinary moral judgments of persons are warranted: they do not depend on luck in any problematic way.