WMU News

Ethics lecture series begins with look at moral luck

Sept. 7, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Are criminals truly bad or just morally unlucky?

The concept of moral luck is the first of many ethical issues to be explored in a lecture series that begins this month and is sponsored by Western Michigan University's Center for the Study of Ethics in Society.

The center's annual series of public presentations features scholars from both inside and outside the University who address a variety of ethical issues. The presentations are free and open to the public.

Dr. Jil C. Larson, WMU associate professor of English, will kick off the series at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, with her presentation on "Moral Luck in Ethics and Literature" in Room 208 of the Bernhard Center. Moral luck is defined as those cases in which luck plays an important part in the acts or characteristics for which a person is blamed or punished. In her address, Larson will describe the role of moral luck in literature, specifically Thomas Hardy novels.

"As Thomas Nagel defines it, moral luck exists when a significant aspect of a person's action depends on factors beyond one's control, and yet we nonetheless regard the person as an object of moral judgment," says Larson. "Literature reveals that, far from being merely an unruly contradiction in terms, the concept of moral luck helps us understand the ethical complexity of our lives."

Larson is the author of a newly released book, "Ethics and Narrative in the English Novel, 1880-1914," and is the former managing editor of the journal Victorian Studies.

Other presentations scheduled in the lecture series this fall are:

The Winnie Veenstra Peace Lecture, "Crossing the Line: Moral Witness and the Struggle to Close the U.S. School of the Americas," the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, director of the School of the America's Watch, 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 25, in Room 208 of the Bernhard Center;

"Race and Athletics," Dr. Albert Mosley, professor of philosophy at Smith College, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 4, in Rooms 157 and 158 of the Bernhard Center;

"Research Ethics," Dr. Brian Schrag, executive secretary of the Association for Practical Ethics at Indiana University, 1:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 11, in the Putney Lecture Hall at the Fetzer Center;

Discussions of the ethical implications of the play "Wit," following performances Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 1 through 3, at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, 329 S. Park St.;

"Academic Freedom in Times of Turmoil," Petr Kolar, dean of the faculty of arts, Charles University, Prague, Czechoslovakia, 7:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 5, in Room 208 of the Bernhard Center;

"Are There Objective Values? Human Hope and Randian Objectivism as Answers to Relativism," Dr. Joseph Ellin, WMU professor of philosophy, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 8, in Room 204 of the Bernhard Center;

A Demonstration Ethics Bowl featuring WMU's student Ethics Bowl team, 3:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 14, at the Lee Honors College; and

"Responsible Charge," Ed Turner, professional engineer and licensed surveyor, 3 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 15, in Putney Lecture Hall of the Fetzer Center.

For more information, contact the Center for the Study of Ethics in Society at (616) 387-4397.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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