FEB 10

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7: FEB 10 Unit Two: Traditional Approaches


  • Nagel, Thomas. "Moral Luck" (1979) (10)
  • Frankfurt, Harry. "Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility" (1969) (10)

More thoughts on helpful peer commenting

  • You are only asked to write two or three sentences of comments, so choose wisely!
  • "gentle criticism"
  • "I'm having trouble understanding this sentence" vs. "This sentence makes no sense!"
  • Wrap a criticism with an affirmation or positive comment
  • General and specific -- Ok to identify general problem with the writing, but giving examples of the problem or potential solutions.

Nagel, Thomas. "Moral Luck"

  • famous Kant quote: good will is good apart from nature.
  • but in ordinary moral judgment we do not seem justified in blame people for what is out of their control.
  • cases: atttempted murder, heroism succeeding or failing, not being in Germany in 1930's
  • 2: proposal: separate luck from moral judgement "look for a more refined condition of control". He rejects this proposal - not a hypothetical question
  • Four types of luck:
  • constitutive
  • circustantial
  • luck in how one is determined by antecedent casuses
  • luck in how one's actions turn out (case of the bird taking the bullet)
  • negligence might do some work here, but it's irrational that whether we are found negligent might also be subject to luck, even after the event! (Digress on "felony murder" a strict liability standard for criminal conduct.)
  • decisions under uncertainty - outcomes of revolutions determine whether one is a hero or scoundrel. Problem: sometimes the outcome defines the moral action.
  • Major thesis p. 5: The existence of moral luck undermines the idea that responsibility is dependent on control. 8: "the area of genuine agency ... shrinks .. to an extensionless point."

Frankfurt, Harry. "Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility" (1969)

  • Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP): a person is MR for an act only if he could have done otherwise. (Suggests that MR is incompatible with determinism.)
  • PAP is false. "A person may do something in circumstances that leave him no alternative to doing it, without these circumstances actually moving him or leading him to do it."
  • Jones Coercion cases
  • 1. Jones is threatened to do X, but Jones had already decided to do X. Jones is MR. (But this isn't a counterexample to PAP or the principle that "coercion excuses")
  • 2. Jones feels the threat, he may have already decided to do X, can't even remember, but he does X because of the threat. Jones is not MR.
  • 3. Jones feels the threat and it would have been powerful enough to coerce him, but he already decided to do X. MR pretty unclear in this case.
  • Jones3 does not necessarily challenge the principle that "coercion excuses" because it's not clear that he was coerced. But whether we say he was coerced or not, the doctrine that coercion excuses is not a particularized version of PAP (In other words, when we excuse a person who is coerced we are not doing it because he/she "couldn't have done otherwise"(PAP). So MR is compatible with determinism.
  • Section IV - Goes further to show that PAP is false.
  • You might object that that Jones3 does not pose a threat to PAP because strictly speaking, coercion doesn't exclude the alternative poss of acting in spite of the threat.
  • We could get into a discussion of what "could have done otherwise" really means, but Frankfurt thinks he has a new case that will show PAP is false.
  • Jones4: Black wants Jones to do X, but he's a subtle manipulator. Only acts to steer Jones if he's not on course to do X. If Jones does X without Black intervening, he is MR even though "he couldn't have done otherwise." PAP plays no role in the explanation of his behavior.
  • Revised PAP: A person is not morally responsible for what he has done if he did it only because he could not have done otherwise. Revised PAP makes sense of Jones1-3.