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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Get lucky: Situationism and circumstantial moral luck

Marcela Herdova & Stephen Kearns 
(2015) Philosophical Explorations, 18:3, 362-377
DOI: 10.1080/13869795.2015.1026923


Situationism is, roughly, the thesis that normatively irrelevant environmental factors have a great impact on our behaviour without our being aware of this influence. Surprisingly, there has been little work done on the connection between situationism and moral luck. Given that it is often a matter of luck what situations we find ourselves in, and that we are greatly influenced by the circumstances we face, it seems also to be a matter of luck whether we are blameworthy or praiseworthy for our actions in those circumstances. We argue that such situationist moral luck, as a variety of circumstantial moral luck, exemplifies a distinct and interesting type of moral luck. Further, there is a case to be made that situationist moral luck is perhaps more worrying than some other well-discussed cases of (supposed) moral luck.

From the Conclusion

Those who insist on the significance of luck to our practices of moral assessment are on somewhat of a tightrope. If we consider agents who differ only in the external results of their actions, and who are faced with normatively similar circumstances, it is difficult to maintain that there is any major difference in the degree of such agents’ moral responsibility. If we consider agents that differ rather significantly, and face normatively distinct situations, then though luck may play a role in what normative circumstances they face, there is much to base a moral assessment on that is either under the agents’ control or distinctive of each agent and their respective responses to their normative circumstances (or both). The role luck plays in our assessments of such agents, then, is arguably small enough that it is unclear that any difference in moral assessment can be properly said to be due  to this luck (at least to an extent that should worry us or that is inconsiderable tension with our usual moral thinking).