Moral Luck

What is Moral Luck?

Moral luck is when things that happen, which are out of our control, affect how we judge someone’s actions. Imagine two people doing the exact same thing, but something unexpected happens to one of them that changes how we see their action. That’s moral luck. For example, if two soccer players both go for the goal, but one player’s shot is blown off course by the wind, that player might be seen as less skilled. Yet, it’s not really their fault—the wind was just bad luck.

Another way to understand moral luck is by thinking about how people might be blamed or praised for things they didn’t really choose. We usually think a person should be judged only for what they can purposely do. But with moral luck, we end up judging them for things that just happen to them, good or bad, like finding a dollar on the sidewalk or slipping on ice no one knew was there.

How Does Moral Luck Affect Us?

Moral luck affects us by changing the way we think about right and wrong without even noticing. It’s like when someone is either blamed or given a thumbs up because of something totally random. Let’s look at some examples to understand this better:

  • Driving Accidents: Two people text while driving, which we know isn’t safe. But if only one crashes, that person gets all the bad talk. Even though both were doing the same wrong thing, the accident—caused by chance—makes us judge the one driver way more harshly.
  • Natural Disasters: Imagine a boss is said to be awesome because the company makes lots of money. But the truth? A big storm happened, and suddenly everyone needed what the company sells. The boss’s choices didn’t change, but because of that storm—an event totally out of her control—people think she’s a better boss.
  • Sports Outcomes: There’s a basketball player who misses the final shot of the game. Now everyone blames them for losing, even though they played well the whole time. That last shot, good or bad, makes people forget about everything else they did in the game.

In all these situations, moral luck is important because the end result messes with how we see someone’s actions, and this isn’t really fair to them.

Dealing with Moral Luck

To handle the tricky stuff about moral luck, we need to pay attention and try to shift our focus from the stuff people can’t control to what they actually can control. Here’s how you might do this:

  • Reflect on Intentions: Think about why someone did something. Were they trying to do something good? Were their choices smart, based on what they knew?
  • Analyze the Action Itself: Look at the choices a person took, not just what ended up happening. Was what they did smart or not very careful?
  • Avoid “Outcome Bias”: This is all about not letting the end result cloud your judgment about what action was actually taken. To avoid this, dig into the choices that were made instead of just looking at what ended up happening.
  • Use Compassion: Remember, sometimes things go wrong even when people have good reasons and make solid choices. So when you’re thinking about what someone did, add a little kindness, knowing that luck can mess with the results.

Why is it Important?

Moral luck is important because it touches on fairness and understanding in how we judge actions. For the average person, it’s about not being too quick to praise or blame someone when chance played a big part in what happened. It impacts the way we think about law, success, and even day-to-day things like cheering for our favorite sports teams or driving on the highway.

Let’s say your friend tries to bake a cake for the first time. If the oven happens to break while the cake is baking, and it comes out all wrong, is it fair to say your friend is a bad baker? Not really, since they didn’t control the oven breaking. By recognizing the role of moral luck, we can be more thoughtful and fair when reacting to others’ actions. This helps everyone feel more understood and less judged by things they can’t help.

Related Topics and Explanations

  • Free Will vs. Determinism: This is about whether we can choose our own actions or if they’re already decided by things like our brain’s wiring or past events. It’s related to moral luck because it questions how free we are to make those choices that we’re judged for.
  • The Trolley Problem: A thought experiment where you must choose between bad options, like doing nothing and letting a trolley hurt many people or pulling a lever to change its path to harm fewer people. It looks at how we make moral choices and connect to moral luck when we’re judged for those tough decisions with no good outcome.
  • Ethical Theories: Ideas about what’s right and wrong, like Utilitarianism or Kantianism, often don’t account for luck. They offer ways to think about morality that either could or couldn’t support the idea of moral luck depending on how they’re interpreted.


In conclusion, moral luck is a concept that affects how we see right and wrong. It happens when things outside our control impact our judgment of someone’s actions. It’s key to be aware of moral luck because it can make us unfairly judge people. When we understand moral luck, we can strive to be fairer and more understanding by concentrating on the things we do on purpose and being kind when random stuff messes with the outcomes. This knowledge helps us create a society that’s both more just and more compassionate, knowing that life can sometimes throw a curveball at anyone’s well-laid plans.