Luck

Luck: The Brilliant Randomness Of Everyday Life

NICHOLAS RESCHER
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qh8k0
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  • Book Info
    Luck
    Book Description:

    Luck touches us all. "Why me?" we complain when things go wrong-though seldom when things go right. But although luck has a firm hold on all our lives, we seldom reflect on it in a cogent, concerted way.

    InLuck, one of our most eminent philosophers offers a realistic view of the nature and operation of luck to help us come to sensible terms with life in a chaotic world. Differentiating luck from fate (inexorable destiny) and fortune (mere chance), Nicholas Rescher weaves a colorful tapestry of historical examples, from the use of lots in the Old and New Testaments to Thomas Gataker's treatise of 1619 on the great English lottery of 1612, from casino gambling to playing the stock market. Because we are creatures of limited knowledge who do and must make decisions in the light of incomplete information, Rescher argues, we are inevitably at the mercy of luck. It behooves us to learn more about it.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7227-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-X)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XI-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-18)

    In the early morning hours of August 9, 1945, the B-29Bock’s Carbomber left the American airfield on Tinian island in the Pacific bound for the arsenal city of Kokura on the northern tip of Japan’s Kyushu island. In the plane’s belly sat “Fat Man,” the second atomic bomb readied for military use. It was a plutonium-based implosion device with the explosive power of some thirteen thousand tons of TNT. Three days earlier, the bomberEnola Gayhad dropped on Hiroshima the first such weapon, “Little Boy”—a bomb constructed on rather different, less sophisticated principles. And now phase...

  5. I ENIGMAS OF CHANCE
    (pp. 19-40)

    We live in a world where our aims and goals, our “best-laid plans,” and, indeed, our very lives are at the mercy of fortuitous chance and inscrutable contingency. In such a world, where we propose and fate disposes, where the outcomes of all too many of our actions depend on “circumstances beyond our control,” luck is destined to play a leading role in the human drama.

    As individuals, we may never know how lucky we actually are. With every step we take, chance can intervene for our good or ill. For all we know, we narrowly escape death a dozen...

  6. II FAILURES OF FORESIGHT
    (pp. 41-68)

    Luck—unlike good or bad fortune—is annihilated as such by foresight. If I know that I will win the lottery tomorrow (because I have been able to “fix” it), then I am perhaps fortunate but not lucky. If I am to be hung tomorrow for being a horse thief, then I am obviously unfortunate but not unlucky. Luck has to come on its recipient’s unawareness. The positive and negative developments one can (appropriately) foresee are not matters of luck.¹ But whenever foresight fails us in matters that bear on our weal or woe, then we are under luck’s sway....

  7. III THE DIFFERENT FACES OF LUCK
    (pp. 69-86)

    “Lucky at play, unlucky in love,” says the proverb.¹ Luck operates in many different contexts; there are almost endlessly varied ways of being lucky or unlucky. But the vast majority of them fall into a comparatively small number of identifiable types.

    To begin with, it is necessary to distinguish between luck proper and luck in a broader sense that also includes fate and fortune. Fate is a matter of natural, innate advantages and disadvantages (for example, being born as the heir to a great estate; having innate skills and talents of various sorts). The endowment with which one is born—...

  8. IV AN INFINITY OF ACCIDENTS
    (pp. 87-101)

    Just exactly how prominent is luck in human affairs? Admitting that an element of unmanageable unforeseeability pervades all human affairs, Renaissance humanists often inclined to the optimistic view that rational endeavor can prevail against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. For example, Poggio Bracciolini (1380–1459), in his tractsDe miseria humanae conditionisandDe varietate fortunae, championed the efficacy of rational virtue: “The strength of fortune is never so great that it will not be overcome by men who are steadfast and resolute.”¹ Fortune as such is no more than the product of the interaction between human reason...

  9. V VISIONS OF SUGARPLUMS
    (pp. 102-114)

    It is a platitude that we live on borrowed time in this world. And the amount of credit extended to us in this regard is in substantial measure a matter of luck, seeing that the chance of disaster dogs virtually every step we take in a life where hazards confront us in immeasurable forms, from dangerous microbes to falling meteorites. We do not need to read the Book of Job to be reminded that a string of bad luck can sour the sweetest disposition; the daily paper serves perfectly well. Fortune can be very cruel—and so can our own...

  10. VI THE PHILOSOPHERS OF GAMBLING
    (pp. 115-139)

    The hope of gain, the thrill of suspense, and the proximity of kindred spirits—greed, boredom aversion, and human sociability—all draw people to gambling and ensure the persistence of this otherwise unproductive activity through every age.¹ But a deeper impetus also lies in the background here and betokens the symbolic presence of larger issues. For life, too, is in large measure a gamble—a game of chance, like roulette, rather than one of pure skill, like chess. The very wordsluckandlotlink our topic to the theme of gambling.

    Seeing that it pivots on the fortuitous, luck...

  11. VII THE MUSINGS OF MORALISTS
    (pp. 140-171)

    Could all of a successful person’s achievements arise through sheer luck? In theory, it is certainly possible. But it is also very unlikely. The world as experience reveals it to us is simply not so user-friendly that all kinds of actions—well-considered as well as heedless, careless as well as careful—will come out all right. Things can sometimes turn out well despite folly or incompetence. But one should not count on it. One should not “push one’s luck.” People can indeed be lucky. But somehow or other, it is generally not we ourselves but somebody else who manages to...

  12. VIII CAN THE TIGER BE TAMED?
    (pp. 172-188)

    “Good luck!” was Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite parting expression.¹ But of course the reasonable person does not believe that wishing people good luck will somehow help them to get it. The expression displays good will and supportive fellow feeling; it is not a way of rendering aid.

    The idea that luck is a somehow personified power or agency whose services can be enlisted and whose favor can be gained or lost is an ancient belief, reflected in classical antiquity by the thriving cult of the goddess Fortuna. Philosophers (especially Cicero) and theologians (especially the church fathers) have consistently inveighed against such...

  13. IX LIFE IN A HALFWAY HOUSE
    (pp. 189-210)

    From the very beginning of the species, much human effort has been devoted to devising practices, systems, and institutions to make the future more tractable by reducing the scope of chance and impredictability in our affairs. Our early shift from hunter-gatherer to farmer, from nomad to settler, was clearly designed to make it possible to meet our needs and achieve our ends with greater assurance. And, over the millennia, an immense amount of human ingenuity and toil has been expended in this direction of diminishing the role of luck in life.

    In particular, the issue of “control over nature” lies...

  14. APPENDIX: TAKING LUCK’S MEASURE
    (pp. 211-212)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 213-232)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 233-237)