The Unnatural Lottery

The Unnatural Lottery: Character and Moral Luck

Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Unnatural Lottery
    Book Description:

    The opportunities to become a good person are not the same for everyone. Modern European ethical theory, especially Kantian ethics, assumes the same virtues are accessible to all who are capable of rational choice. Character development, however, is affected by circumstances, such as those of wealth and socially constructed categories of gender, race, and sexual orientation, which introduce factors beyond the control of individuals. Implications of these influences for morality have, since the work of Williams and Nagel in the seventies, raised questions in philosophy about the concept of moral luck. InThe Unnatural Lottery,Claudia Card examines how luck enters into moral character and considers how some of those who are oppressed can develop responsibility.

    Luck is often best appreciated by those who have known relativelybadluck and have been unable to escape steady comparison of their lot with those of others. The author takes as her paradigms the luck of middle and lower classes of women who face violence and exploitation, of lesbians who face continuing pressure to hide or self-destruct, of culturally Christian whites who have ethnic privilege, and of adult survivors of child abuse. How have such people been affected by luck in who they are and can become, the good lives available to them, the evils they may be liable to embody? Other philosophers have explored the luck of those who begin from privileged positions and then suffer reversals of fortune. Claudia Card focuses on the more common cases of those who begin from socially disadvantaged positions, and she considers some who find their good luck troubling when its source is the unnatural lottery of social injustice.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0360-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. 1-20)

    Philosophy, like art and religion, offers a kind of salvation. It can remove us from the stress of material life and give us the heart to go on. Yet philosophy is not done in a material vacuum. It involves an apprenticeship of study with time off from other labor and builds on prior generations’ work, preserved in archives. European philosophy and its descendants have been for two and a half milennia the province of relatively leisured men who trace their intellectual heritage to free men of ancient Greece. Although Plato admitted a few women to his Academy, it has been...

    (pp. 21-48)

    Should it unsettle our sense of responsibility to realize that how morally good or bad we are is not immune to luck? In this chapter I support the view that it should not, that appreciating the impact of luck on our lives can add depth to our understanding of responsibility and increase our sense of morality’s importance. One thing that makes character valuable is that it prepares us somewhat for contingencies. Fortunately, this does not require that it not have arisen from contingencies itself.

    By “luck” I understand, following Bernard Williams and Thomas Nagel, factors beyond the control of the...

    (pp. 49-71)

    Pasts we inherit affect who we can become. As gendered beings in a society with a history of patriarchy, women and men inherit different pasts, and consequently different social expectations, lines of communication, opportunities, barriers. If these things influence character development, they make gender part of our moral luck. This chapter takes up female moral luck in misogynist society. I understand female character not as one type of character but as a family of character possibilities that are understandable in terms of one’s social positioning as female.

    The idea that virtues (and presumably faults) may be gender-related is suggested by...

    (pp. 72-96)

    In one sense caring is more basic to human life than justice: We can survive without justice more easily than we can survive without caring. However, this is part of the human tragedy because, in another sense, justice is more basic: Life can be worth living despite the absence of caring from most people in the world, perhaps even from most of the people we know, but in a densely populated high-tech world, life is not likely to be worth living without justice from a great many people, including many whom we will never know.

    The view that caring is...

  8. Chapter Five RAPE TERRORISM
    (pp. 97-117)

    In an essay entitled “Why Terrorism Is Morally Problematic” Bat-Ami Bar On argues that terrorism forms the terrorized, that it “produces people who are psychologically and morally diminished,” and that “it is, therefore, cruel.”¹ Part of women’s moral luck in misogynist societies is to be formed — or seriously exposed to the risk of being formed — by rape terrorism. Where it does not corner us into acting under a “diminished ethical ideal,” to use Nel Noddings’s phrase, it seriously restricts our mobility and thereby our experience and development. A raised consciousness about rape as a terrorist political institution may...

    (pp. 118-139)

    The ravages of terrorism discussed in the last chapter are not the only forms of moral damage that women have sustained. I mention in Chapter Three the misplaced gratitude many women experience toward “protectors” who may do no more than refrain from abuse. There I rely on an intuitive sense of what was misplaced about such gratitude. In this chapter I offer an ethical analysis of gratitude and its affiliated sense of obligation, assuming the burden of distinguishing between well-placed and misplaced gratitude. In so doing, I also explore the views of some influential philosophers on the ethics of gratitude...

  10. Chapter Seven WHAT LESBIANS DO
    (pp. 140-162)

    If gender is a source of moral luck for those of us raised with the legacies of patriarchy, it may seem that sexual or erotic orientation is likewise a source of moral luck, given the heterosexism of patriarchies. There is certainly luck, good and bad, in finding others of one’s sex erotically attractive. Although there is at present no consensus on the question whether there exist genetic predispositions to this experience, surely luck is involved in whether our early erotic experiences are painful or pleasant, whether we find them rewarding or the opposite.¹ Incalculable social energy has been expended on...

  11. Chapter Eight RACE CONSCIOUSNESS
    (pp. 163-182)

    People of (nonwhite) color and white people in the United States do not, in general, have the same consciousness of race, nor do the many peoples of color share the same consciousness of race. White people tend to have the privilege of not noticing things to which people of color are forced to attend regularly. William Julius Wilson has argued that race is declining in significance in the explanations of inequalities in the United States today.¹ Even if he were right about new introductions of inequalities for blacks in relation to whites, it would not follow that race was declining...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 183-206)
  13. Index
    (pp. 207-212)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-213)