Summer 2023 - PHIL 824 G100

Selected Topics Moral Psychology (5)

Moral Luck & Culpability

Class Number: 5050

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    May 8 – Aug 4, 2023: Fri, 9:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.



Selected Topics: Moral Luck in Criminal Culpability

Important note regarding enrollment: All seats are reserved for Philosophy Graduate students. Enrollments from other departments will be considered only upon submission of the Graduate Course Add Form, and with instructor's permission. All such enrollments will be done in or after the first week of classes.

In one of baseball’s most memorable moments, Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson obliterated an unlucky bird when it flew directly into the path of his fastball (google it). Imagine that instead of a pitch, the bird flew into the path of an assassin’s bullet, thereby preventing the bullet from reaching its target. Even if the would-be assassin were apprehended, he could only be charged with attempted murder, which carries a significantly lower sentence than murder. While this scenario may seem far-fetched, the general phenomenon is ubiquitous—every day, drivers take unnecessary risks by speeding or running stop-signs; people in corporations, laboratories, and government offices sign off on things to which they ought to put a stop, bend the rules, or take unnecessary risks for the sake of convenience, profit, or misplaced generosity. Typically, such untoward actions go unnoticed and unsanctioned (or, at most, mildly sanctioned), but on those rare occasions where they cause significant harm, significant punishment tends to follow. Yet for the thwarted assassin, the reckless driver, and the negligent official, the difference in whether or to what extent one is punished is due wholly to external factors outside of the agent’s control. This feature of our familiar societal blaming practices runs contrary to the pervasive belief that we ought only to be morally assessed for what is in our control. This phenomenon whereby our moral appraisals, such as how much blame or punishment a person deserves, depends on factors outside of one’s control is known as the problem of moral luck. In this course we will take a deep dive into the nature of moral luck and what it reveals about the nature and legitimacy of our blaming practices, especially within criminal law. After approaching the topic from a theoretical perspective, we will turn to a critical investigation of certain specific doctrines within Canadian criminal law where moral luck is especially prevalent.


Successful completion of this course will satisfy the “Value Theory Stream” distribution requirement toward the MA degree for Philosophy graduate students.


  • Online discussion participation 10%
  • Peer review of first draft (for two classmates) 10%
  • Seminar paper (proposal, draft, final) 80%


This course will be blended. Please contact instructor for exact schedule and which parts are online. 



All readings will be made available on Canvas.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at:

Graduate Studies Notes:

Important dates and deadlines for graduate students are found here: The deadline to drop a course with a 100% refund is the end of week 2. The deadline to drop with no notation on your transcript is the end of week 3.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university.


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the semester are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.