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In 1885, Paul Gauguin abandoned his wife and five children to pursue painting, later moving to the south seas to realise his dream. The resulting works—on display from the end of September at Tate Modern—are stunning. But does their beauty mean that Gauguin’s decision is less blameworthy than if he had left his family and then failed as a painter?

The philosopher Bernard Williams used a fictionalised version of Gauguin’s life to illustrate what he called “moral luck”: the idea that the way things turn out can affect their moral worth. Gauguin left his family in penury in the hope…

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