Luck, blame, and desert

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T.M. Scanlon has recently proposed what I term a ‘double attitude’ account of blame, wherein blame is the revision of one’s attitudes in light of another person’s conduct, conduct that we believe reveals that the individual lacks the normative attitudes we judge essential to our relationship with her. Scanlon proposes that this account justifies differences in blame that in turn reflect differences in outcome luck. Here I argue that although the double attitude account can justify blame’s being sensitive to outcome luck, it cannot justify allocating blame differently when agents with the same attitudes differ only with respect to the luck-based outcomes of their actions. However, Scanlon’s own contractualist theory of morality can be invoked to show that the double attitude account is compatible with blame-based sanctions (e.g., compensation mandated when negligence or reckless result in harm) being sensitive to outcome luck. The resultant view of blame and luck remains desert-based while making sense of the common intuition that differences in outcome luck can matter to how lucky and unlucky individuals are justifiably treated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-332
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


  • moral luck
  • blame
  • desert
  • compensation
  • negligence and recklessness
  • T.M. Scanlon


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