Hard Luck

How Luck Undermines Free Will and Moral Responsibility

Neil Levy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportBook

132 Citations (Scopus)


The concept of luck has played an important role in debates concerning free will and moral responsibility, yet participants in these debates have relied upon an intuitive notion of what luck is. This book develops an account of luck, which is then applied to the free will debate. It argues that the standard luck objection succeeds against common accounts of libertarian free will, event-causal and agent-causal, but that it is possible to amend libertarian accounts so that they are no more vulnerable to luck than is compatibilism. But the book also argues that compatibilist accounts of luck are themselves vulnerable to a powerful luck objection. Historical compatibilisms cannot satisfactorily explain how agents can take responsibility for their constitutive luck. Non-historical compatibilisms run into insurmountable difficulties with the epistemic condition on control over action. Because a failure to satisfy the epistemic condition on control is excusing, the book argues, if there are any actions for which agents are responsible, they are akratic actions; for non-akratic actions, agents either fail to satisfy the epistemic condition on moral responsibility or lack control in some other way. But akratic actions are themselves unacceptably subject to luck. The book ends with a discussion of recent non-historical compatibilisms. Some of these new compatibilisms hold that agents are morally responsible for actions just in case these actions express the agent's attitudes. The book argues that accounts of this type do not offer a viable alternative to control-based compatibilisms. Finally, the book argues that other kinds of non-historical compatibilism have no resources to deploy against the hard luck view because the latter does not entail that instant agents have a different degree of moral responsibility than agents who have a history.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationNew York, the United States
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages229
ISBN (Electronic)9780191729256
ISBN (Print)9780199601387
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

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