Dissertation: Finis!

 Posted by on 2 June 2009 at 8:15 am  Dissertation
Jun 022009

I’m pleased to announce that — as of noon on Saturday, May 30th, after two crazy weeks of much editing and little sleep — I completed my dissertation. It has been submitted to my committee. I’m scheduled to defend on June 18th.

It is titled: “Better Good Than Lucky: An Aristotelian Solution to the Problem of Moral Luck.” Here’s the abstract:

Philosopher Thomas Nagel casts doubt on our ordinary moral judgments of persons by his arguments for the existence of “moral luck.” We intuitively accept that moral responsibility requires control, yet we seem to routinely praise and blame people for actions, outcomes, and character substantially shaped by luck. This challenge to moral judgment rests on a faulty view of the conditions for moral responsibility and the process of moral judgment. The morally responsible person must satisfy the control and epistemic conditions originally identified by Aristotle in Book Three of the Nicomachean Ethics. When those conditions are adequately explained and developed, moral responsibility clearly tracks a person’s voluntary actions, outcomes, and character. Nagel’s questions about whether a person might have done otherwise given better or worse luck are irrelevant to the praise and blame a person deserves for his actual voluntary doings. This account of moral responsibility and moral judgment eliminates the appearance of moral luck in the puzzling cases raised by Nagel and others. We can conclude that our ordinary moral judgments of persons are warranted: they do not depend on luck in any problematic way.

The dissertation quite a monster at 329 pages — or 93,402 words, if you prefer. See for yourself:

Overall, I’m quite pleased with it. It largely consists of new and good philosophical work on moral judgment and moral responsibility. I wasn’t required to compromise my own views in any way, nor even to write on issues that I regarded as unimportant. Moreover, I enjoyed the topic overall — and I’m still quite fascinated by some of the related issues that I wasn’t able to explore in depth. That’s pretty good, given that the prospectus and dissertation took constant and often grueling work over the course of almost exactly two years. Sometimes, the end felt like it would never come.

I will make a version of the dissertation available sometime this summer. If you would like me to e-mail you when that is available, please write me at [email protected]. I will also announce it on NoodleFood, of course.

I will charge a nominal fee for the work. It’s darn good philosophy — and the product of two years of sustained and often arduous work on my part. So if you wish to partake, you will have to pay for the privilege. However, I do plan to turn a few extracts of the dissertation into academic articles, as well as publish a revised version of the whole work as an academic book. So I’ll happily give it to anyone willing and able to give me substantive comments, particularly philosophers familiar with Aristotle’s views on moral responsibility and lawyers interested in questions about attribution of liability in tort and criminal law.

Right now, I’m relaxing, while attempting to catch up on all the projects and pursuits that I’ve completely ignored over the past few months. I suppose that, if you’ve been burning to e-mail me about something, you can do so now. However, now and in the future, my replies will likely be short, as I simply don’t wish to spend much time on e-mail.

As for my future plans, you’ll hear about those later.

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