Against desert as a forward-looking concept

Journal of Applied Philosophy 26 (2):144-159 (2009)
Abstract
Fred Feldman and, more recently, David Schmidtz have challenged the standard view that a person's desert is based strictly on past and present facts about him. I argue that Feldman's attempt to overturn this 'received wisdom' about desert's temporal orientation is unsuccessful, since his examples do not establish that what a person deserves now can be based on what will occur in the future. In addition, his forward-looking account introduces an unnecessary asymmetry regarding desert's temporal orientation in different contexts. Schmidtz advances a promissory account of desert, only part of which presents a strong challenge to the received wisdom. After disambiguating the two main elements of his account, I examine Schmidtz's arguments for forward-looking desert. I find these arguments to be unconvincing because they seem to either rely on past or present facts about people, including people's dispositions, or they give us desert without desert bases. I briefly examine the relationship between desert and merit, and I argue that some dispositions might be desert bases and others might be merit bases. I conclude the paper with a summary of the arguments against desert as a forward-looking concept.
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