Nussbaum’s problematic of moral luck is quite intriguing: A good man is like a tree, she says at the beginning, quoting Pindar. But that means that the good man is dependent for his flourishing on all kinds of things beyond his control ?Erainfall, winds, sun, and so on and on. Greek philosophy was an effort to find some ground for the good life that was not dependent on such moral “luck,” some ground for the good life rooted in reason alone. This is a chimera, though. Nomos provides some control of luck; so long as laws and conventions are predictable and people abide by them, one can trust that there is hope for virtue and the good life. But nomos can fail, and then what? What is there to trust for the good life? Tragedy is frequently about what happens when nomos fails.

The biblical image of the righteous man as a tree has similar consequences for a conception of the good life, at least initially. It assumes, as Pindar’s image does, that the righteous man is dependent on things outside his control. Yet, in the biblical image the nourishment of virtue/righteousness and fruitfulness does not come from undependable nomos or social relationships and institutions, but from Yahweh, who plants the tree by the riverside, deeply rooted so that it will not be moved. And even “bad moral luck” is under the control of a just God.

Unfortunately, Nussbaum’s book does not even list “Christianity” in the index, nor even “Augustine.”

More on: Philosophy

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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