Fragility, Tragedy and Politics
Even with the best will in the world, the course of human life can render us responsible for wrongful acts and attitudes. Wrongdoings like these are of moral-philosophical interest because despite their faultlessness they blemish the moral status of the lives that incur them. They reveal how we can be brought morally low by contingencies that lie beyond our powers of agency. In philosophers’ jargon, when this happens we suffer bad ‘moral luck,’ and human life is revealed in its fragility. The classical tragedians saw human fragility clearly, and so reserved a place for luck within ancient morality. Modern morality recoils from human fragility, arguing that reflection on the metaphysics of agency shows that luck cannot affect our moral status. Though the contemporary moral luck debate remains stuck in this old dialectic, my research project aims to show how recent trends in legal theory might set us free. My main hypothesis is that moral luck is part and parcel of the practices by which fair political communities socially distribute strict duties. Human fragility is therefore not a matter of unchangeable natural tragedy befalling us, but rather a matter for human politics, to be settled by material and conceptual struggle.