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Political Concepts: Committee on Concepts and Methods Working Paper Series

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How much of what we do is the result of our will, and how much the result of chance or luck or fortune? This is a decidedly un-decidable question, but one that needs to be asked. The general assumption seems to be that a person’s “lot” in life is physically, morally, politically, even romantically linked to choice. But the use of the term “lot” betrays the underlying uncertainty of what “causes” our “lot”, laying bare questions of responsibility, burden, and even explanation. Much (perhaps at the very least 50% according to Machiavelli) of what happens in our lives can be attributed to forces outside of our own will, and in that sense are not a result of our choices. In this paper, we explain why the “Moral Luck” literature can be helpful as an analogy to political theory even without the use of morality. In doing so, we also highlight how radically close attention to the role of uncertainty, chance, and luck can undermine the ideals of rationality, institution and control. By even examining the role of luck in political thinking, one almost necessarily calls into question the very definition of what constitutes politics. Most significantly, we will explain how the arguments of the “Moral Luck” theorists can inform debates about redistribution in a democracy.