Res Publica

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 317–331 | Cite as

Moral Luck and Liability Lotteries

  • Guy Sela
Winner of the 2009 Postgraduate Essay Prize


Adversaries of Moral Luck (AMLs) are at pains to explain why wrongdoers are liable to bear burdens (punishment, compensation etc.) which are related to the harm they cause, because the consequences of what we do are a matter of luck. One attempt to solve this problem suggests that wrongdoers who cause more harm are liable to bear a greater burden not because they are more blameworthy but rather because they get the short straw in a liability lottery (represented by the apparently indeterminate causal process). In this paper I argue that this attempt fails on several grounds. Apart from the fact that it is hard to see how the implementation of liability lotteries can be motivated and the fact that such scheme presupposes a political order (whereas the notion of liability does not seem to presuppose one), detaching liability from the outcomes of a culpable action undermines whichever justifications there were for imposing liability in the first place. Moreover, relying on the determination of the causal process as a good indication of the wrongdoer’s degree of culpability is mistaken, because the luck brought about through the causal process is not necessarily the only element involved in cases of harmful conduct which lies beyond the wrongdoers’ control.


Moral luck Lotteries Criminal attempts Reparations David Lewis Jeremy Waldron 



A debut paper involves the pleasant duty of thanking many people. I would like to thank Andrew Ashworth, Yitzhak Benbaji, Leslie Green and David Rodin, the participants at the Oxford Jurisprudence Discussion Group and the Society for Applied Philosophy 2009 Annual Conference and two reviewers for Res Publica for helpful comments. For many years of invaluable support and encouragement I would like to thank Amit Klein, Tamar Meisels and Yedidia Stern. Finally, I am in debt to three people whose contribution to this paper cannot be overstated. Danny Statman was the first to introduce me to the problem of moral luck (among so many other interesting problems). John Gardner and John Tasioulas supervised the writing of my MSt thesis, parts of which formed the basis of this paper. I learned from these people more than I could ever thank them for.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.OxfordUK
  2. 2.University of OxfordOxfordUK

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