Friday, April 12, 2013

Unfortunate Luck

**This is from guest blogger, Will P.**

In "Moral Luck" Thomas Nagel espouses a moral responsibility incompatibilist complaint against both Kant's idea of moral judgment and an intuitive idea of moral judgment most clearly found in the legal system. According to Kant, moral judgment should not take "luck" (or aspects of an act that are out of an agent's control) into account. The only relevant issue is the "will" or intent of an agent. Nagel contrasts this view with the legal fact that attempted murder is punished to a lesser degree than murder, which indicates that people intuitively make moral judgments primarily based on the results of actions that could be out of an agent's control, not primarily based on intent. He doesn't consider the possibility that legal punishment is a separate judgment from moral judgment, or, alternatively, if they are the same sort of judgment, that Kant could have grounds to object to our legal system based on these discrepancies. He considers multiple ways in which the objects of moral judgments (actions, results of actions, and/or agents themselves) can be out of the control of any given agent. These are what is meant by "moral luck." According to Nagel, if determinism is true, then moral judgments that take intention to be of primary concern are untenable and moral responsibility cannot be ascribed to agents. This is why I take him to be a moral responsibility incompatibilist. Even without determinism being true, there are situations in which the results of actions, which are out of the control of agents, determine the moral judgments of them, and these situations should thereby undermine the judgments if they are meant to be based on personal agency. (He uses the example of reckless driving which may or may not result in killing someone, depending on one's moral luck.) This case can be construed as more persuasive, since it doesn't require one to concede full-scale determinism. Kant or any other defender of the view that intentions, not results, are the rational grounds for moral judgment could insist that these judgments, which are influenced by results, are irrational and should not be made by rational people. Kant's claim is normative, so Nagel's examples don't do very much to combat it. This is the issue when Nagel says, "We may be persuaded that these moral judgements are irrational, but they reappear involuntarily as soon as the argument is over." If Nagel or anyone else "involuntarily" makes irrational judgments, it is really no strike against Kant's normative claim. Nagel points out a legitimate conflict between two commonly held ideas about morality (namely Kant's and the legal system's), but I don't see any indication to suggest that one is more "intuitively acceptable" than the other. In other words, I don't think that Nagel has valid reasons to reject Kant's normative instead of the "involuntary" judgments that people make based on results, especially if determinism is not granted to be true.

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