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02/06/2015

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Tamler, Great article, and moral luck is certainly dear to the hearts of all who deny moral responsibility -- and your posting of the article gives hope to all your MR denying friends that you are edging ever closer to a return to the paths of righteousness. But just curious: would you have posted the article if it were exploring how Joe Montana, rather than Tom Brady, became the greatest? In any case, congratulations to the Pats; but next year, the Saints.

As Galen Strawson says, luck swallows everything! I think Neil may also have a thing or two to say about luck. Don't tease Bruce and I, are you retuning home?

Gregg, it's funny, to the extent that this article makes an argument, I think it supports (P.F.) Strawsonian compatibilism more than any form of skepticism. The point is that we can recognize all the luck-factors that made Brady who he is and still believe that he deserves praise for his greatness. (Obviously, Sharp doesn't use that terminology because he's a normal person.) So if we think that luck doesn't rule out praiseworthiness in sports, why not think that's true for morality too?

Bruce, I actually used to love Montana right up until he slandered Brady with no evidence. Speaking of which: if anyone is working on the link between hypocrisy and responsibility, you can have a field day with these last couple of weeks.

Tamler, Brady is very good and being in New England I'm (parochially) grateful for and (objectively) admiring of his skill. But knowing he's the lucky recipient of the genes, upbringing and later environments which *completely* explain his talent and pluck distributes my gratitude to those factors: are we lucky or what! Not immediately after he drills a pass of course, since we're all keyed to take human agents as semi-detached loci of origination to which we respond reactively. But on reflection I can actually feel he doesn't deserve praise in that primitive causa sui sense we all feel at first. The admiration and gratitude continue, but are modulated by top-down appreciation of distal causation, for me at least. Think of attributions of desert as emotion-driven judgments that can and should be tempered by reflection *if* we want to respond intelligently, all things considered, especially the long term.

The participant attitude so championed by PF Strawson is the enemy of reflection. It singles out the agent, drawing attention away from the fact that luck does indeed swallow everything. Good for Brady and the Pats, but they don't *deserve* praise. Rather, we praise them (spontaneously applaud them) because skillful performance evokes sincere admiration, and, at least in the Northeast, we're happy to share in the good fortune that made them talented and in this case the *very* lucky winners (it was the bad play called by the Seahawks' coach that really decided the game, not anything Brady did). Why not think that's true for morality too?

Tom, this is a classic example of "one man's modus ponens..." Your comment to me sounds like a reductio of responsibility skepticism or at least a clear case of overintellectualizing the facts. First of all, I bet that few if any of us are praising Brady in virtue of his being causa sui. That has nothing to do with it. And you certainly don't need to think of him as causa sui to believe that he's praiseworthy. What moral principle would have self-causation as a necessary condition for athletic praiseworthiness and whatever it is why on earth should we accept it?

Tamler, we would all agree that Brady is "praiseworthy" in the sense of being a brilliant athlete, wonderfully skilled, tremendous work ethic; that is, he is "praiseworthy" in the sense of being exemplary. But we can agree with that while doubting that he is "praiseworthy" in the sense of justly deserving praise, justly deserving special consideration or awards (because he is lucky to have the right genes, environment, etc.) In like manner, I am "blameworthy" for my laziness and grouchiness (I am a genuinely bad person) but I don't justly deserve blame for my genuine faults. Because most people (benighted as they are) believe in moral responsibility, for most people the categories of "exceptionally good" and "praiseworthy" have practically identical contents, and so it is natural that "praiseworthy" would come to be used simply to categorize someone as very good. But it still seems that there is an important distinction to be drawn, even for those who do believe in moral responsibility. Even for those who believe they designate identical sets, there is still an important difference in meaning.

Tamler, I didn't mean to suggest that we have to suppose someone is causa sui to be praiseworthy (I gave other reasons), only that in witnessing an exemplary performance or horrific act we naturally focus on the agent and ignore the distal causes. We don’t see the causal history or situational determinants, which narrows the attribution of causal responsibility to the agent alone, to which our tendency to attribute specifically non-consequentialist credit and blame (desert) responds. Of course libertarians, of which there are at least some among philosophers and lay folk, really do think some element of ultimate self-creation (causa sui) is necessary for desert, which is why they are so keen to establish it. Compatibilist defenders of MR, on the other hand, often deflect attention from the full causal story, which helps to keep desert in play. People appreciate that since they viscerally enjoy placing blame.

I don't think I'm over-intellectualizing here, somewhat the opposite: even cursory reflection on causation trickles down and modulates reactivity (at least in my case, maybe not yours). There's permeability between intellect and emotion, which explains what I call the mitigation response - becoming less punitive and fawning (Brady) in light of the causal story. If, in our psychology, the tendency to place credit and blame tracks perceived causation, then the mitigation response makes perfect emotional sense: as formative and situational factors come into view we in effect start blaming or crediting them too, not just the agent, which diffuses the emotion-laden attribution of desert. The mitigation response makes good practical sense too, since appreciating those non-agent factors gives us more control in bringing about favorable outcomes. What’s not to like?

