Conceptions of Moral Luck, Culpability, and The Reader

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Abstract:

Man's capacity for perpetrating atrocities invites deep consideration of our understanding of human nature and existence and such considerations occur in discourses concerning the nature of individual and collective responsibility, of circumstances of coercion and duress, of the relationship between fate and agency. In recent years, there has been a rise in scholarly discussion about the possible significance of the notion of 'moral luck' to notions of responsibility, justice and law. The term, discussed at length in 1976 by Bernard Williams and famously replied to by Thomas Nagel has given rise to energetic scholarly discussion, yet the nuanced philosophy motivating the coining of the phrase may have been misconstrued. Using Bernhard Schlink's The Reader as an illustrative tool, this paper sets out to explore, in particular, the foundational significance of the ideas of 'circumstantial' and 'constitutive' luck to such discussions.

Keywords: BERNARD WILLIAMS; BERNHARD SCHLINK; CULPABILITY; FREE WILL; JOHN DEMJANJUK; MORAL LUCK; NARRATIVE; THE READER; THOMAS NAGEL

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5235/175214811798043603

Publication date: December 1, 2011

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  • Law and Humanities is a peer-reviewed journal, providing a for for scholarly discourse within the arts and humanities around the subject of law. For this purpose, the arts and humanities disciplines are taken to include literature, history (including history of art), philosophy, theology, classics and the whole spectrum of performance and representational arts. The remit of the journal does not extend to consideration of the laws that regulate practical aspects of the arts and humanities (such as the law of intellectual property). Law and Humanities is principally concerned to engage with those aspects of human experience which are not empirically quantifiable or scientifically predictable.
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