Thursday, March 31, 2011

Determinism, Incompatibalism and Luck

Aristotle thinks that luck is something real.  Unlike Aristotle, some philosophers have been skeptical about the existence of luck.  In other words, these philosophers think that luck is impossible and that luck does not exist.  Here is a short argument against luck:

1. Luck is incompatible with the view that every event is causally determined by a prior physical event (this view is called incompatibalism).
2. Every event is causally determined by a prior physical event according to laws of nature (this view is called determinism).
3. Since determinism and incompatibalism are both true, there is no such thing as luck.

Determinism is just the view that all events happen because they are directly caused by previous events.  There are a few varieties of determinism.  First, there is physical  determinism, which is the view that laws of physics and whatever initial conditions there were at the start of the universe (such as the big bang) determine the events of history.  Second, there is theistic determinism.  According to this view, God has determined history.  God has a plan and everything happens because of God's plan.  Third, there is fatalism.  Fatalism does not specify whether physical laws of nature or God determine events.  Fatalists think that the actual world is the only possible world.  In spite of physics or God, the world could only have been one way: the way it is.

Are incompatibalists right?  Why is determinism incompatible with luck?  Well, most people can agree that lucky events are event that "could have been otherwise".  Based on this criterion for luck, here is a brief argument for incompatibalism:

1. Events are lucky events if and only if it might not have occurred.  Things happen by luck only if events could have been otherwise.
2. If determinism is true, then everything happens out of necessity.  In other words, things could not have been otherwise.
3. So if determinism is true, then no events are lucky or unlucky.

Aristotle thought that determinism is compatible with luck.  He imagines a scenario where two friends meet by chance in a market.  For example, say that I have to buy eggs and my friend has to buy coffee.  We do not expect to see each other but when we do, we are both glad and happy that we met.  Perhaps we are both causally determined to visit the same market at the same time.  In spite of the truth of determinism, Aristotle thinks that this kind of event can count as good luck.

Aristotle thought that a lucky event was an event that was inadvertant (unintentional), unforeseeable (not expected) harm or benefit in action.  Aristotle gives the following four conditions for a lucky event: first, luck is an accidental cause.  Second, this accidental cause that affects the outcome of a deliberate and purposeful action.  Third, luck causes outcomes that we do not intend or expect.  Fourth and last, the unintended and unexpected outcome is either good for us or bad for us.  Dr. James summarizes this by listing three elements to luck: there must be a choice, there must be a benefit and this benefit must result accidentally rather than as a result of the choice.

For example, say that Sam is really craving Gina's Pizza.  Sam goes to Gina's and orders a slice of pizza.  As Sam enjoys his pizza, Kobe Bryant walks in.  Now, Sam is a huge Lakers fan.  Sam introduces himself and gets to shake Kobe's hand.  Because he got to meet Kobe, Sam is greatly benefited by his choice to go to Gina's.  However, his reason for going to Gina's was to get pizza, not to meet Kobe.  Sam made a choice which resulted in an unexpected and unforeseen benefit.  Sam got lucky!

Aristotle thinks that luck is not "accountable to reason".  In other words, luck does not follow the rules of logic or physical laws.  There are three major categories of things that are accountable to reason.  Natural things, for example, have natural, innate, essential (non-accidental) features.  For example, a tree has a natural and innate ability to photosynthesize.  Artificial products are also accountable to reason.  Artificial products are just things that humans make.  Because humans make them, they are created to have specific purposes.  Also, there are natural fields of science that are accountable to reason.  Mathematics, optics, harmonics and astronomy are all fields that study things that follow laws of logic and physics.

1 comment:

  1. Lately I have taken great interest in the relationship between luck and determinism and this article has deepened my understanding of the two. When I think of determinism in accordance to my life, I think of it as a story that has already been written and I am simply living it out page by page.

    What I am trying to uncover, in my beliefs at least, is if I have lived an overall lucky or unlucky life by the time I die. Does luck reveal itself unexpectadly at different intervals in my life, or is the luck in my life determined before I was even born.
    An example would be person A and person B. They have the same values, morals and beliefs, yet person A lives a happy life and dies of old age. Person B lives an unhappy life filled with negativity. Would person A be deemed lucky from the get-go, or would their lifes luck be revealed throughout their life.