Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Luck and the Issue of Control

Admittedly, I need to read more on the literature surrounding the issue of luck as it pertains to libertarian accounts of freedom. Nonetheless, I want to share a brief story and relate it to the issue of luck. “Luck” is a technical term in philosophy, meaning something like “an event that takes place over which the agent has no control.” As an example, consider the person born into a wealthy family. That person had no control over that; he just as easily could have been born into a poor family, or middle-class. In this case, it is an instance of luck (as it would be whatever class he was in).

Here’s a story that I find interesting: I had received a jury summons for Wake County. I was advised to call in the night before my appointed date, and a recording would inform me whether or not I was needed. As it turns out, I was not, and my obligation was considered fulfilled. But suppose instead I decided to stick it to the man and not bother calling, intending to skip the entire process. As far as I would know, I was in violation of the court order, even though, in fact, I was in compliance. In bringing this up with my co-workers, who are not philosophers in the regular sense, we discovered an alternate scenario I am calling the “Adam Rule.” The Adam Rule (AR) is borne out of a sadistic society, and is as follows:

AR. If a potential juror calls the line at the appropriate time, then she is excused from jury duty. If she does not call, she will be arrested and executed.

Further, let’s stipulate that AR is known only to the relevant authorities, and no potential juror knows of or has reason to suspect something like AR is true. Now we can analyze the relevant facts to see if the traditional luck explanation (luck is something over which the agent involved has no control) holds.

1.     The juror’s calling in. This seems to be a fact over which the potential juror has control and is not luck. The traditional model holds.
2.     AR. This seems to be a fact over which the potential juror has no control, and yet is luck. Once again, the traditional model holds.
3.     The two outcomes: excused or executed. This is a fact that the potential juror seems to have at least partial control over, since whether the juror is excused depends on whether or not she calls in, the latter fact having been granted “control status” for the agent. Yet it is also a matter of luck, since the determiner of the outcomes for the respective behaviors is not up to the potential juror.

So it may be that issues of luck arise even for agents who exercise partial control with respect to certain events. I’m open to hearing more, both for your opinions and any relevant works with which you are familiar!

1 comment:

  1. I would highly recommend Kevin Timpe's book, Free Will: Sourcehood and its Alternatives, 2nd Edition by Bloomsbury. It has a ton on Luck that will be really amazing for you.

    Though I haven't read it all yet (I ordered another of his books on free will, he was recommended to me by Jerry L. Walls) it has a ton I've read on Luck that will be really helpful.

    He gives for example 3 cases of indeterminism and luck. The first being luck which "is located in the agent's ability to turn his volition...into a particular external action." Since this doesn't enter into the agent's volition he is responsible for it.

    In the Second Scenario he gives an example of indeterministic luck which does figure into the volition itself with an example of a wheel of torture yet he shows that the person is still morally responsible.

    In the third case it "locates the indeterminacy even earlier in the volitional process." Yet shows that in the example given of the woman that even then she still did it for reasons and with a purpose so that she still is in control of said actions. She willed it, had reasons for it and endorsed it.

    All these shows "that some instances of indeterministic luck fail to be instances of control-undermining luck."

    Take the first provided by Robert Kane: "A husband while arguing with his wife, in a fit of rage swings his arm down on her favorite glass-top table intending to break it...Suppose that some indeterminism in his outgoing neural pathways makes the momentum of his arm indeterminate, so that it is undetermined whether the table will actually break right up to the moment when it is struck. Whether the husband breaks the table is undetermined and yet he is clearly responsible, if he does break it. (It would be a poor excuse to offer his wife, if he claimed: "Chance did it, not me." Though indeterminism was involved, chance didn't do it, he did.) [See "Libertarianism," in John Martin Fischer, Robert Kane, Derk Pereboom, and Manuel Vargas, Four Views on Free Will].

    Timpe also gives "four kinds of luck that might be at work in moral luck:

    Resultant luck: luck in the way one's actions and projects turn out;

    Causal luck: luck in how one is determined by antecedent circumstances;

    Circumstantial luck: luck in the kinds of problems and situations one faces;

    Constitutive luck: luck regarding the type of person you are, where this is not just a question of what you deliberately do, but of your inclinations, capacities, and temperament."

    Anyway I aver. I hope this helps (:


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