No luck for moral luck

Cognition 182 (C):331-348 (2019)
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Moral philosophers and psychologists often assume that people judge morally lucky and morally unlucky agents differently, an assumption that stands at the heart of the Puzzle of Moral Luck. We examine whether the asymmetry is found for reflective intuitions regarding wrongness, blame, permissibility, and punishment judg- ments, whether people’s concrete, case-based judgments align with their explicit, abstract principles regarding moral luck, and what psychological mechanisms might drive the effect. Our experiments produce three findings: First, in within-subjects experiments favorable to reflective deliberation, the vast majority of people judge a lucky and an unlucky agent as equally blameworthy, and their actions as equally wrong and permissible. The philosophical Puzzle of Moral Luck, and the challenge to the very possibility of systematic ethics it is frequently taken to engender, thus simply do not arise. Second, punishment judgments are significantly more outcome- dependent than wrongness, blame, and permissibility judgments. While this constitutes evidence in favor of current Dual Process Theories of moral judgment, the latter need to be qualified: punishment and blame judgments do not seem to be driven by the same process, as is commonly argued in the literature. Third, in between-subjects experiments, outcome has an effect on all four types of moral judgments. This effect is mediated by negligence ascriptions and can ultimately be explained as due to differing probability ascriptions across cases.

Author Profiles

Markus Kneer
University of Graz
Edouard Machery
University of Pittsburgh


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