This philosophical treatise on luck offers good sense but little in the way of unpredictable insights. Early on, Rescher (Philosophy/Univ. of Pittsburgh) asserts that ``like it or not, luck is an ineliminable part of the human condition,'' and he concludes with the contention that we depend on luck to give interest and variety to our lives, that indeed life itself exists only through a series of lucky chances. While accurate enough, such observations can seem overly abstract and somewhat pedestrian. Happily, the scenarios that Rescher treats in the course of isolating his idea of luck lend life to his book. A host of illustrative anecdotes find luck manipulated, embraced, or denied as different people see fit. On nearly every page, Rescher provides either a historical vignette (like the ancient Roman worship of the goddess Fortuna, or the randomness of death in the Black Plague) or a modern example of how we encounter luck today (rushing to catch trains, hoping to win lotteries). Rescher's adroit analysis of the intellectual history of luckincluding a section on the history and theory of gamblingand of the relationship between luck and morality show the value of philosophically considering how luck works in practice. Meanwhile, he offers advice on how to ``manage'' one's luck with careful planning. Rescher has fairly little to say about luck and psychology, although his subtitle raises such expectations by echoing Freud's famous title The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. Had Rescher devoted more effort to explaining from a philosophical perspective the relationship between luck, wishes, and desireswhat psychoanalysis explains through the unconscioushe might have been able to tell us something striking not just about luck, but about the human condition in general. Is it not, after all, the emotional energy that we stake on its determinations that makes luck's randomness seem brilliant? Accomplished enough, although one wishes that Rescher had taken more chances, pushing the frontier of philosophy's domain.
Read full book review >