Bruce, you write that we can agree that Brady is praiseworthy in the sense of being exemplary etc. "while doubting that he is "praiseworthy" in the sense of justly deserving praise, justly deserving special consideration or awards (because he is lucky to have the right genes, environment, etc.)"

But I don't agree. We wouldn't doubt that Brady justly deserves the MVP (and the truck that goes with it) at all. Or if we did, it would have nothing to do with his lucky genes and environment. It would be because we thought Edelman or Malcolm Butler (God bless him) deserved the MVP instead. This is Strawson's deep point: there are standards by which we judge whether someone deserves praise or reward, but they have nothing to do with determinism or ultimate causation. They're much more metaphysically modest.

So in cases like this I don't see the value of making a distinction between deserving praise and reward in your ultimate sense and deserving praise and reward in the ordinary sense I just described. Because only philosophers think of athletic praiseworthiness in the former sense. ("The metaphysics is in the eye of the metaphysician.")

Tom, you write that in cases of exemplary performance "we don’t see the causal history or situational determinants, which narrows the attribution of causal responsibility to the agent alone, to which our tendency to attribute specifically non-consequentialist credit and blame (desert) responds."

What's your basis for that claim? I know that my attribution of non-consequentialist credit to Brady doesn't respond only to "the agent alone." Why should I think I'm the exception?

Tamler, what I meant was that when we see Brady throw a great pass what's salient for us is his talent, not the factors that created it, so he's the focus of our responses, in this case the natural tendency to praise and give credit. These responses encourage Brady to hone his talent and work hard - a sort of natural consequentialism. But of course we experience giving praise as something Brady should receive for what he's done, not because of the consequences.

I'm curious as to how consideration of non-agent factors - looking deeper into the causal story - contributes to your giving non-consequentialist credit to Brady. This is pretty much the opposite of what I described as the mitigation response. You may indeed not be an exception in this but I don't get the psychology.

Tom, consideration of non-agent factors doesn't contribute to the non-consequentialist credit. It just doesn't strip the NC-credit all away (or even a significant portion of it). Why doesn't it strip it all away? I don't know. But I do know that I'm not ignoring the non-agent factors.

If the question is "but how can you rationally justify giving Brady NC-credit in light of those factors?" then the answer is: "that's not something that requires rational justification." It's like asking me to justify loving my daughter or baskin robbins chocolate chip ice cream.

Tamler, Tom,

I'm wondering if some progress might be made if you clarify what you think Brady is praiseworthy for (to the extent that he is praiseworthy at all).

For example, if someone said he was praiseworthy for winning four championships, I can see how consideration of the luck he had on the way to those championships would mitigate my agreement with the claim. On the other hand, if someone said he was praiseworthy for being a great quarterback, then I don't see how his luck in winning or his luck in playing for a good team would be relevant. He'd be just as good a quarterback if he'd lost that last game, or if he'd played for a rotten team all those years.

To be clear, if he had lost/played for a rotten team, then he might well have got less praise, but he wouldn't be any less praiseworthy *for the quality of his play*. (He wouldn't be praiseworthy *at all* for winning the four championships if he hadn't actually won them -- and that is a sense in which he'd have been "less praiseworthy". But I don't think that's a very interesting sense....)

Tamler, you acknowledge there is at least some mitigating effect on attributions of desert from considering non-agent factors, just not much in your case. There’s probably a lot of individual variation in this. Since the mitigation response is not in question, the strength of the emotion is what explains the persistence of desert attributions even when one considers non-agent factors.

I agree that we can’t supply rational justifications for our emotions since they are the motivational basis to which justifications ultimately appeal to. But we can and usually do ask for justifications for *acting* on our emotions. Attributions of desert are emotion-driven calls to reward and punish independently of consequences, so the question is whether, all things considered, we should give this emotion its due in action. But deciding that question necessarily takes into account the consequences of acting on it, and those consequences are necessarily evaluated in light of one’s endorsed values.

One of your central endorsed values is respecting and acting on emotion-driven attributions of desert - rewarding and punishing independently of consequences. But of course there *are* consequences, such as the infliction of suffering and the amplification of inequalities, that, given other values, might restrain us from rewarding and punishing when these produce no benefit other than the satisfactions of meting out just deserts. We’re all susceptible to wanting those satisfactions, but as judged from the standpoint of competing values, they aren’t particularly attractive or ennobling.

Hi All,

Here is the most salient connection between "luck" and football greatness: ANDREW LUCK.

(Ok, sorry--hey, I'm trying...)

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