Thomas Nagel and the Philosophy of Chance

Once one accepts the rationality of prudence, a very similar line of argument would lead one to accept the rationality of altruism, i.e., the idea that the pains and pleasures of other individuals are as capable of motivating one to act as being one’s pains and pleasures. This means that only reason can inspire moral action; therefore, appeals to self-interest or benevolent feelings are unnecessary.

“Moral Luck”¬† states that Thomas Nagel claims that moral luck reveals a paradox in the concept of moral responsibility. According to Nagel, the central element in the human being’s concept of moral responsibility is the Control Condition which can be schematically represented: (CC) Agent S is morally responsible for action A only if A is under S’s control.

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The paradox arises because one becomes aware that everything human beings do depends, at least partially, on factors beyond their control, many of which are due to luck. A consequence of the CC is that the person is not responsible for what is beyond his control, which allows him to say that certain factors such as coercion, involuntary movements, and ignorance excuse responsibility. Various answers have been attempted to address Nagel’s paradox. They fall into one or the other of two camps: on the one hand, defending CC and rejecting the influence of luck on moral responsibility; on the other hand, defending the influence of luck on moral responsibility and rejecting CC.