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Title: Metaphysics of luck
Author: Whittington, Lee John
ISNI:       0000 0004 5617 9206
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2015
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Clare, the titular character of The Time Traveller's Wife, reflects that "Everything seems simple until you think about it." (Niffenegger, 2003, 1) This might well be a mantra for the whole of philosophy, but a fair few terms tend to stick out. "Knowledge", "goodness" and "happiness" for example, are all pervasive everyday terms that undergo significant philosophical analysis. "Luck", I think, is another one of these terms. Wishing someone good luck in their projects, and cursing our bad luck when success seems so close to our reach or failure could have so easily been otherwise, happens so often that we rarely stop to reflect on what we really mean. Philosophical reflection on the nature of luck has a rich tradition, that is by no stretch confined to the Western philosophical canon. However, it has only very recently become one of the goals of philosophy to provide a clear account of what luck actually amounts to. This, in part, is the goal of this thesis. The thesis has two primary motivations. The first is to offer and defend a general account of luck that overcomes the problems faced by the current accounts of luck that are available in the current philosophical literature. The second is to apply this general account of luck to the areas of metaethics and epistemology where luck has been a pervasive and problematic concept, and demonstrate how this account of luck may resolve or further illuminate some of the problems that the notion has generated. The thesis is roughly split into two parts. The first half of the thesis focuses on the former objective of offering an account of luck. Chapter 1 offers a selected history of the philosophy of luck that spans from the Ancient Greeks to the present day, so that we might properly situate the current work on luck as part of the broader historical importance of the concept. Chapter 2 will set out the major rival to the theory of luck that I will offer - the lack of control account of luck (LCAL). LCAL has various iterations across the literature, but is most clearly articulated by Wayne Riggs (2009) and E.J. Coffman (2006, 2009). Both Coffman and Riggs add and adapt their own conditions to LCAL specifically so that the account may overcome several problems that have been levied against it. These further conditions are not incompatible so, to provide the strongest lack of control account possible, I have combined them to form a lack of control account I have called Combined LCAL - (c)LCAL. The latter part of the chapter pits (c)LCAL against some of the problems that have been raised against LCAL. However, despite the efforts of both Riggs and Coffman, even (c)LCAL fails to counter some of these objections. For these reasons I have rejected LCAL has a viable candidate for an account of luck. Chapter 3 sets out a modal account of luck (MAL), as argued for by Pritchard (2004, 2005, 2014), where an event is lucky only if it occurs in the actual world, but not in a relevant set of nearby possible worlds. Here I further elaborate on how we should understand the modal distances using Lewisian possible world semantics, and what worlds should be taken into consideration when fixing the relevant set of nearby possible worlds. I argue that these relevant sets of worlds should be fixed according to the domain of inquiry of which the luck is being applied - this I call the type of luck. Examples of this is the current literature are resultant luck - the type of luck concerned with the results of our actions, and veritic luck - the type of luck concerned with the modal safety of our belief formation. Due to the multitude of types of luck across disciplinary areas, a general modal account of luck requires flexibility in what factors should fix the relevant sets of possible worlds. I achieve this by providing a [TYPE] function for the general modal account of luck, which is used as a mean of inserting the relevant fixing conditions for any domain of inquiry. Chapter 3, in a similar vein to Chapter 2, pits the general modal account of luck against some of the problems that have been levied against MAL, specifically the Buried Treasure problem raised by Lackey (2008) and the agent causation problem as raised by Levy (2011). More successfully, the modal account offered stands up against these criticisms. For these reasons, the modal condition understood with the [TYPE] function and Lewisian semantics concerning modal distances, will be adopted to make up one half of the conditions for my account of luck. Chapter 4 will look at the second condition for an account of luck - the significance condition. The chapter will set out the reasons for adopting a significance condition at all, and some of the ways in which the condition has been articulated by Rescher (1995), Pritchard (2005) and Ballantyne (2011). All of these current views of the significance condition will be found wanting due to their inability to make sense of certain kinds of luck in specific normative domains. For example, Ballantyne's account of significance focuses on the interests of an agent, yet for certain types of moral luck, the interests of the agent are irrelevant. Instead, I propose a relativised significance condition, where the value of the event is relative to the value of the normative domain in which the luck is being ascribed. Epistemic luck requires a focus on the epistemic significance of the event for the agent, moral luck requires a focus on the moral or ethical significance of the event for the agent, and so on. This I call the kind of luck. Similar to the [TYPE] function for the modal condition for luck, the significance condition requires a [NORMATIVE DOMAIN] function where the relevant normative domain can be inserted depending on the kind of luck. This version of the significance condition will be conjoined with the modal condition as set out in Chapter 3 to form the correct general account of luck. Chapter 5 is the first chapter of the second half of the thesis that concerns applying the account of luck set out in part 1 to more specific domains of inquiry. Chapter 5 concerns moral luck, more specifically, resultant moral luck. Moral luck has traditionally been understood in terms of lack of control. This chapter looks at how Pritchard (2005) and Driver (2014) have attempted to understand moral luck using modal conditions. However, it is argued that these attempts would be more successful if we adopted the account of luck that I have offered in previous chapters. The chapter will go on to look at two possible problems that may be faced by this modal account of luck, and how it may resolve these problems. Chapter 6, the final chapter, looks at epistemic luck, specifically how the adoption of the modal account I have offered resolves a particular problem targeted at anti-luck epistemology by Ballantyne (2013). The problem, Ballantyne argues, is that given that luck requires a significance condition, the degree of significance affects the degree of luck and that the degree of luck involved in our belief formation affects whether we are in a position to know the target proposition, that the result is that degree of significance affects our ability to know. For at least some instances of this - such as the aesthetic significance that we assign to the target proposition - the result will be that non-epistemic factors that have no relevance at all whether an agent is in a position to know will (absurdly, in Ballantyne's view) affect that agent's position to know. The resolution to this problem can be found in a two part solution. The first part is to demonstrate that any degree of veritic epistemic luck results in the agent failing to know. The second is that through the relativisation of the significance condition, any type of value will not affect an agent's position to know, only the epistemic value. With these two considerations in mind, the latter of which that can only be held through the adoption of the modal account of luck I have offered, the problem may be resolved.
Supervisor: Hazlett, Allan ; Pritchard, Duncan Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: luck ; epistemic luck ; metaphysics ; moral luck