Saturday, August 22, 2020

Steven D. Hales's "The Myth of Luck"

Steven D. Hales is Professor and Chair of philosophy at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, USA. He works primarily in metaphysics and epistemology, and also in popular philosophy. He has been a Visiting Professor at the Universities of Cambridge, Turin, Edinburgh, and London. He is an award-winning writer and teacher, and has published numerous books and articles.

Hales applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Myth of Luck: Philosophy, Fate, and Fortune, and reported the following:
In The Myth of Luck I argue that there is no such thing as luck, that it is not a genuine property of the world and that claims of luck amount to no more than a subjective point of view on the events that affect us. Luck skepticism is a far-reaching view, not only because we so naturally assume that our lives are saturated with good luck and bad, but also because luck has deep philosophical roots. One of these areas is moral luck, which is what I discuss on page 99.

Moral luck is a puzzle. Immanuel Kant thought that no one deserves judgment for things that aren’t their fault. If something is outside of your control, you are neither praiseworthy nor blameworthy for it; you are properly judged only for things that are within your control. The problem is that there are unlucky events that apparently affect your blameworthiness. For example, imagine someone who, completely sober and attentive, drives through a large pile of leaves at the side of the road. She feels a couple of large bumps, but assumes they are sticks or packed-down yard waste.

There are two endings to this story. Ending one: it was just sticks, and it turned out to be an unremarkable fall drive in the country. Ending two: there were children hidden in the leaves, and the driver unwittingly killed them. In ending one, the driver did nothing wrong at all. But there’s a powerful intuition that the driver is more blameworthy, guiltier, in the case of ending two, even though it was just bad luck the bumps in the leaves were children and not sticks. If that’s right, then luck can affect how much you are to blame for things are are not your fault, and Kant must be wrong. On page 99 I consider the possibility that the driver merits equal moral assessment in both endings, and criticize that idea.

The page 99 test gives a window into one of the puzzles about luck that I consider in the book. While moral luck is something philosophers have worried about, the book as a whole is written for the intelligent and curious (but nonspecialist) reader, and examines luck from the ancient Greeks to cutting-edge work in experimental psychology, and is filled with illustrative anecdotes and examples from math, gambling, sports, and medicine.
Learn more about The Myth of Luck at the author's website.

--Marshal Zeringue