Jenna Yuzwa: Recognizing an Important Distinction Between Moral Responsibility and Blameworthiness
“Bernard Williams' introduction of the term 'moral luck' (1976) seriously calls into question the intuition that an agent can only be held responsible for that which is in their control. Since one cannot completely guard themselves against bad luck, even the most cautious individual cannot guarantee that their action will not result in dire consequences. Despite the abundance of literature on moral luck, there is virtually nothing written that attempts to apply this notion to collective moral responsibility and it is this gap in the scholarship that I wish to fill.
I will argue that the occurrence of an immoral act is often brought about by multiple people rather than a single individual, with some of these individuals being morally responsible and others being morally blameworthy. Additionally, moral responsibility plays a direct role in bringing about the occurrence of an immoral act, while moral blameworthiness plays an indirect role, and this will be illustrated by addressing two types of moral luck, constitutive luck (Nagel 1976) and circumstantial luck (Nagel 1976). Circumstantial luck will be discussed with reference to Adams’ (1992) case study and I will suggest that the individual in the border guard trial who fired the fatal gunshot is properly called morally responsible since he played a direct role in the death of the person who was attempting to cross. However, the individuals who played an indirect role – the guard who ordered the shooting, those who established a system that unjustly required guards to shoot immigrants, and those who failed to challenge this system, among others – in this death are properly called morally blameworthy.
Also, constitutive luck will be discussed with reference to Delgado’s (1985) case study in order to suggest that while the individual who turns to violent crime is morally responsible for their actions, those individuals who played a role in depriving them of a healthy environment to develop in are morally blameworthy.
This project seeks to illuminate our understanding of the distinction between moral responsibility and moral blameworthiness. Such clarity is imperative, since our understanding of moral responsibility and moral blameworthiness have serious implications for the way in which we punish an agent for wrong-doing.”