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Luck as a Narrative Category

  • Author(s): Duncan, Michael James
  • Advisor(s): Pritchard, Duncan
  • James, Aaron
  • et al.

In the Physics, Aristotle motivated his discussion of chance by linking it, not to knowledge or agency directly, but to explanation: often we use chance as though to explain, but how can we, if chance is not a cause? We might express the hope as follows. There might be a way of conceiving luck such that it emerges as a novel explanatory modality, albeit a deficient one, not superficially akin to an excuse. Just as a person's agency is a way of explaining something; a person's knowing something, too, marks the closure of a cognitive openness, where coherence is improved, and the world explained. Moreover, the presence of luck appears to undermine both kinds of explanation at once. The search, then, is for a novel explanatory kind that can perform all of these tasks at once.

After reviewing the available accounts on offer (Chapter 2), I develop my positive account in three stages as follows: the relevant sense of explanation, to which luck is opposed, appears to be a version of the relatively little-understood category narrative explanation. An event is lucky in virtue of playing a central role in a deficient narrative explanation. I explore this idea in Chapter 3.

In the second stage, I analyze the explanatory deficiency by thinking of luck-reports within an inferentialist paradigm: understanding luck-reports as assertions (i.e. as speech-acts) what are their felicity conditions? I argue that luck-reports can be understood as self-acknowledging explanatory failures.

In the third stage, I attempt a representationalist version by understanding a luck-report as a state of (in)coherence on a piece of multi-sentence discourse. Lastly, after having the developed theoretical account in hand, I return to compare my account with Pritchard's modal account (Chapter 5). Pritchard's account appears to be wholly metaphysical, whereas the broadly semantico-pragmatic account laid out in the foregoing chapters would appear anything but. I undertake the experiment of exploring the tensions placed on both conceptions under the hypothesis of their compatibility.

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