What is Moral Luck?


“Moral luck describes circumstances whereby a moral agent is assigned moral blame or praise for an action or its consequences even if it is clear that said agent did not have full control over either the action or its consequences. This term, introduced by Bernard Williams, has been developed, along with its significance to a coherent moral theory, by Williams and Thomas Nagel in their respective essays on the subject.

Responsibility and voluntarism

Broadly speaking, human beings tend to correlate, at least intuitively, responsibility and voluntary action. Thus, the most blame is assigned to persons for their actions and the consequences they entail when we have good cause to believe that both:

    the action was performed voluntarily and without outside coercion,

  • the agent understood the full range of the consequences of their decisions and actions, as could have reasonably been foreseen either at or prior to the time that the action was performed.

Conversely, there is a tendency to be much more sympathetic to those who satisfy any of the following conditions:

  • the agent was coerced to perform the action
  • the agent performed the action through accident and without any fault or negligence of their own
  • at the time of their actions, the agent did not know and had no way of knowing, the consequences that their actions would bring

Parenthetically, the above criteria do not correlate exactly with moral praise – while it may be true that one can and should assign a good deal of moral praise to those who had performed a good action, or an action entailing good consequences, completely on their own volition and uncoerced, it is debatable that the same distinction holds for involuntary actions that happened to turn out well or happened to produce good outcomes.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_luck