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What is Moral Luck?

By Jack Walker - Philosophy Student @ Churchill College, Cambridge


Usually, both in philosophy and our commonplace ideas about ethics, we believe that luck should have nothing to do with morality. Kant famously argued that we can only morally evaluate a person’s will; not the consequences it leads to. For example, it should make no difference to the moral standing of a person if their bad intentions inadvertently lead to good results – a mad scientist attempting to poison a city’s water supply is still a bad person even if they accidentally end up curing cancer. This might even be a comforting thought, since it implies that everyone is equally able to become a good person in spite of the substantial influence that luck has on other areas of our lives. As a result, many will see the phrase ‘moral luck’ as an oxymoron. However, on closer inspection it is clear that luck is a significant, even an essential element of our moral lives.