Saturday, February 13, 2010

Moral luck and Moral appraisal of action

It can be argued (and has) that the moral worth of an action, that is, whether or not it is blamable or praiseworthy (or neither) is determined not just by the rightness or wrongness of the action but by the motives and the deepness of the concern for those motives. These are criteria by which actions are judged: motivation by good or ill will, whether there were moral reasons behind them and whether it comes from someone's moral character (instead of something out of the ordinary for the agent), and the degree with which moral effort is applied (the more effort applied to accomplish an act deemed morally praiseworthy, ceteris paribus, the more so it is).

However, I think there's another criteria. The effort in which the agent has towards finding out whether or not her moral reasons were, indeed, good ones (real morally good reasons as opposed to just what she believes morally good but really are not). I know many people that have deep passion for morality and doing good but may do the wrong things because they have bad reasons (though they may imagine them to be good moral reasons). Some people are very complacent and dogmatic in their "morality" (some very religious people might come to mind). They never stop to wonder if they really are doing the right things. This is a kind of epistemic hubris. They may do things behind reasons that are in some sense, moral reasons but just false moral reasons. I think most people who are this way (and they may constitute the majority of the population of even educated adult Americans) don't care about getting their moral conceptions right. They just care about acting on moral reasons (whether they are right or wrong reasons, whether or not they really do reflect true morality are of less concern to them).

But this brings up a question: Even if a person performs an action passing all these criteria, she may still not do the right thing if he doesn't do the right action. Say she is very motivated by a good will to do the right things in this case. She also has the moral character of a good person and tries very hard to dig at her own moral assumptions and thoughts questioning them often and rigorously to test for their quality and soundness. She does that in deliberating to do this action. But if in fact her actions spring from bad reasons (say she lived in 1920s Germany and supports the NAZI party thinking they are good people despite the signs of evil), it is reasonable to say that she has not done good.

But she may be limited by other factors like limited intelligence, e.g. There is nothing or very little that she could do to possibly raise her intelligence. She may not have the cognitive resources to evaluate the matter at hand despite the fact that ex hypothesii, she is motivated to do good, has moral reasons for doing so, is doing it out of her character and putting lots of effort to do what she takes to be good. Additionally, she cares deeply about getting her moral reasons right. Therefore, the blameworthiness of her action in the example here shows that her action's moral quality is (partly) decided on luck. She will not be blamed, perhaps, if she really is quite stupid and gullible for her support of the NAZI party but certainly, her actions are not good even though she tried very hard to do good things in this case.

But there is nothing she could have done for herself to make her actions any better in this case if she had good motives, reasons that for someone with her intelligence are good ones and she may even have a history of concerted attempts to question her own reasons and to arrive at the real morally correct motives if they so differ from her own. But now since she did about as much as she could towards goodness of action, her action is still not good (I don't think people will say they are indicators of the badness of her should but her actions are none the less blamable).