Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Retroactive Justification and Moral Luck
by Adams, Kyle, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2020, 169; 27665631
Abstract (Summary)

Most would agree that it is a fundamental moral truth that one cannot properly be morally assessed for an action based on the lucky or unlucky outcomes of one's action. This principle of moral evaluation seems indeed to be part of the very essence of morality, that the moral value of one's actions is not determined by such contingencies. Nevertheless, when we consider particular cases, we do often make moral judgments which appear to be made on the basis of lucky outcomes. The incompatibility of this practice with an endorsement of the above picture of moral evaluation as immune to luck has been referred to as the Problem of Moral Luck.

There are, in fact, multiple Problems of Moral Luck, one for each form of moral assessment: judgments of blameworthiness and praiseworthiness, judgments of wrongness and permissibility, and judgments of the propriety of punishment. In this dissertation, I will focus on just one of these, the Problem of Moral-Justification Luck. The Problem is that it seems that lucky outcomes should not justify one in having taken a certain course of action, and unlucky outcomes should not make one's actions unjustified. But, nevertheless, our judgments of whether a course of action was justified can be affected by lucky outcomes. If an action is justified by lucky outcomes, then it was permissibly done, and so it cannot be wrong to have done.

My goal is to develop a theory of moral-justification luck, an account of its nature and the claims one is obliged to endorse if one is to affirm the possibility of this kind of moral luck. I argue that our susceptibility to retrospective emotions of regret and affirmation implies that there are reasons to (not) have done otherwise, reasons which one could not have had at the time one acted. These reasons to (not) have done otherwise can rationalize an action, and I want to argue that such rationalizations can constitute a justification (or the absence of one). When they do, we can say that an action has been retroactively justified. This is the conclusion of Chapter 2.

Rationalizations do not always constitute justifications. First, the rationalization must identify considerations which are significant enough to outweigh the considerations which made an action unjustified in the first place. Second, in Chapter 3 I argue that a rationalization for an action will provide justification only if the outcome that rationalizes the action retroactively is an outcome that is internal to the act justified. The question is how to draw the distinction between internal and external outcomes. I argue that the best way to understand internal outcomes is that an outcome is internal to an act if it is the outcome of what one is trying to do or accomplish. With this account of internal outcomes in hand, we can see better what it means for an action to be retroactively justified: a retroactively justified action is one worth having done.

In Chapter 4, I bring this account of retroactive justification together with a characterization of the nature of luck to produce a theory of moral luck. I then argue for the possibility of moral luck against those who deny its possibility. I argue that, in fact, moral luck is consistent with some of the claims that have been used to deny its possibility.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Oshana, Marina
Commitee: Landry, Elaine, Sennet, Adam
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Philosophy
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 82/3(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Philosophy, Ethics, Metaphysics
Keywords: Luck, Moral luck, Retroactive justification
Publication Number: 27665631
ISBN: 9798672160702
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