A Shelter from Luck: The Morality System Reconstructed

In András Szigeti & Matthew Talbert (eds.), Morality and Agency: Themes from Bernard Williams. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 182-209 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Far from being indiscriminately critical of the ideas he associated with the morality system, Bernard Williams offered vindicatory explanations of its crucial building blocks, such as the moral/non-moral distinction, the idea of obligation, the voluntary/involuntary distinction, and the practice of blame. The rationale for these concessive moves, I argue, is that understanding what these ideas do for us when they are not in the service of the system is just as important to leading us out of the system as the critique of that system. I then show how regarding the aspiration to shelter life from luck as the system’s organizing ambition explains why the system elaborates and combines these building blocks in the way it does. Finally, I argue that the ultimate problem with the resulting construction is its frictionless purity. It robs valuable concepts of their grip on the world we live in, and, by insisting on purity from contingency, threatens to issue in nihilism about value and scepticism about agency.

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Matthieu Queloz
University of Bern

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